Although the twenty-seventh issue of Detective Comics was cover-dated May 1939, the issue was actually released in March 1939, meaning that it was in this month that readers were first introduced to perhaps DC Comics’ most popular character, the Batman. With this movie being Batman’s big return to cinema screens, March is the perfect time to celebrate the Caped Crusader so I’ve been spending every Saturday doing just that!
Released: 4 March 2022
Director: Matt Reeves
Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures
Budget: $100 million
Stars: Robert Pattinson, Zoë Kravitz, Paul Dano, Jeffrey Wright, Colin Farrell, and Andy Serkis
During his second year of fighting crime, traumatised billionaire socialite Bruce Wayne (Pattinson) struggles to balance rage with righteousness as he investigates a disturbing mystery that has terrorised Gotham City. During his pursuit of the sadistic Edward Nashton/The Riddler (Dano), the Batman is forced to make new, unlikely allies to bring the corrupt to justice.
Ever since his debut in Detective Comics, the Batman has been a popular staple of DC Comics and no stranger to adaptation. The Caped Crusader and his faithful sidekick, Dick Grayson/Robin, first appeared in live-action in a black-and-white serial back in 1943, but it was his outrageously vibrant adventures in the sixties that arguably catapulted the grim vigilante into a cultural icon. Writers such as Frank Miller helped to return Batman to his darker roots, and his mainstream perception was changed forever thanks to the grim and gritty Batman (Burton, 1989); though the character would revisit his campier roots in the late–nineties, auteur Christopher Nolan and method actor Christian Bale brought the Dark Knight back on track with an extremely successful and influential trilogy of Batman films that grounded the theatrical vigilante in a hyperreality. However, following the outrageous success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Warner Bros. were eager to establish their own interconnected cinematic universe; Man of Steel (Snyder, 2013) was to be their first step in this process; however, a series of missteps and underhanded decisions saw the studio backpedal and re-evaluate their strategy to make the bizarre decision to tell standalone stories alongside interconnected films.
Initially, The Batman was to be solo project for Ben Affleck; however, the actor left the project after becoming disinterested in the character, production, and Warner’s treatment of director Zack Snyder. Director and lifelong Batman fan Matt Reeves replaced Affleck as director and reworked the script to focus on Batman’s second year of crimefighting and crafting a neo-noir story the focused on the character’s rage and detective skills. Former teen heartthrob-turned-method actor Robert Pattinson replaced Affleck and immediately tackled the role with a grim enthusiasm to undergo a physical and mental transformation and was encouraged by Bale to ignore criticism regarding his casting. Colin Farrell underwent an even more extreme transformation to play a new version of crime boss Oswald Cobblepott/The Penquin, and the film was clearly established as being separate from the existing DC live-action continuity. Reeves strived to incorporate horror elements and a stylistic noir tone to his film, and costume designer Jacqueline Durran drew inspiration from multiple Batman stories and interpretations to create a homemade look for the Batsuit. After being delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, The Batman finally released earlier this month; as of this writing, the film has made over $300 million at the box office and has been met with near-unanimous praise; critics lauded the film’s ambiance and gritty noir feel, Pattinson’s grim performance was celebrated, and it was largely heralded as being one of the most gripping and compelling superhero films to date. Even before the film was released, the cast and crew revealed that The Batman was intended to be the first of a new trilogy of films and although a planned GCPD spin-off was recently cancelled, development has already started on spin-off television shows focusing on Arkham Hospital and the Penguin, respectively.
Like many, I was somewhat sceptical going into The Batman, but probably for very different reasons; as much as I disagree with many of the choices made in the DCEU, and the direction Snyder took the films, at least we were finally getting DC movies where these wonderful characters actually co-existing and interacted. Now, though, Warner Bros. seem to think that it’s perfectly acceptable and understandable to have different variations of Batman onscreen at the same time, which is a far cry from the infamous “Bat Embargo” they usually place on their property. While I can just about get my head around this, I wonder how many in the casual audience will get that this Batman and this new world isn’t part of the DCEU as we know it, and is unrelated to the Ben Affleck and Michael Keaton Batmen that are in that universe. Personally, I feel things would’ve been much simpler if Warner Bros. had pushed for a new Batman solo film after Man of Steel, or simply recast Affleck with another grizzled veteran and retooled their script. However, I had no doubts about Robert Pattinson; he’s successfully reinvented himself as a high calibre actor and, at this point, I’m resigned to just hoping that these DC movies will be enjoyable in their bubbles and trying to ignore the absolute mess of the DC multiverse.
