Every Batman Movie Villain Explained

Dr. Travis Langley, a psychology professor and author, analyzes each and every villain from the Batman movies. Dr. Langely explains, in details, the motivations behind movie villains like the Joker, Catwoman, Riddler, Bane, Poison Ivy and more. Looking at this villains from a psychological angle, Dr. Langley breaks down what makes these villains tick.

Video Transcript

TRAVIS LANGLEY: Hi. I'm Dr. Travis Langley, psychology professor, author of the book, "Batman and Psychology." I'm here to talk about each and every Batman movie villain. [MUSIC PLAYING] Batman, the caped crusader, Dark Knight, superhero without superpowers-- he is defined by his psychology, so his enduring enemies have to be defined by their psychology as well. - I am Dr. Daka, humble servant of his majesty, Hirohito. TRAVIS LANGLEY: Our first villain is Dr. Tito Daka from the 1943 serial, "Batman." The year was 1943 at the height of World War II. Dr. Tito Daka was not directly a character from the comics. He was a type. He was both a stereotype and a villain type. He fit that alien menace. That's why xenophobia, fear of foreigners and strangers, played a role in this racist story. It is a racist depiction. It is a character who is acting very haughty. It reflects mirror-image perceptions. A mirror-image perception during a conflict is when each side's perception of the other mirrors the other side's perception of them. Americans were looking at a villain such as Dr. Daka, wanting to see him as being egotistical, arrogant. Well, that was how Americans were seen as well by others. So each side's perception mirrored the other side's perception of them. - Look at me, Morton. - No. No, I won't. - But you will. TRAVIS LANGLEY: Next up, the Wizard from 1949 movie serial, "Batman and Robin." This is the only appearance of the villain anywhere. And it really seems like the writers themselves did not know for sure who the Wizard really was. I think they changed their mind partway through. But by the end, he is revealed to be not the scientist himself, but the scientist's servant's evil twin. And the evil twin trope also comes out of our fear of our own dark sides, our fear of something that's not us imitating us, changelings, doppelgangers, copying people, duplicating them to do evil deeds that they themselves will be blamed for. - We're going to temporarily extract every bit of moisture from your body. TRAVIS LANGLEY: Let's talk about the Penguin. He wants to be a crime lord, and he wants to be a tycoon. He wants both. This is reflected in him wearing a tuxedo all the time. He has what is informally known as a Napoleon complex, the small man who wants to be big. His hat adds height. His umbrella extends his personal space. If he could lose some of that belly, he would not because it helps him be bigger. Tim Burton has turned Penguin into a physically penguin-like little guy. - Great speech, Oswald. [SHOUTS] - My name is not Oswald! It's Penguin! I am not a human being! I am an animal! TRAVIS LANGLEY: When the Penguin, after some failures, says, I am not a man, I am an animal, and he's blaming his physical differences in order to explain why people won't accept him, they were accepting him. It's his own behavior that has caused his failure, but he's looking for an excuse. This one hits on some of what psychologist Alfred Adler called an inferiority complex. Adler felt that most of us are largely driven by a need to become superior to whatever we are, whatever we have been, that in some people they do in healthier ways than others. But for the people who feel particularly inferior, those who feel outcast, those who feel alienated, that they will be obsessed with that need to overcome their own deficits to try to feel superior. - [GIGGLES] TRAVIS LANGLEY: Next up, the Joker in the 1966 film, "Batman, The Movie." This is the first film appearance by the Joker, played by Cesar Romero, who would not shave his mustache for the role. We don't see anything that really sets him apart from the rest of them beyond his laugh. - [GIGGLES] TRAVIS LANGLEY: They're all shallow, and the Joker is the shallowest of them in this particular movie. Now, we start getting greater depth of character. In this film, the Joker is Jack Napier, a gangster, a psychopath who is already thought of as a bit reckless even for the criminals. - Jack is dead, my friend. You can call me Joker. TRAVIS LANGLEY: When he says Jack is dead, that's not really how we think of people in psychology. Yes, we can undergo drastic changes. Our self concepts can change. Trauma may alter us in ways that we may never come back from, but the same psyche is still there. This is absolutely not the hilarious Joker of the 1960s. Heath Ledger did an amazing job playing the most dangerous version of the Joker we've ever seen. The Joker defies diagnosis. His behavior doesn't neatly fit any specific mental illness beyond his obvious psychopathy. He has no conscience, no empathy, no personal concern over right and wrong. In this film, the Joker is shown as someone with symptoms of tardive dyskinesia. It's a long-term consequence of some antipsychotic medications. When he makes these smacks of the mouth or the flicks of his tongue, those could be long-term consequences of having previously been on antipsychotic medications. I know a couple of professionals who were bothered by that. They don't want anybody to think that real-life individuals with tardive dyskinesia are that level of dangerous. This Joker is the bad boyfriend. He is scary for the sake of being scary. It is very superficial. This Joker is a