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Photo: ‘The Batman’
Batman is an idol. A figurehead of human pop culture. A fixture. Globally, he is one of the most recognizable, beloved, and iconic characters ever created. Batman, and all things even remotely related, is also one of the biggest generators of revenue on the market. From clothing to comics, to movies, to toys, to games, that bat symbol is arguably as recognizable, familiar, and transcendent as the Christian symbol of the cross. And, much like humans have always done with heroes and gods of epics and legends (such as the Vikings with Thor or the Greeks with Zeus), we worship these mythological characters religiously. IMDb has 271 names credited as having played Batman in some form of media or another. But Batman’s first-ever appearance was only in 1939. Not even one-hundred years ago. In less than one-hundred years we’ve had almost three times as many actors portray the character.
‘The Batman’ – Full Commentary and Reactions
Most recently, Robert Pattinson has donned the cape and cowl, in the Matt Reeves helmed ‘The Batman.’ This film, marking the second live-action Batman we’ve had in two years (with the promise of a third coming later in 2022 with the return of Michael Keaton), promised a different take on the character and the franchise than previously seen. It promised a grounded, personal, noir-esque thriller, detective film. Which, given this is a character who’s nicknamed, “the world’s greatest detective,” was an attractive tease for a Batman fan like myself. Batman is without a doubt my most favorite fictional character and mythos. I was raised on Batman.
And I promise, I am not the only one that regards this character so fondly. Batman fans are a vigilant bunch. And all of us have our favorite and hold our biases. Many fans still view Christian Bale as their favorite version, and Ben Affleck’s “Batfleck” (also returning later in 2022 with ‘The Flash’) has the entire Snyder Cut fandom eating out of the palm of his gloved hand. Pattinson and Reeves had a lot of competition – and a lot to live up to. But having finally seen the picture, I am proud to say, as an avid DC & Batman fan, not only did this iteration deliver on all of its promises, it succeeds both as a Batman movie and as a film in its own right.
Cinema-lovers always love a good homage piece. We love when something harkens back to or takes inspiration from any of our beloved classics that have withstood the test of time. And, as previously mentioned, one of the goals Matt Reeves specifically set out to achieve with this film, was to make a detective movie reminiscent of those old, classic Hollywood crime dramas. Such films include 1941’s ‘The Maltese Falcon,’ 1946’s ‘The Blue Dahlia,’ and 1958’s ‘Touch of Evil.’ This noir element is ingrained in Batman culture, nigh inseparable from the mythos. He is a cynical, pragmatic detective who bends and works outside of the law to get what he needs, rolling around with the gritty criminal underworld of the urban jungle he protects.
Gotham City, itself, is even steeped in this dirty, bleak filth, with dark tunnels and corners. Even the architecture holds a gothic, old-world quality as the rain pours down over the city. Another key element of film noir is the presence of narration, typically from the point of view of the main detective. This is another aspect incorporated into the film, and a unique and welcomed one for the franchise. The film opens with narration from Pattinson’s Bruce Wayne, delivering a classic neo-noir introduction into the world, the city, and its superstitious and cowardly criminal lot. He even opens by documenting the date, just like all those gruff detectives. “Thursday, October 31st.”
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Walking away from this film, you really do feel like you had an experience with Batman, like you got to peel back the mask and truly sympathize with the psychology of the protagonist. The psychology of Batman has always been, to me, one of the most interesting aspects of the material. Some universities even have classes dedicated to dissecting the framework and complexities that the story offers, of a person so taken with the concept of vengeance and trauma, that his true identity has become the manifestation of that trauma – the Batman. Bruce Wayne is the shell, the facade, the phony, a point that the Riddler is sure to hammer home in this movie. Even the aesthetic style of the movie was dark and gritty, though at times strikingly beautiful. The film even brought Batman and the noir genre back to its original roots, encountering mobsters and heads of organized crime instead of maniacal super-villains, as well as corrupt city officials in the pockets of the criminal elite.
This iteration of Batman also promised to be grounded and realistic in terms of scale and scope, not including aliens from planet Krypton or super-speedsters from the multiverse. It has even been reported that a millionaire/billionaire could actually, theoretically pull off being a masked vigilante like Batman, but only for a few years as the physical toll of fighting crime every night and jumping off buildings would totally break you down. So, Matt Reeves intended to roll with this idea, giving us a Batman that holds some viability when it comes to plausibility. Now, as a Batman fan, it is always interesting to see how directors, and different handlings of the character, approach Batman’s iconic gadgets and toys such as the Batcave and the Batmobile. In the comics, the Batcave is completely unbelievable, sprawling through seemingly endless underground caverns with metal platforms and beams and elevators.