Similar to Batman and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (Snyder, 2016), The Batman begins with Bruce having been active as Gotham City’s bat-themed vigilante for some time. Specifically, he’s in his second year of crimefighting and is already relatively well established as a vigilante; many in the Gotham City Police Department (GCPD) and positions of authority are aware of him and do not approve of his methods, but the city’s such a corrupt and rotting cesspool that there’s really not much of an effort being made to bring him in. Unlike pretty much every single interpretation of the Batman, however, we are spared a recreation of the night Bruce’s parents are killed; their deaths are still mentioned, and are a pivotal part of the plot, Bruce’s motivation, and the city, but the film very much takes inspiration from Spider-Man: Homecoming (Watts, 2017) and assumes that the audience will have a working knowledge of who Batman is and how he came to be. Obviously, for myself and a lot of us, this is the case, but if you’re new to the Batman than you might struggle a little bit with understanding exactly why Bruce was driven to such extremes. The film, in many ways, is framed as though you’ve picked up a random issue of DC Comics; it drops you right into this hellhole of a city and forces you along this intense investigation with a haunted young man who stalks the streets night after night. one thing I really enjoyed was the use of Bruce’s voiceover and the depiction of him keeping track of his nightly activities in a journal, two things which are common staples of the character in the comics and really help to reinforce the film’s seventies-inspired crime noir feel, though Pattinson’s narration dies down for the majority of the film, so that one explicit window into his mindset is shut off from us and the film instead becomes a masterful exercise in subtlety and body language. This is a very different Batman from the ones that have come before, one that is both new and familiar in a lot of ways; like Michael Keaton, he rarely speaks and, when he does, it’s in a hushed whisper. Like Christian Bale, he clearly put his Batsuit together and is still finding his way as Gotham’s protector, and he has a physical intensity not unlike Ben Affleck but fuelled by a rage so intense that it’s almost surprising to find he has such a strong moral code against guns and killing. This Batman is also firmly grounded in the real world, perhaps even more so than Bale’s; it’s suggested that, rather than travelling the world to learn crimefighting and solving methods, he was trained to fight by his faithful butler, Alfred Pennyworth (Serkis), but he also demonstrates an extremely keen mind.
More than any other Batman, this Batman is a detective; he works closely with Lieutenant Jim Gordon (Wright), who vouches for him, allows him access to crime scenes, and even calls for him using a makeshift signal atop a seemingly abandoned skyscraper. Batman’s relationship with Gordon is easily the closest ever seen on film; the two have a clear trust and respect for each other, and feel that the system is so broken that they have no choice but to turn to the other (one an extreme vigilante, the other one of the city’s few honest cops). Despite the disapproval of his peers and superiors, Gordon constantly stresses that the Batman is their ally and he even colludes with the brooding vigilante to help him escape police custody. Gordon is depicted as a jaded and bleak individual who’s clearly seen too much death and corruption in Gotham and is near the end of his tether, yet he continues to fight on for justice; we don’t explicitly learn much about his personal life outside of work, but it was pretty great to see the two literally teaming up to investigate clues and having a relationship that’s much more equal than in other interpretations. On the flip side, we really don’t get many interactions between Bruce and Alfred; clearly inspired by Batman: Earth One (Johns, et al, 2012 to 2021) and more than a little reminiscent of Sean Pertwee’s take on the character, Alfred clearly fully supports Bruce’s endeavours as Batman but, like other versions of the character, is dismayed to find that Bruce’s nightly jaunts have all but consumed his life. Indeed, this is truer here than of any other Batman; Bruce Wayne is merely a brooding shell of a man, one who is rarely seen in public and has made no efforts to put his wealth towards improving the city, and Alfred is dismayed that the young billionaire is letting his family’s legacy go to waste in favour of pummelling thugs as Batman. Having said that, though, Alfred assists in looking into the Riddler’s ciphers and helps Bruce to figure out clues to the madman’s next victims, and Bruce is delivered an unexpected blow when his last remaining member, whom he has long shunned, is critically injured after the Riddler targets Bruce Wayne. Bruce’s anger at this turns to feelings of betrayal, and finally appreciation for his elderly butler, after he learns that his father, Thomas Wayne (Luke Roberts), got caught up in Gotham’s underworld during his mayoral campaign.