punk. The character Arthur Fleck in this movie is not the same as other Jokers. Honestly, we can think of him as a different character. He is psychotic. And what we mean by psychotic is that they've lost touch with reality. The symptoms that we most likely call psychotic are hallucinations, perceptions out of touch with reality, and delusions, beliefs that are out of touch with reality. So if you see a two-headed monster because your brain is conjuring a two-headed monster, that's a hallucination. If you think you are a two-headed monster, that's a delusion. This is a character with hallucinations and delusions. He sees some things, he sees some people who are not there. There are other things within the film. When he gets beaten up by the yuppies on the train, some of the movements they're making are oddly similar to the kids who beat him up at the very beginning. Through the entire film, there are things not to trust. It just makes this wonderful psychotic movie. - Sick 'em, Hecate. Scratch out their eyes. TRAVIS LANGLEY: Catwoman in the 1966 film, "Batman, The Movie." Catwoman gets a larger part in this movie than the other villains because she's playing a dual role. She is also pretending to be a Russian journalist called Miss Kitka. Maintaining the dual identity means you're lying all the time and at least one of your lies with this kind of dual identity. Hopefully, each is close to your heart somehow. This is more extreme, much more extreme than how we will bring different personas to different situations in our lives. There are rituals people go through to have symbolic death, ways of saying, I am no longer the person I used to be. I am now going to be someone else. A totem psychologically is a symbol that the person embraces in order to represent deeper part of their nature, other part of their nature, a spiritual side of themselves. Historically, totems tend to be animal figures, which again plays into this particular movie's animal theme with the bat, the cat, and the chilly little bird. With Selina and Bruce, they adopt these symbols themselves. She finds strength from the cat symbol. He finds strength from the bat symbol. They are both becoming scary, dark creatures of the night because they want to let their own darkness out while also managing it and putting it to what, for them, is a constructive purpose. They built from Catwoman's story in "Batman Returns" but taken out Batman. She is somebody who is very shy, reserved, unsure of herself, gets licked back to life by kittens, emerges sexier, more aggressive, and that's it. This Catwoman has some things in common with Bruce Wayne. They were both orphaned at an early age. And she understands what that does to an individual. Catwoman grew up poor, though. She did not have a butler to be her confidante. The version of Catwoman that we see in "The Dark Knight Rises" is an extension of that. They don't refer to her background, but she's very much being played that way. She does not neatly fit any disorder. She is not mentally ill. She knows what she is doing. She is engaging in some antisocial behavior. She steals. She breaks into homes. Those are antisocial actions. She has empathy toward others, even if she tries to suppress it at times. She is not as heroic yet. This is more of a Catwoman who's on her journey to becoming more heroic. - I see the way to do it. TRAVIS LANGLEY: Next up, the Riddler. The Riddler is played by Frank Gorshin in this film, was just manic, wired, driven by his compulsions. The other villains keep having to try to get him to settle down. - [CACKLES] - You're mad, Riddler. TRAVIS LANGLEY: The Riddler is often cited as one of the most narcissistic, the most egotistical, most full of himself. And the kind of criminals in real life who send messages to authorities tend to be pretty full of themselves, too. In his case, the riddle sending is a compulsion. He does not see it as a compulsion because he wants to do it. And you see that in this film when the other villains are saying, this time, just send a straightforward message, don't send a riddle, and he grins and then laughs. - You can call me the Riddler. TRAVIS LANGLEY: Now, we've gotten the fourth of the big four who were all in that '66 movie. Now, we have the Riddler played by Jim Carrey. There are some things he definitely seems to be mimicking from Gorshin, such as his laugh and some physical movements. And there's a whole lot of Jim Carrey's sense of humor in how he's playing this character. This individual, Edward Nygma as played by Jim Carrey, adores Bruce Wayne, hates Bruce Wayne. There's a great book on borderline personality disorder titled, "I Hate You, Don't Leave Me." The psychologist character, Chase Meridian, played by Nicole Kidman, she talks about this stalker who is sending the riddles to Bruce Wayne. She's describing a lot of borderline personality without ever using the term. - Patient may suffer from obsessional syndrome with potential homicidal tendencies. TRAVIS LANGLEY: Some people with this condition will go to great lengths to try to fill a void in themselves, not just stalking a person, but maybe by emulating them. And you see this rather drastically with Edward when he even does something such as wear an artificial mole to look like Val Kilmer, who's playing Batman in this movie. - How's my mole? - Fine. TRAVIS LANGLEY: Rejection is hard on anybody, but these are individuals who may not be restrained by consistent traits, and so their emotional action will be more extreme. Two-Face in 1995's "Batman Forever." This is the first live-action depiction of Two-Face. This version