Talking Movies [Batman Month]: The Batman


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

The Plot:
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.

The Background:
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 latenineties, 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.

With Affleck out, Warner Bros. decided to recast and start over with a new solo Batman movie.

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.

The Review:
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.

The film explores little of Bruce’s backstory and instead picks right up with him in an extremely dark mental state.

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.

Apart from Gordon, Batman’s relationship with the GCPD is as strained as Bruce’s with Alfred.

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.

Batman’s investigation leads to him crossing paths with numerous shady characters and tentative allies.

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.

This version of the Riddler is a twisted psycho looking to expose Gotham’s corrupt system.

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).

The Nitty-Gritty:
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.

This is a very back-to-basics approach to the character, and his suit and gadgets reflect that.

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.

Batman’s monstrous car and grim determination lead him towards a suitably dramatic finale.

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.

The Summary:
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).

My Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Fantastic

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.

Back Issues [Batman Month]: Detective Comics #140


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 Batman returning to cinema screens this month, March is the perfect time to celebrate the Caped Crusader so I’ll be spending every Saturday doing just that!


Story Title: “The Riddler”
Published: 23 August 1948 (cover-dated October 1948)
Writer: Bill Finger
Artist: Dick Sprang

The Background:
After Clark Kent/Superman proved to be a massive success in their Action Comics title, National Comics Publications wanted more superheroes under their banner and charged Bob Kane with creating a new masked crimefighter. Thanks to the long-suppressed influence of artist Bill Finger, Bob Kane’s concept of a “Bat-Man” not only became one of DC Comics’ most popular characters but also a mainstream cultural icon. Over the years, the Batman has matched wits against many colourful supervillains, with some of his most memorable challenging his reputation as the world’s greatest detective, and perhaps none have tested his intelligence more than Edward Nashton, a.k.a. Edward Nygma, a.k.a. The Riddler. Another creation of Bill Finger (alongside artist Dick Sprang), the Riddler has confounded Batman for over eighty years and has earned a reputation as one of the Dark Knight’s most devious and intelligent enemies. Brought to life with delicious relish by the late, great Frank Gorshin, the Riddler has played an integral role in Batman adaptations for years, overwhelming players with riddles and collectibles, seeking to suck the brain waves out of Gotham City, and being at the forefront of some of Batman’ s greatest stories. Since the Riddler made his cinematic return last week in The Batman (Reeves, 2022), this seems like the perfect time to look back at his debut appearance and see how it holds up today.

The Review:
Our story begins by giving us some backstory on Bruce Wayne/Batman and Dick Grayson/Robin’s newest confounding criminal as we flash back to the youth of the Riddler, known here as Edward Nygma and shown to be a conniving little creep even as a schoolboy. When his teacher sets the class an assignment to complete a jigsaw puzzle to win a prize, Nygma cheats by taking a picture of the completed puzzle using his “flash camera” and continuously humiliates his class mates by challenging them to solve puzzles and using slight of hand and other underhanded tricks to showcase his supposed skill. As he grows into adulthood, Nygma becomes an accomplished con man, fooling and cheating the general public out of their money as “E. Nygma – The Puzzle King”, but grows bored of the lack of challenge his cheating ways bring him. He becomes so sure of his genius and talent with puzzles that he decides to test his abilities against not just the police, but the Batman himself, donning a garish question mark-themed costume and taking the name of the Riddler for the first time.

The Riddler bamboozles Batman and Robin with his deceitful riddles.

The Riddler’s first heinous act is to commandeer a massive advertising billboard that features a crossword theme and challenge Batman and Robin to learn a clue regarding his planned crime. Within two panels, Batman and Robin decipher the solution to the Riddler’s crossword and accordingly head to the Basin Street Banquet. However, when they blunder in hoping to apprehend the crook, they find the city’s upper class safe and sound and are stunned to learn that the Riddler tricked them with word play and actually flooded a nearby bank (“bank-wet”). The Riddler floods the bank’s underground vaults using a water main and robs the bank after easily figuring out the combination to the vault, and is safely washed away to safety using the sewers. Bamboozled by the Riddler, Batman is doubly determined to nail his newest adversary, who delivers a massive jigsaw puzzle to Police Commissioner Jim Gordon at police headquarters. Batman has the police transport the giant jigsaw to the football stadium and directs them, via loudspeaker and microphone, in solving it to determine that the Riddler plans to target the Eyrie nightclub atop a skyscraper. The Dynamic Duo head to the Eyrie later that night, and Batman sends Robin in alone, where the Boy Wonder is left to see Gotham’s socialites party away with no sign of the Riddler.