Similar to some modern Batman storylines, and Joker (Phillips, 2019), Thomas Wayne’s normally morally upstanding reputation is called into question after he is duty-bound to save mob boss Carmine Falcone’s (John Turturro) life and then to turn to the gangster to help keep a scandal under wraps. Though Bruce initially believes that Alfred has lied to him about this and that his father was as corrupt as the city’s system, he’s grief-stricken to learn that Falcone took extreme measures simply to have leverage over Thomas and that his parents were killed as a result. A prominent discussion point in the media, this Batman has taken the concept of inspiring fear into criminals and dialled it up to eleven; brutal and intimidating, he stalks his prey from the shadows and then engages with them, unarmed, with little regard for his own safety. He’ll take on gangs of thugs in the subway as readily as barging into the Iceberg Lounge to get answers from Oswald Cobblepott/Oz/The Penguin (an absolutely unrecognisable Colin Farrell), and utilises minimal gadgets beyond his tough and durable Batsuit, grapple gun, and somewhat unrealistic contact lenses (which record everything he sees and hears). It’s in the Iceberg Lounge that he first crosses paths with Selina Kyle (Kravitz) who, in just one of many homages to Batman: Year One (Miller, et al, 1985), is a working girl, barmaid, and frequent arm candy for some of Gotham’s seedier individuals. Selina is drawn to donning a figure-hugging catsuit in order to retrieve the passport of her friend and lover, Annika Koslov (Hana Hrzic), which one of the Riddler’s victims had taken to keep her quiet about her knowledge of Falcone’s illicit activities, and she ends up forming a rocky alliance with the Batman in order to track Annika down when she goes missing. Similar to Anne Hathaway’s take on the character, Kravitz never actually uses the pseudonym Catwoman, but she is depicted as a slick, cat-loving opportunist who is more than capable of fending for herself in a fight. Her vendetta against Falcone is deeply personal; she feels he owes her a shit-load of money after what he did to her mother and is so driven to making him pay for his actions that she’s willing to kill himself, which causes tension between her and Batman, who cannot abide the senseless taking of lives.
Speaking of which, Gotham City, already a powder keg of anarchy and crime, is gripped with fear when the absolutely terrifying and psychotic Riddler begins targeting prominent members of the city government and posting viral messages and threats in a bid to expose how corrupt the city’s system is. Garbed in a hunting jacket and masking his face behind a gruesome visage, the Riddler takes more than a little inspiration from the real-life Zodiac Killer to create a version of the character that is far beyond anything I’ve ever seen before. The closest analogy I could draw was with the Riddler seen in the Batman: Arkham videogames (Various, 2009 to present) and a mixture of “John Doe” (Kevin Spacey) from Seven (Fincher, 1995) and John Kramer/Jigsaw from the Saw franchise (Various, 2004 to 2021), which honestly was exactly what I was hoping for for this film considering how heavily inspired the city and the presentation is by Seven. The Riddler is an unhinged psychopath who stalks his victims from afar and either bludgeons them to death or rigs them up to ghastly death traps to be eaten alive by rats or serve as a veritable suicide bomber; his televised threats are an incoherent and frightening example of a mind twisted and snapped, and his tendency towards leaving riddles and ciphers bamboozles the GCPD and hints at a deeper corruption within Gotham. The Riddler specifically addresses these puzzles to the Batman and comes to see the Dark Knight as his intellectual equal; in actual fact, the Riddler is so warped that he believes the Batman is his partner, an accomplice who can perform the physical tasks he (as in the Riddler) is incapable of, and his plot to expose Gotham even goes as far as to not only target Bruce Wayne but to flooding the city and recruiting a number of likeminded lookalikes to assassinate mayoral candidate Bella Reál (Jayme Lawson).
