Welcome to Unanswered Questions, a series where we react to confusing movies and plot holes with a “huh?” and a “hmmph!” and maybe a “hah!” This time we examine the five unanswered questions left by The Batman. Spoilers can be expected.
There’s nothing quite like exiting a superhero film, especially one designed to maintain a franchise, especially a Batman franchise. Bruce Wayne came on the scene in 1939, in the pages of Detective Comics #27. His first jump to the big screen occurred in 1943 with the first Batman serial. Since then, we’ve met him on television, in cartoons, and in numerous movies, with just as many actors offering their spin on the vigilante. Our relationship with Batman is about as strong as any other fictional character, and with that intense romance comes equally intense feelings on what works and what doesn’t.
As the credits rolled on Matt Reeves‘ The Batman, the latest Dark Knight entry, I found myself rapidly calculating the pluses and minuses. The summation amounted to something incredible, “an aggressive, muscular ride,” and one I would very much like to take again. The film left enough mystery unsolved with dangling threads needing a snip. There is a great deal more here, and to deny ourselves would be an exercise in futility.
Batman has been with us for 83 years. He’s not going away. The sequels are always coming. So, let’s examine the unanswered questions this particular Batman left and consider where Robert Pattinson‘s caped crusader might be heading next. And if we’re going to do this properly, let’s skip to the end, focusing on the biggest question The Batman puts out there.
1. Is the Unseen Arkham Prisoner the Batman rogue he appears to be?
The Riddler (Paul Dano) concludes the film behind bars, jailed inside Arkham State Hospital. He watches a news broadcast celebrating Batman’s arrival at Gotham Square Garden and his rescue of countless citizens. The former forensic accountant hoped to decimate the city and reshape it by exposing the infrastructure’s bottomless corruption. He got most of the job done, but Batman’s refusal to join in with his terror party causes the Riddler to wail.
In the next cell over, a barely visible Arkham prisoner (Barry Keoghan) presents a sunny side to the situation. “Riddle me this,” he says. “The less you of them you have, the more one is worth.” The Riddler answers, “A friend.” And the two cackle in unison, the unseen Arkham prisoner delivering an odd howl that’s not quite dissimilar to the ones supplied by Cesar Romero, Jack Nicholson, Heath Ledger, Jared Leto, and Joaquin Phoenix. We have ourselves a new Joker.
But, do we? What little we see of Keoghan doesn’t look like any Clown Prince we’ve seen before. He appears hideously scarred, burned even. Through his melted, shadowy smile, we can even see teeth peeping out. He almost looks more like Two-Face than the Jester of Genocide. This feels too early to play the Joker card.
2. Who Inspired Gotham’s Clown Posse?
We have to think back to the start of the film. We’re introduced to a Batman teetering on despair. He’s two years into his Dark Knight mission; whatever impact he’s having on Gotham appears minimal.
He tracks a group of muggers to a train platform. They’re in the middle of an initiation, hyping a new recruit to beat on an innocent. Their faces are caked in white paint with pathetic black marker smiles stenciled around their mouths. Where did they get this look from?
Joker is not known for his muscle. Previous iterations have seen him surround himself with a Clown posse. These punks could be his leftovers, roaming aimlessly while he’s locked up in Arkham. In the two years Batman’s been beating on baddies in Gotham, it’s conceivable that he ran into the Joker long before he ran into Riddler. He could very well be responsible for putting them both in their cells, making them neighbors, causing them to partner and give him hell in the future.
3. Who Killed Thomas and Martha Wayne?
Never before has the murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne been a mystery. Tim Burton’s 1989 adaptation made Joker the killer. Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy revealed Joe Chill as the triggerman, but Ra’s Al Ghul’s economic tamperings were the ultimate culprit. Matt Reeves repositions the Wayne murders as central to the corruption festering within Gotham.
