(Battinson monologue voice): As I write this, it has been a month and a half since the release of The Batman. Before I laid eyes on this movie I, and many Batman fans like me, were in despair. Our Batman was broken, shattered by a self-styled auteur and an A-list actor, then stomped on by a disgraced former mayor of Geekdom. What was worse, the auteur had his own army of Batman fans proclaiming that his was the definitive version of our hero, an inconsistent, psychotic, and emotionally bereft CrossFit enthusiast. Yet, there was hope; hope in the form of The Batman. A beacon to all of us who still cared about our hero being heroic and three-dimensional, brought to screen by a director that made me cry for the plight of apes, twice. The Batman was a beacon, but also a warning. A warning not to get lazy, a warning to commit to a vision and fight for it, and a warning that a movie doesn’t feel like it’s three hours long if it’s this good.
So, I loved The Batman. To me, it was everything that I wanted a 2022 Batman movie to be: a perfect encapsulation of great blockbuster filmmaking just as Batman and The Dark Knight were in ’89 and ’05 respectively. I want to write about this movie a lot, to break it down into its component parts and show you why I think they work so well, but for now, in what will be part one, let’s talk about The Batman as an example of the continuing cinematic journey of the character that I’ve been trying to understand through this series. The best way to do that is to look at the two most important aspects of the movie: the director and the actor.
Matt Reeves is one of my favourite directors, but I have never about his filmography on this site. The main reason for this is that I find him amazingly hard to pin down. Unlike Fincher, Lynch, Del Toro, Burton, or Nolan, all of whom have carved out successful careers without diluting their own artistic voice, Reeves doesn’t seem to have one. At least that’s how it looks at first. Reeves is an amazing artist who, like another superhero movie trailblazer, James (Logan) Mangold, has been lumbered with the reductive label of journeyman director. This is a patronising way of saying that, instead of having a strong authorial voice, he is actually supremely talented in bringing different types of stories to screen. His filmography includes Cloverfield, Let Me In, and the second and final Planet of the Apes reboot films. All of these movies are fantastic in different ways, straddling different genres and sharing the underrated trademark of Reeves work – he lets the stories breath.
As much as I love them, Batman and Batman Returns are Tim Burton films starring Batman. They feel connected more to Burton’s career than to the characters they are portraying. The same goes for The Dark Knight trilogy, which deliberately pulled Batman into a Christopher Nolan blockbuster instead of fitting Nolan into the Batman universe. Even the bad versions from Zack Snyder and Joel Schumacher are bad because of the idiosyncratic weaknesses of those directors. The Batman is the first Batman movie that feels fully like a Batman movie first, instead of the work of a specific director. Reeves clearly approached everything in this movie with a sense of awe and wonder, thinking “how can I make the best Batman movie?” rather than the best Matt Reeves movie. How Reeves achieved this is by taking the character back to his roots.
Robert Pattinson’s Batman is a miraclulous achievement. I like to think that modern audiences are more adventurous when to comes to heroes and their likeability, but I was sure this would be too far. From a lazy viewpoint, this is the emo Batman, listening to Nirvana, mired in his deep man pain. He’s so much more than that (also a lot of the critics calling him emo are the grey-haired losers that scorn young people showing emotion because in their day Michael Keaton kept it all in and killed people). I understand that it’s meant to be a joke, but I’m from the same generation as this Batman, the last generation who had to fight to talk about their issues. Bruce wasn’t the only one listening to “Something in the Way” instead of communicating with his loved ones, is what I’m saying.
What makes this Batman brilliant is that all of this is a starting point. He is depressed and battle-worn, dehumanizing himself and Gotham as his once-great crusade against the underworld has become routine. It’s through his connections – to Alfred, to Jim Gordon, and to Selina Kyle – as well as he devastation the Riddler (Batman’s thematic double, the question to his answer) unleashes on Gotham, that Batman re-evaluates his approach and what exactly he is fighting for. It’s there in the title: at the beginning of the movie he is The Batman. That’s what the villains usually call him, those who fear him. By the end, as he becomes a literal beacon of light to Gotham, the city now sharing a bond of trauma with him, he is Batman.
It’s a brilliant conceit for a Batman movie: what if Batman, instead of recovering through his great mission, stalls and gets trapped by his own trauma? He has never felt this human to me, this flawed. For this alone, The Batman is my now my favourite Batman live action movie.
(Battinson monologue voice): Maybe there’s hope now. The Batman has gone down well with fans and critics alike. Though their is work to be done, Hollywood does have a habit of taking a great thing and missing the point of why its good. Or worse, use our appetites for dark and complex stories and giving us Morbius instead. The fight for a great superhero film industry isn’t over, but with the Batman, we have a beacon.
This is part one of my The Batman retrospective – check in next week for the second part of the series!
If you enjoyed this article, please check out the rest of our Batman retrospectiveright here. You can also take a look at our other cinematic universe retrospectives, for the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the Jurassic Park movies! And, as ever, if you enjoyed this and want to see more stuff like it, please consider supporting us on Patreon.
By Kevin Boyle
(header image via Ellen)