This article contains spoilers of The Batman. You can read our spoiler-free review here.
While The Batman largely avoids the gimmicks of modern interconnected superhero universes on the big screen, even this noir film can’t help but pack in tons of easter eggs and at least one cameo into its almost three-hour runtime. But don’t expect Superman or Wonder Woman to show up to help Robert Pattinson save the day here. There’s no Dick Grayson or Barbara Gordon, either. Instead, we get a brief introduction to director Matt Reeves‘ version of Batman’s most dastardly villain.
The Batman doesn’t actually have the kind of post-credit scene that has become a staple of other cinematic universes. Unlike the MCU or even the DCEU, The Batman exists in its own bubble, so it doesn’t need an end credits stinger to set up the next movie. That said, the final scene in Arkham Asylum, which actually happens right before the credits roll, certainly feels like one. It serves the same basic purpose: the creepy conversation between Paul Dano’s Riddler and the mysterious, chuckling patient next door is undoubtedly meant to set the stage for a confrontation between Batman and the Joker!
Yes, after months of rumors and speculation, that scene finally confirms that Barry Keoghan is playing the Clown Prince of Crime in this version of Gotham City. While we never actually see his full face — although we do see hints that his face is heavily disfigured — audiences will definitely recognize that voice…and the maniacal laughter as the clown teases the chaos to come. He tells the Riddler not to sulk and even coins the puzzle-loving baddies’ catchphrase: “Riddle me this.” Could this be the start of a beautiful new friendship? If it is, this is very bad news for Gotham and the Batman.
Ahead of the film’s release, Reeves told Den of Geek that this new version of the Joker is heavily influenced by The Man Who Laughs, the classic 1928 silent film that originally inspired the character. But while you see him already behind bars at Arkham, cracking up and loving it, this Joker isn’t yet fully formed, according to the director.
“The idea is that what you’re seeing is a pre-Joker, Joker actually,” Reeves explains. “The conception that I wanted was that we’d go back to the Conrad Veidt, The Man Who Laughs inspiration, which is the Bob Kane, Bill Finger reference [for the character]. And in that, obviously that guy has a congenital disease. He’s like the Phantom of the Opera, he can’t not smile. So I was like, ‘wouldn’t it be interesting if this origin was not like, you know, a vat of chemicals or some unexplained sort of scars like the Nolan Joker? What if we did something where he had a congenital disease?'”
Reeves also turned to the story of real-life figure Joseph Merrick, whose life became the subject of David Lynch’s The Elephant Man. Merrick developed severe deformities that landed him in the mean-spirited “freak shows” of Victorian era Britain and also made him the target of verbal and physical abuse. His deformed face and neck also made it difficult for Merrick to breathe, which eventually led to his death by asphyxiation in 1890 at the age of 27. Reeves imagined a similar origin for his Joker, but whose deformities would inform a much more cynical worldview.
“What if this guy’s whole worldview was formed by the fact that life had played this cruel trick on him and that life had made a joke out of him, and that he could never not smile and he had a lifetime of people staring at this grotesque smile that he had no control over,” Reeves says. “[So] instead of being like the story of The Elephant Man, where all of his grotesque outward appearance belied the beautiful inside, and this would form his nihilistic worldview. He would have a kind of insidious understanding of human nature and everything was framed through that lens of fate playing a cruel joke on you from childhood. So that’s kind of where the psychology comes from, in who this guy would be.”
But Reeves won’t actually say whether the Joker’s cameo in The Batman means the Clown Prince of Crime will be the main villain of a potential sequel: “As to whether we would actually do the Joker in future movies…his appearance at the end of the movie is really more contextual. I can’t say whether we would do him specifically in the movies or not.”
What the director did reveal to Collider is that there is a deleted scene that features Batman meeting Keoghan’s Joker in Arkham Asylum. In a scene that sounds a lot like Agent Clarice Starling meeting with Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs, Batman visits the Joker to try and get inside the mind of the new serial killer terrorizing Gotham.
“There was an earlier scene where Batman, because he’s getting these cards and letters from the Riddler, and he’s thinking, ‘why is this guy writing to me? I’m supposed to be anonymous and he’s putting a lens on me. I don’t like that,’ and so he goes to kind of profile this kind of serial killer,” Reeves told Collider. “And you see him meeting with somebody who is obviously a serial killer himself, who, because it’s not Batman’s origin, but it is the origins of all these other characters, you’re seeing a version of this character who, yes, when you see the unknown prisoner, you’re like, ‘well, gee, I think that’s who that is.’ Well, that is who that is, but he’s not yet that character.”
But Reeves ultimately cut the scene because he didn’t feel it was “something that’s part of the overall narrative.” That said, could fans finally get to watch this deleted scene as a bonus feature for the home release? Says Reeves, “We’ll do something with it. I mean, look, we’ve just finished the movie. We’re now promoting the movie. We’re figuring out what’s going to happen when everything goes into sort of the home video version of it, but there’s definitely a plan to do something with it. We for sure will show that scene.”
Meanwhile, folks who want to stay until after The Batman credits have rolled will be treated to one last little nod: “Good bye” typed out by the Riddler with a question mark at the end, as if to say Edward Nashton could return in the future. Then the url for the “rataalada” ARG that WB used as a bit of viral marketing ahead of the releases flashes on screen. Whether this means there’s more to the ARG, or if it’s just the movie having one last laugh, remains unclear.
What does seem to be clear, as long as the film fares well at the box office, is that there’s more to come for the Batman and this Gotham City.
The Batman is out in theaters now.