Paul Dano's Riddler In The Batman Was Inspired By The Zodiac Killer

One of the many reasons why Matt Reeves was such an exciting pick to direct "The Batman" was his willingness to bring unexpected, yet thematically on-point inspirations and influences into his work — and not solely in terms of other movies. either. Think of how Reeves turned the trilogy-capper of the new "Planet of the Apes" films, "War for the Planet of the Apes," into not just a David Lean-sized epic, but a downright biblical tale where he transformed the ape leader Caesar into a very thinly-veiled allegory for Moses leading his people out of slavery and into the promised land. 

Of course, we were among the many who picked up on the cinematic markers for "The Batman" that Reeves had obviously laid down in the aftermath of our extended look at the film earlier this year. The DC Fandome trailer was not shy about flaunting its David Fincher vibes, particularly from Fincher's acclaimed serial thriller killer "Se7en."

But with regards to the main villain of "The Batman," Reeves turned to some of the darkest pages of history to help craft a modernized and much more chilling take on Paul Dano's Riddler — namely, the Zodiac killer. If you ask us, the fact that Fincher also happened to direct "Zodiac" is just the icing on the cake.

"Grounded and Big"

The idea of drawing from real-life influences to add a deeper sense of relevance and meaning to comic book characters is hardly a novel concept, going back even farther (contrary to popular belief) than Christopher Nolan turning "The Dark Knight" into a post-9/11 parable about terrorism, surveillance, and the cost of security. That said, there's no mistaking the similar DNA running through the veins of Matt Reeves' "The Batman." That connection only grows even stronger with Reeves' latest comments, which feature in the February 2022 issue of Empire magazine. According to Reeves, the need to create a unique take on Riddler after Jim Carrey's cartoonish, quipping villain in "Batman Forever" led him down a very dark path.

"He made me think of the Zodiac Killer. He went around in a black, crudely-made costume, with an insignia and an executioner-type hood. In the darkest of dark ways, he's the real-world analogy for one of these rogues'-gallery characters. There was something very powerful and provocative in that idea."

The visual references to the Zodiac killer, further ingrained in our minds thanks to Fincher's "Zodiac," have been apparent since our first look at Dano's Riddler. The goggles and hood are almost a perfect match, with the Riddler's unique markings on his suit immediately calling to mind the distinctive crosshairs insignia that Reeves himself mentions. At the same time, however, Dano himself is quick to dispel the notion that the villain is nothing more than a copycat of a real-life serial killer.

"I liked how both grounded and big this film is at the same time. So there are some grounding forces like the Zodiac Killer, right? But it's still 'The Batman,' and for me it's so much bigger, so it was important to let my imagination react to the script, rather than strictly basing it on a serial killer."

We can't wait to see how Reeves strikes that balance when "The Batman" arrives in theaters on March 4, 2022. 

The February 2022 issue of Empire hits shelves on December 23, 2021.