of Two-Face, as played by Tommy Lee Jones, is almost a one-face because there's really not variety in how he acts throughout this film. He does not in any way act like he has dissociative identity disorder, the clinical term for what people commonly call multiple personality disorder. He's not inconsistent in his behavior. He consistently wants to do wrong. And this one version of Two-Face will even cheat. He'll just keep tossing the coin until it lets him do the thing he wants to do. Somebody with an external locus of control feels that events are caused by what's outside themselves. With Two-Face, as written throughout his history, he actually has this internal locus, but he's angry at the world. He's upset about what has happened to his face. And he wants to take out that anger, but he also wants to be true to himself. He doesn't want to think of himself as a bad person. Two-Face in 2008's "The Dark Knight." Tommy Lee Jones did not play a complicated character. Aaron Eckhart is playing a complicated character. This is an individual who very much has an internal locus of control. He has made himself who he is, but now his worldview has been shattered by what happened. He did not have control over getting abducted. He is incredibly angry. He's taking out his anger on the world. He's starting with those that he feels deserve his judgment, but he will also hurt innocent people along the way. Something we see with a lot of these characters, just as with Jack Napier, he had undergone his accident in the acid, emerged as the Joker, and it brought out some things that were in him already. In the film, that he was already nicknamed Two-Face by a number of police. And this has unleashed and augmented some other dangerous potential that had been there. This is the first film appearance of Mr. Freeze in 1997's "Batman & Robin." The version being portrayed here is pulling heavily from an episode of "Batman, The Animated Series," for his origin in which his alter ego had been renamed Victor Fries, and he was motivated by trying to save the life of his terminally ill wife. He is ruthlessly trying to do whatever it takes to save her, regardless of what it does to anybody else, regardless of how she would think about it. One of the most poignant characters in Batman's Rogues Gallery, this man with the cold personality who had been warmed up by the love of this woman who, for some reason, was played by Arnold Schwarzenegger in live action. Poison Ivy in 1997's "Batman & Robin." The villains of this movie are each individuals who are extremely introverted, perhaps some of the most introverted characters in Batman's Rogues Gallery. They both have some qualities that may suggest that they're on the autism spectrum. Let's go to the book. In the movie, Poison Ivy says, I am not insane, I've just been pushed too far, which brings us to that question, is she insane as depicted in this film? What is insanity? Insanity is a legal term reflecting psychological states in which the person is not responsible for their own action due to an inability to understand the rightness and wrongness of their own actions. And she knows what she is doing. Bane in 1997's "Batman & Robin." This is Bane's first live-action appearance. He had only recently appeared in comics for the first time ever. He was supposed to be Batman's Bane. He was created to be this enemy who could crush and break Batman. In this film, the chemical Venom has pumped him up. He's steroided up, which was a popular topic of the time. He's this thug who barely speaks, who obeys Poison Ivy for reasons we don't know. He is absolutely the most cartoonish version of any Batman super villain ever brought to screen. Bane in 2012's "The Dark Knight Rises." Aside from some superficial qualities, he has very little in common with the previous version. He's not even on Venom. He is a mix of the comic book version of Bane and the al Ghuls' faithful servant Ubu. Of the three needs that psychologist David McClelland identified as driving personality most heavily, needs for power, achievement, and affiliation. In the comics, Bain is mainly driven by the need for achievement. In the film, is more motivated by need for affiliation, by his attachment to Talia al Ghul, by his loyalty to her and his protectiveness of her. Yes, he has things he wants to achieve, and he has power that he is amassing, but he is driven most by loyalty to somebody else, which is not the comic book Bane at all. - You will never learn. TRAVIS LANGLEY: Ra's al Ghul in 2005's "Batman Begins." - Don't be afraid, Bruce. TRAVIS LANGLEY: This is the first live-action appearance of Ra's al Ghul or Raysh al Ghul. He's something of a James Bond villain thrown into Batman stories. He is an eco terrorist. His motivations are to make the world a better place. There are definitely some cult recruitment techniques that show up in the way he approaches Bruce Wayne. It is not the behavior of someone who's recruiting just one of the minions, though. It is someone who is trying to recruit a new right hand, someone who'd be at his side. This is the first live-action depiction of The Scarecrow, Jonathan Crane, played by Cillian Murphy. He is the only villain to appear in all of Nolan's trilogy, which is appropriate because the trilogy is about fear-- how it is caused, how it's inspired, how it's overcome, or how it's used for other purposes. In 2012's "The Dark Knight Rises," they are brought to him afraid, and they are sent out to be afraid. - You are Phillip Stryver, executive vice president of Daggett Industries? TRAVIS LANGLEY: They could just be killed. No, they're