Does The Batman already have too many villains?

Superhero movies have often suffered from an over-stuffed cast – but will this film pull it off?

Robert Pattinson and Michaelle Pfeiffer with Danny Devito in Batman Returns (Getty, Sky)

Does Robert Pattinson’s new take on the Batman already have a major problem with its bad guys? That’s the question on our minds following the recent news that John Turturro is set to play comic-book villain and mobster Carmine Falcone in the film, on top of already-announced rogues like The Penguin (Colin Farrell) The Riddler (Paul Dano) and Catwoman (Zoe Kravitz).

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You see, among fans it is a truth universally acknowledged that a good superhero film shouldn’t have an abundance of baddies. In fact, it’s become something of a trope – search “too many villains” online and you’ll find plenty of examples referring to superhero movies, especially the critically-derided Spider-Man 3.

As a rule, the more supervillains you have in a movie, the more time you have to spend establishing them (often meaning multiple origin stories), the more time you have to spend following their evil schemes, and the more time the hero (or heroes) subsequently has to spend defeating them – that, or they have to be battled in some odd tag-team group battle like the ends of Spidey 3 (and The Amazing Spider-Man 2, for that matter).

This can mean the focus shifts too far away from the superhero themselves, eats up the movie’s runtime and generally makes for a lopsided story – and that’s just in movies with only two to three villains like The Dark Knight Rises, Amazing Spider-Man 2, Batman and Robin.

Based on our current count The Batman has at least four villains confirmed for the story (we’re counting Catwoman, even if she sometimes has a more complex relationship with Bruce Wayne) – surely, this could be too much?

Yes, Batman movies have managed to carry off multi-villain storylines before with aplomb, most notably in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, Tim Burton’s Batman Returns and even (arguably) Batman Forever.

But those were all sequels where Batman had been established. This is a Batman movie that has to set up a new Caped Crusader in Robert Pattinson, introduce an entirely new cast and Gotham around him and reboot the Batman franchise. This movie is already looking pretty crowded, and the casting hasn’t even finished yet.

And, as noted, not all Batman movies have managed to balance a large collection of villains anyway…

And yet, there are some green shoots of hope. Rumour has it that this movie is going to adapt acclaimed graphic novel The Long Halloween, which saw Batman and his allies try to track down a serial killer (who murders his victims on national holidays) over the course of a year in Gotham.

More relevantly here, however, is that the story does involve a large number of villains – but only in background roles. For example, the Riddler (played by Dano) is almost a victim on April Fool’s Day, but doesn’t factor into the story much after that. Other baddies also flit in and out of the story (including the Joker) without taking a central role, and if this is director/writer Matt Reeves’ intention, this could be a good way to avoid villain over-saturation while also setting up future movies with these baddies in bigger roles. In fact, it could even be a good way of establishing Gotham at a stroke, already filling it with all these colourful characters.

Then again, of course, a movie is not a comic book, it’s expensive to hire big-name actors for bit parts, and it could be that Reeves will find some middle ground between two approaches.

And of course we could be wrong entirely, with the film genuinely including a boy-band’s worth of Batman bad guys to deal with. In which case, we’ll just have to hope for the longest movie runtime in history – or at least an incredibly well-paced script.

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The Batman will be released on the 25th June 2021