Batman comes up with an inspired solution to escape the Riddler’s death trap.

It turns out that the Riddler actually meant that he was planning to rob the home of Harrison Eagle, a millionaire collector, but this time Batman is smart enough to figure this out and interrupt the Riddler…though he is momentarily stunned by the Riddler’s gas bomb and the puzzle master is able to slip away as Batman is forced to break apart an elaborate steel rod trap before Harrison Eagle suffocates to death. Riding high on his momentum, the Riddler’s next conundrum is a little more direct and dangerous to the general public as he sends a truck careening through the streets carrying a massive corncob and a devious riddle: “Why is corn hard to escape from?” Luckily, Batman and Robin are on hand to halt the out of control vehicle with the Batmobile, and Batman deduces that the solution is “maize”; or, more specifically, the big glass “maze” at the Pleasure Pier amusement park. Despite arriving in time to spot the Riddler fleeing into the glass maze, having robbed the park, the Dynamic Duo find themselves trapped in the translucent labyrinth and left at the mercy of the Riddler, who has planted a bomb in the maze that is set to go off in half an hour! Although the glass is shatter-proof, Batman marks their route using the “diamonds on [his] badge” but, when they reach the exit, they find it closed up and the Riddler watching them as time ticks down. Batman comes up with the unlikely ingenious plan to pile up rolls of carpet against the glass panel and set it alight; the heat expands the glass just enough for Batman to force the pane open, but the Dynamic Duo are left with no time to apprehend the villain as they have to dive for cover to avoid perishing in the Riddler’s explosion. Trapped on the edge of the pier, the Riddler is flown into the sea, cursing his failure, and leaves behind only a question mark where he landed and the lingering riddle of whether he drowned or escaped to bewilder the Dark Knight another day.

The Summary:   
I was pleased to find that the Riddler’s conundrums weren’t as simple as they first appeared; Batman and even Robin easily decipher the Riddler’s clues, only to be fooled by the master of puzzles thanks to wordplay and deceit, as is his speciality. Thanks to his devious ways, the Riddler is able to make fools out of the Dynamic Duo and get away with bags full of loot, and his victories only spiral his superiority complex into overdrive. Crucially, however, it’s important to note that the Riddler eludes capture, and Batman, at every turn; even when Batman is upon him, Nygma slips away using a smoke bomb and endangering an innocent man’s life. The Riddler constantly stays one step ahead, and traps the Dynamic Duo within the glass maze, and is only undone because his hubris demands that he lord it over his adversaries. However, even in defeat, he remains ultimately victorious as he eludes capture, imprisonment, and consequences for his crimes, and is even afforded the luxury of being assumed dead so he can carry out more elaborate crimes at a later date.

A colourful tale, and villain, that is as ridiculous in its execution as you’d expect from the time.

“The Riddler” is certainly a colourful and whimsical debut for one of Batman’s most notorious and clever adversaries; Edward Nygma is presented as an arrogant and deceptive little creep who cheats and uses underhanded tactics to bamboozle others with his supposed genius when, in actuality, he’s just a liar and a con man. Having cheated his way to victory countless times over the years, his narcissism is exacerbated by an inflated sense of accomplishment to the point where he’s no longer satisfied with duping the general masses and wishes to pit his “skills” against the Gotham police and the ultimate challenge: The Batman. Ultimately, “The Riddler” is a wholly ridiculous but fun little tale from Batman’s Golden Era, one that is more about presenting a quick, colourful tale that taxes Batman in a new way with a bombastic new villain, but I can’t say it’s the most memorable or influential story of Batman’s early years. It’s fun seeing the absurd means that the Riddler delivers his puzzles, and to see him outwit Batman on technicalities and semantics, and the bizarre ways that Batman gets out of his predicaments during this time is always amusing, but there are definitely better Batman stories from this era – and Riddler tales – to find.

