In the 80 plus years since Batman made his first appearance in Detective Comics #27, we have had 9 theatrically released live action films with 6 different actors portraying the caped crusader. Tim Burton elevated Batman’s gothic aesthetic, Joel Schumacher brought the color and campiness of the 60s, and Christopher Nolan grounded the character in a semi-realistic world not so different from our own. There’s a different flavor of Batman for everyone, but there is perhaps no collection of Batman films that resonates with modern audiences like the Nolan trilogy. These three films essentially defined what many believe to be essential Batman-core; a capable genius with an bottomless bank account that must use his mind as much as his body to stop the criminally insane. To go beyond or against the formula seems fruitless, with The Dark Knight considered as not only the best Batman film, but one of the best superhero films ever made. So, if you dare not go against the grain of what audiences consider the standard, is there really any room to grow and flesh out this iconic character?
Luckily, the answer is yes. The world of Batman expands so far beyond the films, with hundreds of different stories told through the mediums of animation, video games, and of course, comic books. We may have accepted what Batman needs to be, but we’ve only scratched the surface of what can be done with the character on a deeper level. As times change and public perception of the icons of old continue to sway, there’s always ample ammunition to be used to further dissect these modern mythological beings.
Matt Reeves is the most recent director to have a turn at bringing the Dark Knight to the big screen, but he perhaps faces the greatest challenge by operating in the shadow of what many believe to the definitive take on Batman. He has to find a way to not only play into the perceptions of what the average fan expects, but also produce a fresh take on the character that doesn’t rely too much on the successes of the past to succeed. Some might say this would be impossible.
But if there’s one thing Batman is known for, it’s doing the impossible despite everything working against him.
The Batman is an enthralling take on the mythos of one of the most popular comic book creations ever conceived. Leaning into the “world’s greatest detective” moniker the character earned long ago, the film is less of a costumed fight fest and more of a slow burn, methodical crime mystery that also allows for deeper analysis of a billionaire that decides to dress up and beat down thugs at night. Gritty, seedy, and brimming with the rage of its central character and a city promised change with little results, The Batman manages to feel just familiar enough to do justice to the source material while nailing a unique aesthetic that gives it its own identity among its predecessors.
Bruce Wayne (Robert Pattinson), our lovable, depressed, borderline suicidal orphan billionaire is two years into his crusade against crime as the masked vigilante Batman. Prowling the streets at night and striking fear into the hearts of Gotham City’s criminals, Batman has garnered an almost mythical reputation among citizens, police and neerdowells alike as a beacon of vengeance. Feared by some and hunted by others, Batman is called upon by his only ally in the field, police lieutenant Jim Gordon (Jeffrey Wright) to investigate a series of brutal murders involving prominent Gotham figures by a masked, clue obsessed man calling himself The Riddler (Paul Dano). In his quest to stop his biggest challenge yet, Batman finds a challenging relationship with local cat burglar Selina Kyle (Zoe Kravitz) and begins to unravel the secrets of the city that may involve him more than he ever believed.
Many people see Batman as a patient, level headed intellect that smartly assesses each situation to find the best course of action, but that is usually associated with a much more seasoned crime fighter. This is not that Batman. He’s brash, aggressive and hellbent on changing his birth city, one broken limb at a time. Although we are thankfully spared another showcase of his mother and father being gunned down in front of him like countless other Batman films, you can feel the weight their deaths impose on him through his brutal approach to crime fighting. Pattinson gives us one of the most vulnerable takes on the Bat yet, focusing on his warped pursuit of the “vengeance” he knows he may never find. Each criminal he sees is his parent’s murderer, and while he realizes he can never cross the same line the killer did, it doesn’t stop him from unleashing his pent-up aggression on anyone who looks to do harm. This is the most brutal Batman we’ve seen since Ben Afleck’s take in the Snyder films, utilizing an array of tools to scare the debauchery out of anyone who dares make a mess of Gotham. Despite his aggression, he still shows signs of the genius detective that many have come to expect. He’s cunning, analytical and is able to see what the police don’t, but the film also isn’t afraid to show his failing. He’s still incredibly new to crime fighting, so seeing him figure things out as well as falling flat on his face is great to see. We’ve seen Batman do his punching and kicking, but this film really delves into the more methodical nature of the character, giving him an ever-changing mystery that only he can solve. Pattinson‘s Bruce Wayne is not far off from his alter ego, living as a recluse with his sense-of-reason butler Alfred (Andy Serkis). Pattinson brings a cold, malevolent energy to the Bat, never leaving the focus on the film and allowing the audience to experience his crusade through his eyes.
Zoe Kravitz‘s Selina Kyle is an engaging folly for Pattinson’s Battinson. A cat from the other side of the tracks, forced to involve herself with Gotham’s underworld just to survive, Selina and Bruce find themselves drawn to one another through their secrets, their desire to see evil suffer, and their undeniable lustful attraction to one another. Yet its Selina’s murkier moral code that makes Batman re-evaluate his own while finding brief comfort with another tortured soul. Kravitz is absolutely excellent and occasionally outshines the titular hero through her will to do whatever it takes to get by and her admittance to her self-centered goals, something that not even Batman will easily admit to. Also assisting the Dark Knight is Lt. James Gordan, the only cop smart or stupid enough to trust a mysterious man in a cape and cowl with tracking down a serial killer. While maybe not as fleshed out as Gary Oldman‘s take in the Nolan trilogy, Wright still brings some of the best interactions we’ve see between Gordan and Batman to date. He’s one of the few good cops in the city, and his unorthodox approach to catching the Riddler shows he can be just as cunning and resourceful as Batman.