Some versions even include an entire hangar for his aircraft that he also happens to covertly store underground. How did a rich philanthropist manage to have, what would have to be, literal metric tons of construction materials delivered to his mansion, with no spectators or auditors asking any questions? And yes, I know reality doesn’t always have to be applied to everything, and that if you do, it’ll suck the fun out of most things, but when the director is saying he wants it to be realistic, I’m allowed to be critical. And while the Batmobile is certainly well within the realm of possibility for this movie, I was curious to see the handling of the famous Batcave.
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I heard the director, Matt Reeves, talk about his inspiration for this version of the superhero HQ, but was still hesitant when I saw images of the LEGO set online. Typically, the Batcave is fully enveloped by cave walls, with bats flying around, and stalagmites and stalactites decorating the interior. However, this one had lights, like full-on light-poles with big glass bulbs at the top. It had two giant, grand staircases stretching up to a man-made architectural structure, complete with an ornate, working order elevator – and I think even a clock. There were also large letters etched into the concrete, which read, “Wayne Terminus.” At first, I thought this was a little too grand.
What happened to my spiky cave walls that read more Dracula than underground railway? However, having done more research on the concept behind Reeves’s vision, I have come to appreciate the creative choice. In the early 1900s, New York City was actually home to privately owned and ran underground subway systems, and the idea here is that the Waynes, a rich, industrialist, Gotham family, had a private terminal installed beneath the city streets. And this station is now the base that Bruce Wayne returns to, to hang up his cape. As a storyteller and aspiring screenwriter, drawing from the real world tends to be one of the strongest and most sustainable sources for fiction, which fact is often stranger than.
Riddle Me This
Speaking of the efficacy of drawing inspiration from the real world, how could we not talk about Paul Dano’s Riddler? Batman’s rogues gallery is equally as iconic and compelling as the titular character, himself. After all, most of the most memorable supervillains hail directly from the Batman mythos. Joker, Two-Face, Catwoman, Scarecrow, the list goes on and on. Name one Wonder Woman villain or Aquaman arch-nemesis. However, CBM’s (comic book movies) often fall short when it comes to delivering on a complex villain, typically offering us a watered-down, mustache-twirling, cat-scratching “bad guy.” And DC Comics’ The Riddler has never really been anyone’s favorite villain. Sure, Frank Gorshin portrayed the character at times more unsettling than even Caesar Romero’s Joker, but Jim Carrey was hardly more than an antagonizing caricature in the role. I mean, even the idea of a criminal committing crimes and intentionally leaving breadcrumbs and clues for the authorities, seems a little hard to buy. Except when you stop to consider that this is actually more horrifyingly believable than I first thought.
The infamous Zodiac Killer has disturbed viewers of real crime dramas and docs since the real murders began back in the 1960s. They were a serial murderer with five confirmed kills, though they, themselves claimed to have taken the lives of over thirty. The case has become one of the most notorious and widely covered in history, due to both the nature of the crimes and the fact that the killer’s identity is, to this day, unknown. The popularity of the killer, the case, and any media covering the story, has prompted some to question the nature of the public attraction. Is it perhaps a little alarming how much we as a society consume and elevate serial killers? Does this attention and fame propagate more serial killers? This copycat ideology is compounded with equally-unsettling, real-world online message groups and radicalized followers in this film.
This perhaps comments on the dangers of idolizing murderers and criminals. The Zodiac Killer left cryptograms, ciphers, and letters with encrypted meanings and messages, just to taunt the authorities. A real world example of a masked psychopath taking lives and leaving behind clues and riddles. Dano’s interpretation of The Riddler even took on a look eerily similar to the historical Zodiac Killer, wearing a baggy mask with glasses, and a symbol painted on his costume. Perhaps the scariest and most effective part of this film, is not only the way in which it depicts Batman’s real-world plausibility, as was reported by the Scientific American, but also the unsettling reminder it offers, that masked psychopaths like The Riddler may be closer to reality than we are comfortable to admit.
As mentioned earlier, you can catch Batman again on the big screens later this year (barring any pandemics) with DC’s ‘The Flash,’ starring Ezra Miller, with Ben Affleck and Michael Keaton returning as the caped crusader.
Cast: Robert Pattinson, Zoё Kravitz, Jeffrey Wright, Colin Farrell, Paul Dano, Andy Serkis
Crew: Matt Reeves, Peter Craig, Greig Fraser, Walter Hamada, William Hoy, Tyler Nelson
By Connor Garvin
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Connor Garvin has been a writer for as long as he can remember. Writing has enabled him to distill the thoughts within his own head, as well as allowed him to have those same thoughts heard. Connor is a screenwriter, and filmmaker more generally, with a focus on television. He also believes that real change only occurs if everyone is heard, and is therefore a proud champion of the arts, and a kindred spirit to The Hollywood Insider and its values.