My Rating:

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Could Be Better

Have you ever read “The Riddler”? What did you think of the Riddler’s debut and the puzzles he threw Batman’s way? Did you correctly solve the Riddler’s conundrums or were you also outwitted by his deceptive ways? What are some of your favourite Riddler stories? Which interpretation of the Riddler, whether animated, pixelated, or live-action, is your favourite? Whatever you think about the Riddler, sign up to share your thoughts below or leave comment on my social media, and be sure to check back in next Saturday for more Batman content!

Talking Movies [Robin Month]: Batman Forever


In April of 1940, about a year after the debut of arguably their most popular character, Bruce Wayne/Batman, DC Comics debuted “the sensational find of [that year]”, Dick Grayson/Robin. Since then, Batman’s pixie-boots-wearing partner has changed outfits and a number of different characters have assumed the mantle as the Dynamic Duo of Batman and Robin have become an iconic staple of DC Comics. Considering my fondness for the character and those who assumed the mantle over the years, what better way to celebrate this dynamic debut than to dedicate an entire month to celebrating the character?


Released: 9 June 1995
Director: Joel Schumacher
Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures
Budget: $100 million
Stars: Val Kilmer, Tommy Lee Jones, Jim Carrey, Nicole Kidman, Chris O’Donnell, Michael Gough, and Pat Hingle

The Plot:
Gotham City is being terrorised by former distract attorney turned acid-scarred supervillain Harvey Dent/Two-Face (Lee Jones), whose madness is only exacerbated when he teams up with Edward Nygma/The Riddler (Carrey), who has concocted a mad plan to absorb the intelligence and memories of Gothamites. As if all this wasn’t bad enough, Bruce Wayne/Batman (Kilmer) finds himself struggling with both the futility and loneliness of his life’s mission and his desperate need to discourage Dick Grayson (O’Donnell) from following the same dark path.

The Background:
Batman (Burton, 1989) was a massively successful adaptation of the DC Comics character, whose popularity had been somewhat waning and was in the midst of a dark, gritty reinvention. Although director Tim Burton was initially not interested (to say the least) in returning for a sequel, he was persuaded when Warner Bros. afforded him substantial creative control over the film’s production. However, while Batman Returns (ibid, 1992) brought in over $280 million in worldwide revenue against a $65 to 80 million budget, the film was criticised for its far darker presentation. While the film enjoyed mostly positive reviews, Warner Bros. were dissatisfied with its box office compared to the first film, parents were outraged by the film’s dark, macabre content, and McDonald’s were equally upset at being associated with such a gruesome movie. In response to this, Warner Bros. made the decision to replace Burton with a new director, eventually settling on the late Joel Schumacher, while keeping Burton on in a token producer role.

Returns‘ more ghastly aspects frightened investors, leading to a more light-hearted Bat-romp.

Although Schumacher initially wanted to produce an adaptation of Batman: Year One (Miller, et al, 1987), Warner Bros’ weren’t too keen on this idea and pushed, instead, for a more light-hearted affair that would sell toys and be more akin to the popular Batman television show of the sixties. This approach held little appeal for Michael Keaton, the star of the previous two Batman movies, and the role was recast with the notoriously-difficult, but far more physically-imposing, Val Kilmer assuming the mantle. Despite the wildly different tone of the film, Batman Forever contained a number of allusions, call-backs, and references to the previous films to set it in roughly the same continuity (save for recasting Harvey Dent from smooth-talking Billy Dee Williams to the maniacal Tommy Lee Jones). Warner Bros’ new approach appeared to be successful, with the film making over $330 million at the box office and pleasing parents and corporate sponsors, though the film garnered a somewhat divided critical reception. Much has been made of Schumacher’s aesthetic choices and direction, though the film but has earned a cult following compared to its grandiose sequel, with many calling for the release of an extended version to restore many of the excised scenes that added a darker subtext and scenes to the film.

The Review:
Right from the moment Batman Forever begins, you can tell it’s a very different film to its predecessors; gone is Danny Elfman’s iconic theme, the Gothic, enclosed sets, and the vast majority of the cast, replaced by an admittedly heroic and boisterous (if a bit over-played) score, a vast, near-incomprehensible Gotham City filled with neon, towering skyscrapers, and impractical architecture, a host of new faces, and, of course, a whole load of new toys.