Although it starts in a very subdued manner, The Batman quickly escalates into an intense and gritty noir-style thriller than showcases a side to the Batman that we’ve really never seen before. Accompanied by a dark, haunting orchestral score from Michael Giacchino, this Batman is drawn into the Riddler’s twisted plot and spends the majority of the film attempting to figure out what the madman is doing and who his next target is. Perhaps more than any other Batman before him, Bruce has become obsessed, utterly lost, in his vigilante persona; he can no longer differentiate between day and night, sleepwalks through life as Bruce Wayne, and even pushes Alfred away all in service of his fixation on trying to salvage what’s left of Gotham City from the criminals and the corrupt. Consequently, this really isn’t a movie where you learn much, if anything, about Bruce Wayne; the differentiation between his private, personal, and vigilante life is practically non-existent and Pattinson spends almost the entire movie in the cape and cowl of the Batman. Furthermore, although he’s referred to as “The Batman” by the Riddler and the media, Batman actually believes himself to be vengeance personified, to the point where the Penguin and Selina both frequently refer to him as “Vengeance”, which is all part of the character’s larger story arc where he realises that he is actually making an impact in the city not just as an instrument of fear and revenge but also as a symbol of hope. The Batman may very well be the most visually interesting and stylistically aesthetic Batman movie ever made; every shot is like a work of art, with the camera frequently utilising odd angles and long, lingering shots to really sell the atmosphere of Gotham City and the character of the Batman.
Gotham is shot almost entirely at night and in the rain; it is a moody, gritty, and dangerous city that feels like it’s on the brink of total collapse at all times. It feels very much like the cesspit seen in Joker and the grimy streets of Batman Begins’ (Nolan, 2005) Narrows but, again, dialled up to eleven. There are some shots of the city at sunrise and sunset, but there’s hardly any scenes that take place in the daytime, all of which really helps to make Gotham feel like an absolute hellhole and really helps sell the idea that Batman is facing an uphill battle. Previously, Batman Begins delivered easily the most grounded and realistic take on the title character ever seen, but The Batman takes that even further; many aspects remind me of director Darren Aronfosky’s God-awful pitch from back in the day, but these elements have thankfully been tweaked with clear inspirations from Year One, Earth One, and Batman: Zero Year (Snyder, 2013 to 2014) that show Bruce operating out of a subway beneath Wayne Tower rather than a more conventional Batcave or Wayne Manor and largely bereft of his usual gadgets and unparalleled efficiency. Even two years into his career, this Batman remains a flawed character; though extremely intelligent, driven, and observant, his body is riddled with bruises and scars and he takes quite a beating during the film’s vicious fight scenes. Although we don’t get a step-by-step insight into Bruce’s trauma and transformation into the Batman, much of this is wonderfully conveyed through Pattinson’s body language and demeanour; he is clearly a haunted, broken man filled with rage and desperate to protect others from the pain that has all-but crippled him. More than any other Batman, he says an awful lot just with a glare of his eyes and his mere presence is enough to leave roomfuls of people, even those already familiar with him, speechless. This is only aided by his absolutely fantastic Batsuit; clearly cobbled together by himself, presumably using some of the resources afforded by his wealth, his Batsuit is as realistically believable as the rest of the film, comprised of an armoured outer shell and a variety of practical gadgets such as his trusty grapple line (hidden in his wrist) and a gliding suit built into his cape. Batman’s use of gadgets is refreshingly limited; he uses the vague bat-shaped symbol on his chest as a cutting tool and has a taser function built into his gauntlets, but he isn’t busting out high-tech equipment at every opportunity and is largely reliant upon a torch and his grapple line. Taking inspiration from the likes of Gotham by Gaslight (Augustyn, et al, 1989) and Batman: Arkham Origins (WB Games Montréal, 2013), this Batsuit is surprisingly flexible and durable; Batman regularly tanks gunshots but can flip and swing about with ease, making him an agile and dangerous enemy to Gotham’s criminals. The only part of it I didn’t really like was the cowl, which seemed a bit too leathery and like it wouldn’t really protect him from headshots, but the suit is constantly shot in a way that makes it fearsome and impressive to behold.
