In a market place oversaturated with uninspired money makers conforming to the status quo of comic book blockbusters it’s rare and gratifying to be presented a film like Michael Reeves’s The Batman. An incredibly valuable example of the level of quality these types of films should be held to after years of the genre becoming an obnoxious eye with so few diamonds in the rough.
There have been dozens of actors, writers and directors etc that have tried their hand at interpreting Bob Kane’s original detective comics issue 27 breakout star leading to a rich cinematic history for the character. Despite the fluctuation of creatives tackling the character the films have always been spearheaded by strong creative figures and the final cuts have fortunately felt like the cumulative result of many individual artistic minds rather than corporate studios – an unfortunate rarity in today’s predictable cycle of franchise releases. However 2022’s superhero industry isn’t the same one Burton’s gothic skylines graced us with in his 1989 comic adaptation which makes it incredible to believe that a studio financed this bold reboot depicting one of the pop culture’s biggest figures of iconography in such an unapologetically pronounced fashion. Against all odds The Batman is here and it truly is something to behold. A studio financed superhero film in which its titular hero monologues his tragic existence as the city’s shadowy protector while he writes in his diary, listening to Nirvana and refusing to shower, but here we are.
To save the best for last I’ll temporarily sidestep fully diving into the film’s unique take on Batman and discuss the film’s other aspects which were incredibly well handled. The production has a noticeably unique presentation on all fronts. A large criticism I continuously have with not just modern superhero films but modern blockbusters as a whole is the general lack of visual style or any semblance of style for that matter. The Batman however graces modern audiences with a bold stylish thriller full of marvellous ambition and stylish flourish. Be it the subtle way Reeves warps and wraps the camera, the abundance of pleasing palettes or the overall cinematographic influence he takes from classic/ contemporary detective films now presented in the dark filth infested frame of Gotham and the superhero genre. Reeves who directed the recent reboot of the planet of the apes films but more importantly has a history in low budget horror tackles this unfamiliar genre remarkably relying on those roots in indie thrillers to enhance his crime fighting blockbuster with plenty of tinges of atmospheric tension and intrigue.
With camera work courtesy of Greig Fraser (a DOP who has recently garnered a well deserved prestige for his recent work on Dennis Vilenueves dune, cementing him as a powerful force in the world of modern high budget camera work) the film is able to pull of an incredibly gorgeous collage of visual ideas, striking shots and impression creative ambition. The way Batman as a looming presence of impressive stature is handled masterfully. Sulking in shadows, overwhelmingly dominating the frame or having his cold demeanour and Pattinsons performance break through the black eyeliner and slim fit mask within the claustrophobic close ups.
So we can definitely see the essence of Batman but can we hear him?
Giacchino’s score which poses him as the apocalyptic force of death for the criminal underbelly or perhaps a righteous hero emerging in times of disaster. The ambiguity can be felt dripping off of every one of the continuous repeating thumps in the signature theme. Gianchino’s score reuses this simple idea throughout the film to a near ad nauseum level but somehow I can’t help but be on the edge of my seat whenever I hear it. The subtle distinction made like the subtle vibrating guitar which evokes the same grand bravado of a western hero as he menacingly approaches a cornered penguin in one of the films defying moments – an equal level of emphasis put on his imposing approach to further evoke Eastwoods iconic strut. Or the gentler rendition which subverts the pre-established tension with a soothing yet hesitant visage of true undiluted heroism. All of them unique but all of them carrying the iconic presence of the character and used to further the thematic resonance of each beat. Giachinos score masterfully weaves the ideas of the character in sonic form into the entire film.
Clearly taking influence from the work of David Fincher and various Batman mythos throughout the years, The Batman is able to take the best aspects of its influence and stand above them as a strong singular. Unlike titles like the Joker which evokes ideas from far better and original films that are more appealing, The Batman is able to exist outside of those influences. Although the fingerprints of some of Batman’s best outings are clearly felt, the script and character presented never feels derivative but rather takes the core enjoyment or brilliance of its history and molds it into something new. The aspect of storytelling I always believed to be the comics strongest asset was the mysterious and detailed deductive ability to the Batman character. For garnering the epithet ‘world’s greatest detective’ his films have sorely neglected Wayne’s keen intuition in favour of big muscle showcases. However this potential for narrative intrigue has finally been realised in a 3 hour long puzzle game – Reeves love for this facet of storytelling evidently portrayed in the rather on the nose yet noir speeches Bruce leads and concludes his arc with like an extremely angsty Jake Gittes. Opposing him in this battle of wits is Paul Dano’s the riddler. A character where Reeves’ passion for David Fincher’s ‘Zodiac’ is most clear in the ominous getup his serial killer masks himself in. Dano portrays a deeply troubled and broken individual. Recent antagonists in good vs evil fiction have been defined in a growing trend of writers justifying their villains with a heavy emphasis on the potential righteousness in their actions. It’s a type of character writing I greatly enjoy but what I was shocked to find with the riddler is that although he carries the same self assured righteous in his action, the person of Edward Nashton is a horribly deranged maniac, a character completely suited to oppose the films troubled and slightly unhinged Bruce Wayne. Someone I completely understand the danger of in a more troubling and disturbing way that very few modern villains have instilled in me.