Batman has all kinds of new toys and gadgets in this film.

First, there’s the new Batsuit; though no longer as armour-plated as the Burton-era suits, this suit seems much more form-fitting and famously included nipples to give it a more anatomically-correct look. Unlike in the previous films, where Keaton was forced to be very stiff and was heavily restricted by this suit, Kilmer (and his stunt and fight double) move much more freely. He’s still not able to move his head, sure, but he’s far more agile and capable in his fight scenes, delivering easily the best live-action Batman fights at that point in time. With a new suit comes new gadgets, a new Batcave, and a new Batmobile, all of which are far more stylised and elaborate than in Burton’s movies and are introduced in a pretty cool “suiting up” scene during the opening credits. However, as much as I defend this movie, I do feel this scene is tarnished a bit by that cringey “I’ll get drive thru” line which, while amusing and I’m sure made McDonald’s happy, is a bit out of place. A simple “Don’t wait up” would have sufficed.

Kilmer was a pretty decent, physically imposing Batman and haunted Bruce Wayne.

I haven’t had much exposure to Val Kilmer in my life but, as much as I love Keaton’s intensity and the dark edge he brought to the role, Kilmer is actually pretty good as Batman. In Batman Returns, we saw that Gotham City was starting to become acclimatised to Batman but, in Forever, he’s very much in the public spotlight as a widely celebrated “superhero”. To clarify, I feel there’s a difference between a superpowered superhero like Clark Kent/Superman and a street level vigilante like Batman or Oliver Queen/Green Arrow. They are, technically, superheroes but I feel they shouldn’t be publically celebrated or acknowledged in-world like a Superman; in these Batman movies, though, Batman is pretty much the only masked crimefighter out there and, here, we see that he openly works with Commissioner Jim Gordon (Hingle) and appears in public, when necessary. Like Keaton, Kilmer assumes a deeper, gravelly “Bat Voice” for the role that is somewhere between a growl and a whisper. He tries to emulate Keaton’s intense glare but, where he fails in that regard, he succeeds in his imposing physical stature, appearing far more physically fit for the role than the slighter, shorter Keaton. Kilmer’s Batman is also much chattier than his predecessor, sporting a dry wit and a pragmatic drollness that would be amusing if not for the film’s excessive, over-the-top and cartoonish humour elsewhere. Kilmer is also pretty decent as Bruce Wayne; he doesn’t betray much emotion but he’s both awkward and charming when interacting with Doctor Chase Meridian (Kidman), arranges for full benefits for Fred Stickley (Ed Begley Jr) and his family after his apparent suicide, and is very patient with the fanatical Nygma when they first meet.

Carrey channels Gorshin’s spirit for his zany turn as the Riddler.

Speaking of Nygma, if you’re not a fan of Jim Carrey than a) What’s wrong with you? and b) This really isn’t the film for you. This was peak Carrey, with the actor riding a wave of well-received comedies, and he really gives it his all here, stealing every scene he’s in with a madcap, zany performance that is part Frank Gorshin and part classic Carrey. As Nygma, Carrey is a hyperactive and overly-enthusiastic employee who is completely obsessed with Bruce Wayne. Carrey brings a natural manic energy to the role, hogging the spotlight and stealing every scene he’s in with his rubber-faced antics and you really get that this guy is a fanatical individual who is infatuated with Bruce Wayne and desperate to showcase his mind-manipulating invention. This proves to be his downfall, however, as Bruce cannot in good conscience approve Nygma’s brain-altering invention, which crushes Nygma’s spirit and turns his heroic worship of Bruce into a sadistic mania. Nygma takes to sending Bruce threatening riddles (though Bruce is able to solve each one almost immediately, he spends the majority of the film completely stumped as to who sent them and what they really mean) but doesn’t descend into full-blown supervillain territory until seeing Two-Face in action. As the Riddler, Nygma is a completely unhinged maniac, teaming up with Two-Face to put his 3D “Box” in every house in the city to increase his intelligence and wealth. Amusingly, as Nygma transforms into a successful businessman and bachelor, he begins to borrow Bruce’s look and mannerisms but becomes increasingly unhinged as the Riddler, eventually setting himself up on a ridiculously elaborate island and freely partaking of the knowledge of all those connect to his Box.