Though Batman utilises a motorcycle for much of the film, he does bust out an absolutely mental rendition of the Batmobile; essentially a supped-up muscle car with a jet engine on the back, the Batmobile is like a roaring beast that tears through the rain-slick streets in a thrilling chase to run down the Penguin and a far cry from the overly tech-laden Batmobiles of the past. Also impressive are the make-up effects used to literally transform Colin Farrell into the bulbous, grotesque Penguin; portrayed as an underling of Falcone and proprietor of the Iceberg Lounge, the Penguin is a gruesome gangster who aspires to usurp Falcone’s position as Gotham’s top crime boss. As much as I would’ve liked to see someone like Ray Winstone take on the iconic role, Farrell absolutely steals the show in every scene he’s in, portraying the Penguin as a sleazy and manic mobster who seems to relish Gotham’s descent into freakish anarchy. Although not seen without his mask until quite late into the film, Paul Dano makes for a terrifying take on the Riddler; this isn’t Frank Gorshin’s madcap camp or Jim Carrey’s zany buffoonery, this is a Riddler who is dangerous and sadistic and empowered by his anonymity. Like Bruce, he has completely lost himself to his masked persona and addicted to the rush of breaking and taunting others, and is so far gone that he wants to literally wash away Gotham’s sins by flooding the city. This results in a finale where Batman is effectively powerless to stop the Riddler’s mad scheme and, instead, transforms into a symbol of hope for the terrified and endangered citizens. Although he gets plenty of opportunities to smash up the Riddler’s lookalikes, it’s his heroic actions in leading trapped civilians to safety that marks the turning point for Batman’s character, and potentially will result in him further refining his approach and mindset in a sequel. Although sequel bait is kept largely to a minimum and the focus is clearly on making an intense standalone film, The Batman definitely leaves the door open for continuations; the plot only scratches the surface of the corruption and degradation that threatens Gotha, there’s little hints and references towards the Court of Owls and even Doctor Thomas Elliot/Hush, and the filmmakers just couldn’t help themselves from included a brief, somewhat obscured cameo by Barry Keoghan as a maniacal Arkham inmate who proposed a team-up with the incarcerated Riddler.
As I said, there were doubts heading into The Batman simply because I’m tired of seeing Batman and other DC superheroes existing in self-contained worlds and am eager to see them interacting with each other. However, from the moment the first trailer dropped, I could tell that this was going to be a very different Batman movie from anything we’d seen before, and it certainly was that! “Intense” is the best word I can use to describe this film, which is so dark and gritty and so full of rage and brooding bleakness that you’d bee forgiven you’d walked into a crime thriller like Seven. This, however, is exactly what I’ve been waiting to see from Batman; a back-to-basics detective story where the Batman is met with suspicion, isn’t surrounded by high-tech gadgets, and is simply a broken man trying to fight an uphill battle against crime and corruption. Robert Pattinson brought an intensity to the role that rivals that of Christian Bale, clocking up so much time in the suit and maintaining a ferocity in and out of the cowl that paints Bruce Wayne in a very different light. While newcomers to Batman may be left wanting to know more about Bruce (it’s not even stated why he chooses the iconography of a bat here), a lifelong Bat-fan such as myself really appreciated that we just jumped head-first into the story and largely stuck with the Dark Knight throughout the story. The greater screen time afforded to Jim Gordon was very much appreciated, and more than maybe up for Alfred’s comparatively smaller role, and I loved how grimy and desolate the city was. The portrayal of the Penguin and, especially, the Riddler was fantastic; both actors really threw themselves into the roles and changed the assumed perception of the characters, transforming the Riddler into a calculating, sadistic psychopath and really bringing an intellectual challenge to the Batman. With so much room left to explore, I can’t wait to return to this gloomy new Bat-world and see what else can be done with this version of the character, which easily makes it to the number two spot for me (I still have to give the number one spot to Christian Bale for delivering an overall unmatched performance as Bruce/Batman).
What did you think to The Batman:? How do you feel it compared to other live-action versions of the character? Were you impressed with Robert Pattinson’s performance or are you too short-sighted to give up on your precious Ben Affleck? What did you think to the Batsuit, his car, gadgets, and setup? Did you enjoy the reinterpretation of the Riddler and Colin Farrell’s transformation into the Penguin? What did you think to the mystery, the noir-style presentation, and the inclusion of Catwoman? Which villains or story arcs would you like to see utilised in potential sequels? Whatever your thoughts on The Batman, or Batman in general, please sign up to leave a comment below or leave a reply on my social media, and be sure to come back for my Batman content later in the year.