However he isn’t the only adversary present. Reeves populates Gotham with plenty of characters that fill his depiction of Gotham with a kinetic sense of life through the inclusion of Colin Farells wildly entertaining rendition of Oswald Cobble Pott or ‘the penguin’ and Zoë Kravitz’s catwoman. The city of Gotham is finally given the extreme characterisation as a decrepit cesspool of corruption it always needed to match the comic nature it’s habitants require. With lines like “he’s with me” and “you’re really not as smart as I thought you were” the characterisation for all parties present feels perfectly fitting as they were ripped right out the pages of a comic.
The most apparent and fascinating aspect of The Batman is the incredibly edgy and adolescent goth tone it mysteriously and disgruntledly shrouds itself. A powerful aura strong enough to bring anyone back to their My chemical romance phase. The audacity and volume of Bruce Wayne’s day to day edgelord alter ego (because of course he is the mask now yada yada yada) is indistinguishable from his night time brawler facade. In other iterations a clear divide between Bruce Wayne and Batman could been seen in the nuance and differences in the presentation of the actor however Pattinson is emersed in a character so deluded and tortured by his darkness that even when he’s supposed to be normal he mops around the house in full black and emo hair just waiting for the time to adorn his giant black boots and bullet proof armour to enact justice. Even when he is forced to leave his domain of self induced cold isolation and attend a public funeral the look of mild discontent never leaves his face as though he was fully prepared to punch the lights out of everyone in attendance. Truly a part Robert Pattinson was destined to play – a sentiment I share in the most sincere and gratifying way I can. Pattinson is an actor whose has rebuilt his career in recent years into something incredibly compelling with a shift in roles focusing on low budget independent projects that garnered large cult following such as Robert Eggers ‘the lighthouse’ and the Safdie Brothers ‘Good time’ which has caught the eyes of the internet who not only fell in love with his fantastic roles but also the charming, kind of pathetic, but most importantly relatable way he presents himself in a no bullshit public image that many have latched onto. His tendency for the lazy, nerdy but somehow always pretty cool made him a personal object of attraction (in many ways) when going into the film and a perfect fit for this new moppy, angsty Bruce Wayne/ Batman. Looking past his looks, the core of his performance is incredibly strong and he gives my favourite performance of all the actors who have donned the cowl. He completely sells the desperation, pompous brooding and underlying tragedy, heartbreak or just plain insanity of the character. It’s hard to pin down this incarnation of Batman which is what makes him so fascinating. A common joke echoed throughout all incarnations is that the bat himself is as crazy as the people he locks away which is a stereotype the film comes dangerously close to emulating. Fringing on the brink of parody The Batman is able to contextualise it’s darker Batman in a setting he feels right at home at. Pushing his outlandish characterisation or unhinged mannerisms (or at points his obelisk-like stature’s lack of mannerism) so far to the edge of what can be taken seriously that he completely works and becomes a genuinely badass character despite his overwhelming teen-agelike angst.
He takes all the best aspects from previous batmen into a perfect blend of Keatons obsession with the hero role, West’s miscellaneous gadgets, Bales grounded brutality and Conroy’s cell shaded vigilanties inhuman ability to shroud himself under deep black shadows. Pattinsons version of the character also has a vital aspect that separates him from his contemporaries and makes him in my opinion the strongest on screen outing for the multifaceted crime fighter. That element being the arc that Pattinson undergoes. The growth his person undertakes in order to step out of anonymity, learn his role as a prophetic symbol of good or fail to rise above the gross underbelly he attempts to fight is a cathartic journey that served its purpose not only to establish this fresh franchises ensuing thematic journey but also an origin for the character at its forefront. His beliefs, his values and responsibilities masterfully condensed into a story about learning the value in symbolic heroism rather than abject fear – capped off wonderfully in the denouement’s reflection on his growth, highlighted by the subtle maturity its naive vigilante has earned. It all culminates in a character that feels like the purest version of what I view as Batman. A visage of caped justice that reconnected me back to when I was 12 and dubbed the dark knight ‘the greatest film ever’. A time when I cleared my local libraries’ entire stock of Batman new 52, the court of owls, year one, the long halloween etc. Or as I saw them – the sacred texts for a young 10 year old indulging in the darkest and grotesque stories I could find out of morbid curiosity and sheer fascination with the characters. A connection so strong it unlocked a forgotten ability to name off some of Grant Morrison and Frank Miller’s greatest hits by heart. Even now the character effect on my formative growth can be felt in the continuous wave of brooding angry loners in contemporary stories I can’t help but be drawn to. After years of disappointment and growing apart from superhero culture through disillusionment or just plain discontent and as I had believed myself to have stepped away as a fan from the subset of storytelling for years, harbouring a growing disdain for the played out repetition and cash grabs I watch The Batman. The film somemly reintroduces the familiar grimy streets of Gotham while Giacchino’s score heralds the black caped hero’s arrival with outstanding precision and perfection. Forthcoming doom or divine saviour – a burning question as I feel the grin slowly forming across my face, a wave of nostalgic catharsis influxes – a natural byproduct of my personal experience rather than a diluted selling point of the industry standard and I quickly realise something. Maybe I still love Batman. All this is to say that beyond tangential ramblings from an old fanboy concerned with true to character representation, The Batman is able to achieve a level of heightened emotion that few other films in this genre have been able to or even attempted to for that matter. A true example of impressive, unique and well realised ambition to fruition by expert craft and extreme uncompromising style. It was a rekindling of love I certainly wasn’t expecting but something I’m immensely grateful for.
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