For a guy who “couldn’t sanction” Carrey’s buffoonery, Jones sure does ham it up!

While the Riddler gets much of the film’s focus, Two-Face’s tragic origins and complex relationship with Bruce and Batman is almost completely glossed over; we’re introduced to Two-Face (annoyingly and constantly referred to as “Harvey Two-Face” for no discernable reason) after he’s already suffered his horrific scarring (here rendered in a far less disturbing manner, with a ridiculous straight line literally splitting Harvey’s face in two) and there’s only ever the briefest hint towards the character’s nuance and fall from grace. Instead, we’re left with a frenzied clown, a character far removed from the dark, tragic supervillain of the source material and more akin to the Joker, for lack of a better comparison. Ruled by his obsession with duality, his double-headed coin (which he is perfectly happy to flip over and over again until he gets the result he wants), and killing Batman (since he blames Batman for his condition), Two-Face is a ludicrous, flamboyant carton of a villain who would make Cesar Romero blush. I can only assume that it was Schumacher’s decision to make Two-Face this overexcited buffoon since Tommy Lee Jones, apparently, detested Carrey’s ostentatious antics and yet seems to be going out of his way to try and match Carrey’s far more amusing and far less grating physical humour.

Dick grows from an angry bad boy with an attitude to a selfless costumed hero.

Two-Face’s inclusion, though, allows Batman Forever to do something I will forever hold it in high regard for and that is introducing Dick Grayson/Robin. As a kid, I grew up watching the sixties Batman TV show and reading a number of different Batman comics, many of which included Robin in various forms and I remember being super excited about Robin’s inclusion here. In a fantastic example of adaptation, Robin is a combination of Dick (name/origin), Jason Todd (bad boy attitude), and Tim Drake (costume); garbed in motorcycle gear, with a piercing in his ear, he’s clearly an angst-ridden rogue who has no time for the luxury of Bruce’s lifestyle and wishes only to avenge the death of his family. Even better, the film does a great job of retelling Batman’s origin through the parallel of the deaths of Grayson’s family, which triggers Bruce’s flashbacks of his own parents’ deaths and delivers a haunting scene where, in relating the parallels between the two events to Alfred Pennyworth (Gough), Bruce slips on his wording and mutters “I killed them”, providing a glimpse into the survivor’s guilt and responsibility he feels. Bruce sympathises with Dick and takes him in; though he is angry and hungry for revenge, Dick is convinced to stay through a combination of Bruce appealing to Dick’s love for motorcycles and Alfred guilt-tripping the troubled acrobat with hospitality. Alfred plays quite the sly role this time around, offering Dick understanding and comfort but also subtly influencing his discovery of the Batcave and transformation into his own masked persona. Dick’s first instinct, though, is obviously to steal the Batmobile and take it on a joy ride; after taking his anger and pain out on some colourful street thugs, Dick directs these same emotions towards Batman when he arrives to confront him, blaming him for his family’s murder but, having vented his emotions, becomes insistent on Bruce training him to be his partner to give him the means to bring Two-Face to justice. Bruce is angered at the very idea and discourages him at every turn, not wishing Dick to go down the same path as he, much less commit murder.

Chase is the horniest psychologist you’ll ever meet. It’s fantastic!

Finally, there’s Chase Meridian; Kidman is absolutely gorgeous, of course, but man is her character one horny bitch! Chase is immediately fascinated, sexually and psychological, by Batman; she, like pretty much all of the public, isn’t deterred by Batman’s appearance and is, instead, in awe of his presence and attracted to his mystery and physique and even goes so far as to use the Bat-Signal as a “beeper” to tell him things about Two-Face that he already knows and are painfully obvious and to explicitly voice her interest in Batman in her attempt to seduce him right there on the rooftop! She is overwhelmed by the sexual magnetism and allure of Batman as the “wrong kind of man” and the mystery about what drives him to do what he does but is just a enamoured by Bruce, seeing him as something of an enigma who is haunted and hiding more than he lets on. It’s not the same as her attraction to Batman, which is very primal and sexual, but it eventually grows into the more “grown up” choice on her part and she is clearly elated to find that the two are one and the same.