It can be argued that Batman wouldn’t be nearly as famous if it wasn’t for his allstar rogues gallery. A hero is only as good as his villain, and luckily there are plenty heavy hitter to choose from. Despite taking up a smaller role in the story, underworld-active socialite Oswald Cobblepot, aka the Penguin, manages to steal every scene he’s in. Played by a heavily prostheticed and unrecognizable Collin Farrell, Cobblepot is a sleazy slimeball looking to make a name for himself in the Gotham underworld, holding some of the elite’s biggest secrets. It’s a ball to see Farrell completely disappear into the character, bringing much needed comedic moments while still showing promising signs of the A-list villain he’s destined to become. But there’s no doubt that Dano‘s Riddler is the dominant force of evil in this film. Both a dark reflection of Batman and the current state of the world, this Riddler is a far cry from the fedoras, canes and annoying trophies we’ve known him for. Taking heavy inspiration from the Zodiac Killer (perhaps the real life Riddler), this rogue is the ultimate mental test for the still green Batman. His riddles and clues keep the character true to his origins, but the sadistic ways he goes about targeting his victims makes him perhaps the most terrifying incarnation this character has ever seen. This modernization not only breathes life into a character often considered a joke, but further grounds him into this world that doesn’t seem far off from his own. This Riddler’s tale is a common one we’ve seen over the past few decades; a disenfranchised, discarded sociopath seeking revenge against those he believes responsible for the terrible things that happen in the city. Batman isn’t far off, but the Riddler is a fantastic foil that reminds him of exactly where he could end up if he isn’t careful.
This version of the Riddler takes heavy inspiration from serial killers of the past and fiction, so it should go without saying that the film’s aesthetic is heavily married to the work of Fincher-esque crime thrillers and film noirs. The beginning opening monologue is all the proof you need to realize this film is taking a slower, more methodical approach to its story. Grainy, rainy and bathed in red light, the film’s visuals fit the intended aesthetic so well while giving the film it’s own unique feel. Burton had his blacks and whites, Nolan dabbled with yellows and blues, and Reeves has smartly chosen his color palette to coat a violent, angry city of Gotham. Gotham was always intended to be a character in and of itself, and this is achieved terrifically here through a blending of global architectures. Skyscrapers, cobblestone roads, and gothic designs blend together surprising well to create one of the most interesting settings for Batman in a long while.
Even though the film is way more of a slow burn crime thriller than a straight up superhero film, there’s no real slacking in the action department. Our first glimpse of Batman is him brutally beating the crap out of some thugs, offering a great first taste of what to expect from the character. Perhaps the best piece of action on display is a fantastic car chase involving the Batmobile, complete with explosions and some heavy duty totaling. Some may be disappointed in the amount of fights Batman actually gets into, but I found this to be the right way to go in order to produce a more in-depth character study. When there’s no action to get your heart racing, the fantastic score comes in to remind you of who we’re dealing with. The main theme is a powerful, intimidating piece that sounds reminiscent of the “Imperial March” from Star Wars, which would make sense considering both accompany a violent, masked psycho dressed in all black. When things are gloomy and more emo, we get Nirvana’s “Something in the Way” to further emphasize that when he’s not beating people up, Bruce Wayne is sulking about with his semi-self imposed weight on his shoulders. To juxtapose innocence with terrible crime or violence, a heavenly choir chimes in with “Ave Maria”. You’re going to hear these three songs a lot, and truthfully I think they could have been cut back on a tad, but they at least fit the setting and mood of each scene they are in.
While it may have a few hiccups in it’s 3 hour long runtime, this is certainly the best Batman has been in a long while. Methodical, patient and brimming with noir thrills and heavy action sequences, The Batman has certainly set a good foot forward for DC in their extended universe. I’m very intrigued to see how they can build upon this world, and I hope this means DC realizes that these smaller stories are the strongest move to fight against the monopoly the MCU has over the superhero genre.
Riddle Me This
The film features one of the most chilling interpretations of a mostly scoffed at villain, so it only seems fair that a cocktail inspired by him be equally as chilling. The Riddle Me This is a riff on many creme de menthe and chocolate cocktails, supported by a bit of brandy and a nice dusting of nutmeg in the shape of a question mark. With a recipe simple enough that you don’t need to be a detective to figure it out, it’s not question that this cocktail is great for both warm summer days and chilly holiday nights.
- 1/2oz brandy
- 1.5oz creme de menthe
- 1/2oz white creme de cacao
- 1.5oz heavy cream
- Garnish: Nutmeg
- Before building the drink, create a “?” stencil.
- Combine ingredients in a shake and shake with ice.
- Strain into a chilled coup or martini glass.
- Dust the nutmeg over the cocktail, using the stencil to create your shape.