Greetings all! I am dusting off the film review tag in honor of a very special review: The Batman. As always, the Non-Spoiler review will go above the cut, Spoilers below.
Are you ready? Let’s begin.
For three years, we have heard about The Batman, as directed by Matt Reeves and starring Robert Pattinson. We heard about the Snyder fans insisting The Batman will be terrible because it doesn’t involve Ben Affleck or Zack Snyder. Discussions about Batman in the wake of BlackLivesMatter centered on whether Batman had any right to do what he does at all, or if he was a privileged White Man acting as a tool of post-capitalist masters, protecting private property and punishing marginalized communities. And of course, who can forget the discussion on whether Batman performs cunnilingus on Catwoman. Regarding the latter, just like in real life, one group says yes, another group says no.
I’ve been a Batfan since Burton’s 1989 installment. My childhood doggie (1990-2005) was named Batman. With the popularity of the Tim Burton film, the Family Channel began airing episodes of the Adam West show; trust and believe my parents knew right where I was between the hours of 4-5 PM every afternoon that summer. I had toys and T-shirts. Comics were still being gatekept against little girls so I didn’t start reading those until later, but I had the novelization and read it to tatters. Batman: The Animated Series happened and that was a revelation. It felt GROWN UP. The women were characters! With thoughts! Batman Returns happened and I felt Ways About Michelle Pfeiffer in that suit, but what was most appealing was the depiction of her rage. I didn’t know the word ‘patriarchy,’ but being a little girl in a blue-collar environment I encountered it every day – men, boys and women laughing at the idea that women could do anything men could do. And this was in the 80s and early 90s!
As a movie, Matt Reeves’ The Batman checks all the most notable Batman boxes and rarely colors outside the lines–except in one major area, which I’ll discuss later. The film’s world is immersive and recognizable; it looks like Gotham City ought to look – its striated architecture boasts Art Deco flourishes in the upper levels of the city, and in the lower, puddles, steam, and garbage spew from industrial vents or collect in gutters and alleyways. It’s a vivid if uninspired depiction of the Gatsby-esque wealth disparity that would have been ubiquitous to Batman creators Bill Finger and Bob Kane, writing in the 30s and 40s, and is once again our modern American reality.
Rather than faffing about with origin stories, The Batman jumps boots-first into a crime thriller with a high-profile murder. Batman is known, if not accepted, by the cops, and has made an ally of Jim Gordon, masterfully played by Jeffrey Wright. There’s an upcoming election, there’s political corruption, there’s the Riddler running around killing people and leaving puzzles, there’s Selena Kyle (Zoe Kravitz absolutely glistening) doing the cat burglar thing, there’s Alfred (Andy Serkis) as a surrogate father figure, all of which you’ve seen in the trailer. All of it works perfectly, even though there are moments that should remove you from the action. I realized I was thoroughly and delightfully entertained, even while watching John Turturro wear sunglasses in the dark, or a fat-suited Colin Ferrell yell at traffic.
The Batman is well and truly of the modern age, and if there’s one thing the modern age loves, it’s polarization. So naturally, people are arguing like it’s Thanksgiving at the in-laws, everybody’s had a few drinks, and it’s an election year. NO QUARTER.
To close the spoiler-free section, I am excited and appreciative of the thought and development that went into this new incarnation of a well-loved favorite. It’s a bit more cerebral than previous versions, and its soundtrack was good but didn’t have the impact of Zimmer’s or Elfman’s work. As word about the film grows it will gain its rightful place in the film canon.
Now, what about that sequel?
The Batman is an effective reimagining of a beloved character while still managing to effectively explore new territory within that character’s oeuvre. And here’s why, which will take a bit of explaining:
In The Batman, Bruce Wayne is not the glamorous society face of previous incarnations, a conceit I always found vaguely off-putting because it implied Wayne was in control of his obsession. After his parents’ death, Pattinson’s Wayne has become an obsessive recluse, tinkering away in his garage rather than attending charity balls or to the management of his estate. He has dissociated and it’s come at a high cost, to himself and, it’s implied, to Gotham. The Batman is not a costume he puts on to fight crime – it’s an unhealthy coping mechanism for a man too emotionally damaged to recognize his true power, the ability to make necessary and lasting change within the institutions to which he has access. Nolan’s trilogy touched on this a bit, and I believe internet discourse ran with the idea. Matt Reeves’ treatment does embrace the idea but only to a point – after all, one billionaire can do much, but other billionaires can do more. Nothing changes if they don’t share values.