The Nitty-Gritty:
Batman Forever is a loud, bombastic action film; essentially, it’s a live-action cartoon, with every set and action sequence having a garish, over-the-top presentation. The film starts off, as Two-Face says, with a bang; the sequence of Batman hanging from Two-Face’s helicopter looks pretty shit but I can appreciate the blending of practical stunts, early-CGI, miniature sets, and the age of the film, to let it go and the entire set piece of Batman’s chase after him is explosive and frantic and really helps open the film with a huge amount of energy, albeit energy that screams “live-action cartoon featuring a lauded superhero” rather than a dark, broody piece about an urban vigilante. Also, people think that Schumacher’s Batman films were all light-hearted and campy and, yes, they are but while Batman isn’t as vicious or brutal as before and is much more of a “superhero” than a brooding vigilante, he still directly and indirectly causes a lot of death and destruction, including the death of Two-Face (something he specifically ordered Dick not to pursue).

Nygma’s obsession with Bruce and Batman turns him into a twisted, monstrous nutjob.

Easily the star of the show, for me, is Jim Carrey as the Riddler. While I think Batman Forever would have benefitted all the more if Nygma had been the only elaborate comedic element in a film full of straight men, I am a massive fan of Carrey and his work in the nineties and the way he hogs every scene is just fabulous to me. I just love his many garish costumes, his elaborate movements, the way he emulates Bruce Wayne, and how he switches between manic energy and a sinister glee on a dime. Ultimately, neither Riddler or Two-Face are much of a physical threat to Batman and, far from the master of puzzles and conundrums of his comic counterpart, Riddler opts to force batman into making the now-cliché “choice” between the love of Bruce’s life and his crimefighting partner. Having faced his demons throughout the film and been reminded of why he became Batman, Bruce chooses to save both, reducing Nygma to a gibbering, crazed wreck in the process and finally putting to rest the demons that have haunted him all his life.

There’s maybe a little too much bombastic slapstick and cartoony elements, to be sure.

Of course, it’s naïve to pretend like Batman Forever is perfect; it’s mindless entertainment for kids, to be sure, but is maybe a little too loud, bombastic, and slapstick for parents or hardcore Batman fans. There are a few narrative inconsistencies as well, such as Bruce inexplicably deciding to retire Batman and settle down with Chase. I never quite got the logic here; Bruce seems to think Batman is no longer needed but it also seems like he’s willing to give up his crusade to be with Chase since he can’t justify being Batman anymore (despite the fact that, as Dick says, “there’s monsters out there” like Two-Face and the Riddler). Then there’s the ridiculously cartoony security guard from the start of the film, the garish new Batmobile, the way in which the Batcave opens up and comes alive every time there’s an intruder, the ludicrous moment where the Batmobile drives up a wall to safety (how the hell did it get down from there?), the sheer ineffectiveness of Gotham’s police department (seriously, the cops are completely useless and call for Batman at the first sign of any trouble), and the overly cartoony sound effects that punctuate a lot of Carrey’s scenes and the fight sequences.

Two-Face is easily the weakest and most annoying part of the film.

For me, though, the weakest part of Batman Forever is clearly Two-Face; he’s just a grating, annoying villain who goes way, way over the top at every moment. He’s also an absolute idiot; he holds the circus hostage under the belief that Batman is present or that someone there knows who Batman is, which is a bit of a reach, constantly goes against his modus operandi, and ends up being tricked to his death in the simplest way possible. The only positive to his inclusion is that it fuels Dick’s need for vengeance; Bruce lectures Dick about how killing Two-Face won’t take away his pain, how he’ll end up becoming an obsessed vigilante taking his anger and pain out on countless others if he kills Two-Face, but Dick’s only wish is to kill Two-Face for what he did and it’s only in sparing Two-Face’s life that he (Dick) comes to evolve into the same selfless hero we saw him to be when he risked his life to save the circus from Two-Face’s bomb.

It’s fantastic to see Robin done in live-action and used as a thematic parallel to Batman.

