A darker shade of Dark Knight
The Batman is one of the best movies in the franchise to date
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The unadorned title of The Batman, currently in theaters, signals that director Matt Reeves has taken the character back to basics, creating a film that in many ways captures the original vision behind one of America’s most beloved superheroes. This reboot features one of the bleakest takes yet on the character, but it might also be one of the best movies in the franchise.
Robert Pattinson stars as the billionaire Bruce Wayne, the man who stalks Gotham City’s streets, fighting crime in a black cape and cowl. In this film, Bruce is at the beginning of his career as Batman. He’s adopted the vigilante persona for two years in an experiment to see if he can make a difference in a city drowning in crime and corruption. But living as a nocturnal creature and fighting a hopeless battle against vice has turned him into a recluse, with his butler Alfred (Andy Serkis) as his only friend.
Gotham City was always a dangerous place, but the façade of law and order begins to crumble when another vigilante who calls himself “the Riddler” starts to murder corrupt city officials. He leaves notes behind for the Batman—notes that hint at an even bigger mystery behind the city’s depravity. This movie’s version of the Riddler serves as a dark reflection of the Dark Knight himself, and Bruce starts to lose himself as he questions everything he knows.
Pattinson delivers a solid performance, adopting the same gravelly voice used by his predecessors in the role. We don’t see much of Pattinson as Bruce Wayne because he spends almost the entire three-hour run time behind the mask. The movie didn’t need to be so long, but it doesn’t drag because Reeves deftly uses the extra minutes to create a Gotham with depth and texture, introducing the audience to a host of the city’s other denizens. We meet mob boss Carmine Falcone (John Turturro), Oswald Cobblepot who’s still waiting to become the Penguin (an unrecognizable Colin Farrell), James Gordon the seemingly only honest cop (Jeffrey Wright), and Selina Kyle, also known as Catwoman (Zoë Kravitz).
The film is rated PG-13 for strong language, violence, and drug content. The drugs are fictitious, but Gotham’s seedy underworld feels all too real. The aesthetic is dark, with almost all the scenes taking place at night or in dimly lit buildings. There’s a dirge-like quality to the film. This might be the most somber Batman movie to date, but it’s not as brutally violent as Christopher Nolan’s trilogy.
Depictions of Batman in film and television have run the gamut from brooding seriousness to silly campiness, and people are often surprised to find out that when the Batman debuted in 1939, his adventures featured gritty, dark storylines. He wasn’t primarily a superhero swinging into action. The Batman was the DC universe’s greatest detective—a man who first and foremost relied on observation, science, and his own superior rationality—like Sherlock Holmes in a cape.
This film revives those earlier aspects of the character. Batman doesn’t simply fight bad guys. There’s a mystery at the center of the story he must unravel. We see Batman in detective mode throughout this film, looking for clues and interviewing suspects, relying on his brain as much as his brawn. The Batman transcends the superhero genre, honoring the character’s roots by becoming an homage to film noir and the hard-boiled detectives of the 1930s and ’40s.
I’ve always thought of Gotham City as a metaphor for our fallen world without the gospel. A world of darkness can’t produce light, so instead it creates a dark enforcer to administer an imperfect justice. Darkness and violence are Batman’s tools for restraining the darkness and violence of Gotham City. In this movie, we get a glimpse of life’s futility. Batman fights against that futility with cold rationality, struggling to understand love. But in the midst of the darkness, there’s a glimmer of light, and by the end of one very dark night, Bruce comes to realize vengeance won’t save the world, but maybe hope will.
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