Carmine Falcone (John Turturro) tells Bruce that rival mobster Salvatore Maroni hired Gotham journalist Edward Elliot to expose his family’s deepest, darkest secret. When Martha was a child, her mother killed her father and then herself. The event traumatized Martha, and she spent years in and out of psychiatric care. When Elliot refused a bribe, Thomas went to Falcone for help. His goons killed Elliot. According to Falcone, Maroni was scared that Thomas, who was running for mayor, would wind up owing Falcone for the favor. So, Maroni ordered a hit on the Waynes.
Alfred (Andy Serkis) has another story. He explains that Thomas was appalled when he learned of Elliot’s murder and his possible hand in it. When Thomas threatened to go to the police, Falcone had them killed. Alfred could never prove this, but it’s haunted him ever since.
So, who’s telling the truth? We’re left to believe that Falcone is the culprit, but is that best for the Batman mythology? Does that give too much reason to something so senseless? Leaving the death unsolved is necessary. Unanswered questions are often okay in Batman’s world. There should be no resolution for Bruce Wayne. It’s not about getting the guy who got his parents. As Batman says at the end, he must be more than vengeance.
4. Who mourns for Edward Elliot?
Comic book readers certainly take notice when Edward Elliot’s name gets dropped. His family is as important to Gotham’s history as the Waynes and the Arkhams. In the mini-series Gates of Gotham, we learn how the Elliots helped construct the city alongside Gotham’s other influential families. And when they didn’t feel like they were getting their good share, they turned on the others—violence ensued.
Within the context of the Riddler’s viral video, explaining Thomas Wayne’s involvement with Edward Elliot’s murder, the word “Hush” is thrown upon the screen to coincide with the supposed hush money Thomas tried to pay the reporter. Hush is the Batman villain at the center of the Batman story of the same name, and he’s the great-great-grandson of the Gates of Gotham‘s Edward Elliot.
If Warner Bros. wanted to hold off a little bit longer regarding a Joker-centric story, Hush would make an excellent antagonist. In his iconic storyline, the baddie digs into Bruce Wayne’s past, doing something similar to what the Riddler did here, further exposing his parents as less than goody-two-shoes. Edward’s death would serve as an extra layer of motivation, and mirror Bruce Wayne’s similar familial agony.
5. Does The Riddler know Batman’s Secret Identity?
When the Riddler is finally caught, he requests a sit with Batman at Arkham. Gordon (Jeffrey Wright) is the one to inform Bats, as he’s in the middle of investigating the villain’s apartment. Next to a photo of Bruce Wayne, scrawled on the wall, is a vague message indicating that Riddler knows who’s beneath the Batman costume. As Batman leaves the crime scene, he tells Gordon that maybe his time as a vigilante is over. Gordon dismisses the comment, but he doesn’t know what Batman knows. In attacking the Waynes, he’s already struck a little too close to home.
Face to face; the Riddler tells Batman that Bruce Wayne is to blame. The billionaire orphan received copious amounts of attention when his parents were murdered. No one ever cared about him and the dozens of other children rotting away in the Gotham orphanage. While Bruce looked down from his ivory tower, the Riddler was having his fingers chewed on by rats, and the babies next door were freezing to death every winter.
The Riddler never comes out and says he knows Batman is Bruce Wayne, but the doubt lingers. Maybe he doesn’t. Maybe he just thought Batman was the violent muscle to his violent brain. He saw them as partners. But maybe Riddler does know a little more than he’s giving on too.
Spoilers for the Batman: Hush comic book, but after the main baddie is dispatched, it’s revealed that the Riddler was ultimately pulling the strings. He even figured out Batman’s identity. Bruce isn’t afraid, however, because he knows that answers mean little to the Riddler. As long as his identity remains a question, the information holds more power for the psychopath. Again, leaving questions unanswered is a net positive. Exposing Bruce Wayne is not as fun as letting him dangle. We could see something similar play out in The Batman‘s sequel.
The Batman is now playing in theaters.