Although Pattinson’s Batman (or Battinson, which is just shorter) appears fully formed in the film’s beginning, what is really compelling and different—and this is the thing I mentioned above – is that he begins to change. His origin story is not the story he thought it was, forcing him to re-evaluate his entire foundation. This is where Battinson shines – his Batman is self-reflecting and finding room for improvement, a character trait that is necessary, if not vital, for Batman to evolve in the modern age. Self-reflection is the opposite of doomscrolling – it causes one to stop, listen to their own silence, take stock of themselves and their actions (or if you like, create a ‘fearless personal inventory’) and figure out how they can do better.
Fans of Nolan’s treatment will recognize this arc as it was explored over three movies. I still love that treatment, but Battinson’s evolution was compelling because it was more central to the plot. And of course, it wouldn’t have worked so well in The Batman had Nolan and others not lain the groundwork by exploring that concept previously.
n the very opening of The Batman, we see that Bruce Wayne has surrendered his identity to Batman; however, his connection to Don Mitchell’s son, a little boy of privilege who discovered his murdered father’s body, begins to break down those walls. Battinson’s emotional fortress is further disturbed by his attraction to Selena Kyle, who has her own agency and is investigating the disappearance of a friend and, it is implied, girlfriend. I suppose a lot of people are upset that Batman doesn’t Do The Deed with Selena, but I found his hesitance to pursue anything physical more interesting; he is Going Through Something, and he recognizes that beating the shit out of villains is (arguably) different from doing emotional damage to himself or someone else. This is a valid thing to model in a character like Batman, as it makes space for the idea that men (or those identifying as men) should try to recognize within themselves that trauma needs to be dealt with lest it lead to toxic behaviors. Since there’s a three-picture deal there will be sequels, and if the Bat and Cat DO smash later it will probably be the greatest onscreen bang in a good long while. But I digress. As the film progresses, Batman expresses more – he gasps in pain, grunts when struck, and appears startled when he nearly falls off a towering building. The walls continue to come down.
Another paradigm shift is how visible Batman is – both to opponents and supporters. He moves through the front door of crime scenes, marching through a Grim Blue Line of cops who resent his presence and only tolerate him because of Gordon. Likewise, when he tries to arrest Carmine Falcone (a marvelous John Turturro) the two have to navigate the crowded dancefloor of a club. This foregrounds an interesting idea that Pat Sponaugle pointed out on Twitter: that in a comic, Batman’s thoughts and intentions can be explored in word balloons. In film, voiceovers are most effective when they are short and to the point, otherwise they become background noise. Batman has many discussions with Gordon, which leads to my next point:
Batman has to work within the institution of law enforcement and become part of that community to have access to it, so he has to sometimes allow himself to be seen in order to build trust. He also spends a lot of time discussing things with other characters – especially Gordon and Kyle – that help him get from A to B. This narrative choice subtly shows that effective detection works within community and deviates from previous Batman versions, who spent their time isolated in their mansion basements playing with chemistry sets. In the wake of the popularity of True Crime podcasts, the average listener knows full well that most crimes are solved through teamwork and cooperation rather than one Rogue Cop Willing to Do What it Takes.
This sense of community pays off later when an officer finds the Batman at a crime scene and doesn’t challenge him, then offers some case-breaking intel on a murder weapon. It also foreshadows Batman’s decisions in the aftermath of Gotham’s flooding, not only allowing himself to be seen in the daytime, but staying to help with the wounded, a task that no previous Batman has made time for that I can recall. This last was especially meaningful as it shows Batman doing what some people call ‘women’s work,’ because some people are terrible.
So, that’s The Batman! I hope you have enjoyed this review and will stay around to check out others, or even look into my novel Virago. I can’t promise I’ll write more soon as I am in the middle of some Life Stuff, but I’m so glad you took the time to listen to the very end.
Be seeing you!