Make no mistake about it, this is a great film if you’re a fan of Robin and Stephen Amell O’Donnell perfectly encapsulates the “mad, broody youth” vibe they were going for. After Dick forces himself into Batman’s business, Bruce is livid at Dick’s recklessness and continually attempts to talk him out of pursing the same life as him. In the end, though, with Chase in need of rescue and his motivations resolved (Bruce remembered that he promised his parents that no one would ever have to suffer like he would, that he would take his revenge upon all criminals to safeguard others no matter the cost), Batman throws on his “sonar” suit and is in the middle of choosing between his Batwing and Batboat (all new toys for kids to buy/pine for) when Dick, now Robin, arrives and the two reconcile. Personally, I love this moment; the two basically acknowledge that each other were right, that each of them has their own path, and that they have converged into one destiny. Robin even admits that he can’t promise he won’t kill Harvey but Batman accepts this, and that Dick must walk his own path, and they solidify their partnership with a firm handshake…only to immediately be separated upon reaching Nygma’s island. Regardless, I’m continually entertaining by film’s smart use of Robin as a thematic parallel to Bruce. I’d love to see this concept revisited in a new Batman movie one day; skip retelling Batman’s origin again and, instead, have a darker, more jaded Batman begin to stray from his path but be brought back from the brink by adopting Dick, whose origin can be used as a direct analogy for Batman’s. Sadly, it doesn’t look like we’ll be seeing that in a film any time soon but Titans (2018 to present) has done a really good job, in my opinion, of exploring similar ground with an even better version of Dick/Robin and taking that to its logical conclusion (the debut of Nightwing).

The Summary:
Batman Forever is a hugely entertaining kids’ movie which has a lot of potential that is sadly squandered by its execution. A lot of time is spent exploring Bruce’s psyche and motivations; not as much as was originally intended but far more than we had seen in live-action up until that point. The film suggests that Bruce has become so lost, so blinded by his pain, anger, and guilt, that he’s forgotten why he became Batman in the first place (to protect the innocent) and is, instead, lashing out at criminals out of habit. Dick is expertly used as a parallel to Bruce’s life and background; his anger is raw and in need of guidance. Bruce was guided by the bat he encountered as a child but Dick simply wants to kill Two-Face and has no clear focus beyond that. Bruce knows first-hand that killing the man responsible won’t bring Dick the peace or closure he so desperately seeks and that he’ll end up exactly like him, “Running out into the night to find another face. And another. And another!” It’s not massively dwelled upon but the film suggests that Bruce can use his experience to guide Dick in such a way to focus his rage and pain in a more productive way, one that sees him walk the same path but not so tainted by darkness and heartache. This turns out to be the case as Dick refuses to kill Two-Face, turning away from becoming a mindless killer and towards being an agent of true justice, which is something Bruce also learns to do through his relationship with Dick and Chase, which finally sets him towards a more productive path.

The unique exploration of Bruce’s grief and pain is offset by the film’s madcap attempts at comedy.

Sadly, though, the film’s themes and explorations are hampered somewhat by the madcap nature of Schumacher’s world; thanks to several subtle references, this is clearly the same world as Burton’s Batman movies but much bigger, grander, and more…operatic. Gotham City is awash in garish neon and giant, impractical statues and skyscrapers and the film has a manic energy thanks not only to Carrey’s scene-stealing antics but the infantile characterisation of Two-Face and his goons. Cartoonish sound effects permeate many of the film’s action sequences and I can’t help but think the film would have been more appealing if everyone played it entirely straight except for Carrey. Clearly, Schumacher is leaning heavily towards the sixties television show, which is fine since that is a classic in every way and a guilty pleasure, but what made that show work was that everyone played it straight, which only served to make the ridiculousness more entertaining. Here, it’s ridiculous for the sake of being ridiculous so when there are moments or genuine humour (mainly from Batman and Alfred and Carrey’s less zany moments) they get drowned out by the overabundance of cartoonyness and Tommy Lee Jones’ grating performance as Two-Face.

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Great Stuff

What are your thoughts on Batman Forever? Where does it rank against the other Batman movies of its era, or even now? What did you think of the cast, particularly Kilmer, Carrey, and Jones? Were you excited to see Robin brought into the franchise or do you prefer Batman to “work alone”? What did you think of Schumacher’s version of Batman, his world, and his rogues? Would you like to see an extended cut of the film or do you think it’s best left as it is? Whatever your thoughts, go ahead and drop a comment below and be sure to come back next Tuesday for my review of the much-maligned sequel!