going to be killed in a moment of terror. In these three movies, we don't know anything about his background. He is not the central villain. And we don't really see his motives. We see him using fear and his professional status to skirt around the law and serve this other purpose, but we really don't know why he's doing these things. - What do you want? - I want to know, how are you going to convince me to keep my mouth shut? TRAVIS LANGLEY: Next up, Carmine "The Roman" Falcone in 2005's "Batman Begins." He is a mob boss his role in there is to be a mob boss. And he wants power for its own sake. The need for power is not a complicated motivation. Even characters where we see this great need for power, we want greater complexity. But with him, that is the thing. He needs power. Talia al Ghul in 2012's "The Dark Knight Rises." This is the first live-action depiction of Talia, although she uses an alias, Miranda, through much of the movie. Her goals are vaguely those of her father, trying to get what she wants and trying to make the world better and reshape it to what she thinks it should be, but she's never given the depth of characterization of the other villains. We could speculate based on the way she grew up in a prison in the middle of nowhere that she was very motivated to try to live up to her father's ideals. We know from previous movies that when al Ghul referred to his family, he was talking about a family he had before her. He was not talking about her. So she was not that much on his radar as a person. So based on her behavior, she seems to be trying really hard to live up to her father and then the memory of her father. Next is Harley Quinn in 2016's "Suicide Squad." Margot Robbie plays Harley in "Suicide Squad," "Birds of Prey," "The Suicide Squad," and, surely, more to come. Harley Quinn is something of a social chameleon, somebody whose personality adapts to the people that she's around. When she's with heroes, she's more heroic. When she's with villains, she's more villainous. When she's with Mr. J, she is more murderous. She is a strong, capable individual who sometimes does not recognize her own strengths. In the comics, Harley is depicted as the daughter of a very supportive mother and a con artist. Children of one parent who lies all the time tend to go to two extremes, either seeing the worst in people, expecting them all to lie, or they're in the habit of looking for the best in this person who's lying to them. They're in the habit of finding ways to justify putting up with this person. They will rationalize that other person's lies. This creates a very gullible potential. Even though she is smart enough that she has the ability to see through these things, she doesn't always want to. Max Shreck in 1992's "Batman Returns," a ruthless industrialist named for the stage name of the actor who played the Vampire Count Orlok in the silent film, "Nosferatu." He is a blood sucker. This is his only appearance anywhere. He has a strong sense of entitlement. He is not completely psychopathic. They give him a son to show that he has some human concerns. He's just very ruthless and sees a whole lot of these others as inferiors or people who are in his way. - [LAUGHS] [SCREAMS] TRAVIS LANGLEY: He has grown up rich as well. That's very clear. Becoming wealthy seems to be liberating to a lot of people. People who become very wealthy, a number of them have said it frees them to be more of who they really are. So the one who has been more obnoxious at heart, they get to be very wealthy, they'll do it more extremely. The one who is a generous person at heart, they get to be very wealthy, they might finally get the opportunity to do these things. When Max presents his public face, he's showing who he really is. Lex Luthor in 2016's "Batman Versus Superman, Dawn of Justice." Lex Luthor is a character we typically see in Superman stories. He is manipulating Batman to pit him against Superman. In public, he extols the greatness of his father, but in private he disses dad pretty hard. He is this rich boy who has grown up to be powerful, to represent certain modern mega billionaires. If affluenza were a real diagnosis, it might apply to him. And so he does not seem to welcome anybody as a potential fatherly figure in the world. He is threatened by Batman and Superman, especially Superman. In some ways, he's the cruelest of these villains that we have seen. He will not just kill somebody. He will make sure they know it's him. He wants Holly Hunter's character to see the evidence, to see the cruel joke, and know that she's about to die and everybody else in there, too, and she is terrified. And he does that just for the sheer joy of it. In 2022's "The Batman," we see three of the main villains that we've seen before-- Riddler, Penguin, Catwoman-- 3/4 of the big four, everybody except the Joker, because we've seen a whole lot of Joker lately. We get them each featured in different ways, each representing different aspects of the history. Catwoman and Penguin seem to fit more recent depictions in the comics, her as more of a socially concerned anti-heroine, Penguin as the nightclub owner-mobster that he likes to be. And then the Riddler's a different version from what we've seen. The Riddler is the deadliest Riddler we've ever seen depicted. But it fits this story about Batman as Detective and Batman struggling with his own violence. With Batman, when creators are coming up with a new villain, they have to start with what will challenge Batman as a person? So there is this rich Rogues Gallery to go with this complicated hero. [MUSIC PLAYING]