The Plot Thickens in “The Batman”
Issue 13, Volume 112
Matt Reeves’s latest film adaptation of the beloved DC vigilante, titled “The Batman,” has it all: a compelling main character, a commanding plot, and an impressive slew of well-developed supporting characters. The film, which had been in development for the past few years, has captured the attention of cinephiles and Batman lovers alike, with the expectation that this adaptation would live up to Christopher Nolan’s highly praised “Dark Knight” trilogy (2008).
Inspired by the classic crime-thrillers of the ‘70s, “The Batman” builds a strong narrative that follows its titular character, played by the talented Robert Pattinson, as he investigates a series of grisly murders in Gotham. The murders are set in motion by the Riddler (Paul Dano), who leaves behind messages in the form of, you guessed it, riddles, addressed “To The Batman.” As Batman attempts to solve these murders, he unwittingly exposes a vicious history of corruption in Gotham, forcing him to reflect on his family’s legacy and its implications.
The thoroughly developed plot is completely different from its predecessors as well as other superhero films of late, because it contains many moving parts and layers, thus requiring a higher level of attention from the viewer. The movie’s intricate plot is the reason for its lengthy three-hour runtime, and while the relentless darkness and rain can blur the movie for some, those willing to pay attention are heavily rewarded. The gritty, immersive nature of the film grounds the movie, bringing it closer to its inspirations than its peers. “The Batman” unfolds similarly to its inspirations like Roman Polanski’s “Chinatown” (1974) and William Friedkin’s “French Connection” (1971) by utilizing a troubled detective as a vehicle to expose the corruption in the government and its link to organized crime.
Echoing the main characters of these films, the Batman of this adaptation is a detective, living in moral ambiguity, placing him closer in nature to the unsettling disposition of the violent vigilante Rorschach in “Watchmen” (2008) than to his predecessors. Fittingly, this movie’s version of Bruce, a deeply troubled and sullen person who suffers from social isolation, doesn’t become a two-dimensional and impenetrable superhero when he puts on the mask. Rather, he turns into a rageful presence that still has the same personality flaws and anxiety as his true self. The two entities are the same: the vengeful thoughts of Bruce are channeled into the brutal actions of Batman, with one acting as the mind and the other as the fist. The incredible nuance in this adaptation’s Batman is perfectly captured by Pattinson, who manages to convey a diverse array of emotions despite wearing a mask for most of the film. His take on Bruce Wayne is intriguing, switching the charismatic playboy of previous adaptations for someone with more emotional baggage. It’s a shame that Bruce is only unmasked for a handful of scenes, limiting the understanding and connection that the audience feels for him.
Joining Batman in his plot to uncover Riddler’s conspiracy is Selina Kyle (Zoë Kravitz), who, like Bruce, has a crime-fighting alter-ego that the audience recognizes as Catwoman. The two have a flirtatious relationship teeming with chemistry that, while a little underdeveloped, promises more in the almost definite sequels to come. Another ally of Batman is Commissioner Gordon (Jeffery Wright), the only non-corrupt officer in Gotham’s entire police department. Gordon’s partnership with Batman is entertaining, but, like the relationship between Bruce and Alfred (Andy Serkis), is restricted due to the prioritization of the plot, with the film opting to leave most of their relationship implied instead of developing it fully.
Despite the likeability of the protagonists, the antagonists of the plot are the characters who really shine, with Paul Dano’s interpretation of the Riddler standing out in particular. Dano’s Riddler is a radical terrorist, a departure from the goofy and flamboyant trickster that Jim Carrey played in Tim Burton’s adaptation. By strapping bombs to his victims and live-streaming his murders, the Riddler feels like a legitimate threat to Gotham instead of solely to Batman. His warped voice and unsettling body movements make him an unforgettable villain, one who truly challenges Batman’s morals and decisions, leaving Riddler not only at the crux of the plot but also at the crux of Batman’s character development.
Contributing to the dark ambiance of the movie is the masterfully crafted soundtrack and cinematography. Nirvana’s “Something in the Way” (1991) fits right into the film’s grimy aesthetic, acting as a theme song of sorts for Bruce Wayne, who the director revealed to be inspired by the band’s frontman Kurt Cobain. The film’s score provides the perfect amount of dark grandeur, instilling a sense of awe in the audience that’s fitting for the nuanced plot. The cinematography pairs perfectly with these other elements: the use of shadow and darkness provides tension, which is further developed through red accents scattered across the film that act as harbingers of danger and fear.
The only factor that brings viewers out of the movie is the dialogue, which often feels akin to that of a comic book. Catwoman’s silly one-liners and the robotic lines of Commissioner Gordon feel out of place among the film’s grittiness and undermine the sobriety of the characters. Similarly, Batman’s cynical monologues make his broodiness difficult to take seriously. His repeated line “I am vengeance” feels a little too on the nose, yet the film is self-aware, almost making fun of his corny and moody nature through the slight jabs he gets from friends and foes alike.
“The Batman” provides something different and refreshing to the beloved franchise: nuance. This adaptation gets rid of silly villains, two-dimensional characters, and weak plots in favor of substance that is channeled through the many themes and ideas “The Batman” touches on. These themes are varied, encompassing the intrinsic corruption that comes with power, the burden of responsibility that legacy carries, and the blurred line between protection and abuse. The film’s delivery of these complex ideas forces the viewer to pose their own questions, making it a great movie that stretches beyond the confines of the superhero genre that has so often restricted its predecessors. This success places it, in the eyes of many, on par with Nolan’s adaptations, with the expectation that its already-anticipated sequels are bound to cement it at the top.