The Batman (2022): The Dark Detective Arrives

Artist: Dan Mora

SCORE: ★★★★★ Excellent (97)

Very early prior to the release of this film, I knew with certainty that it would be the greatest or, at least, most accurate Batman film I had ever seen.

That knowledge came from a painfully short camera test released on Vimeo by Matt Reeves, 2 entire years now prior to the release of the film. Insanely tense music played as the camera crept towards a dark, brooding figure bathed in crimson light. The Batman. As the camera came closer, my eyes couldn’t help but focus on the insanely well-crafted suit and iconic bat emblem across his chest, this time fitted with literal halves of a gun. Something about the harmony between that red light, camera direction, and genuinely menacing music told me with crystal clarity that Matt Reeves knew what he was doing. For the first time ever, I had faith that we might be seeing something far more honest to the iconic character than The Dark Knight ever was. I recently rewatched the camera test and felt the exact excitement I did when watching for the first time; and I’ve seen the movie twice at the time of writing this. Rarely do I feel so passionate about films prior to their release and even trailer. I think it’s safe to say that this iteration of the caped crusader is undeniably different and on it’s own level.

Irrespective of my excitement for (almost) anything Batman related, when I first learned another adaptation was in the works I rolled my eyes like many others and asked “Another? Really?”. It hadn’t been very long at all since we’d last seen the character on the big screen (see: Justice League and the subsequent Zack Snyder Cut) and naturally after the many shortcomings of the DCEU, I was skeptical on how well another Batman adaptation would be received. Like many others, I wondered “what’s the point if it won’t beat The Dark Knight?”. Well. That was before the screen test and before I knew Robert Pattinson took on the mantle of Bruce Wayne. While the casting initially wasn’t received well, it was Pattinson’s presence that made me confident in the film’s success. If there’s one thing I know about Robert Pattinson, it’s that he puts his all into his roles and fully transforms into those characters. Incredibly so, to the point that we know very little about what kind of person he is outside of them. I knew he’d take the role of Bruce seriously and the choice to make this film a neo-noir crime thriller further cemented my excitement. The official film synopsis reads:

THE BATMAN is an edgy, action-packed thriller that depicts Batman in his early years, struggling to balance rage with righteousness as he investigates a disturbing mystery that has terrorised Gotham. Robert Pattinson delivers a raw, intense portrayal of Batman as a disillusioned, desperate vigilante awakened by the realisation that the anger consuming him makes him no better than the ruthless serial killer he’s hunting.

The Batman (2022) takes us through a week long murder mystery in the second year of the vigilante’s crusade against crime on Gotham. Despite Bruce’s journal reading ‘Year Two’, this film has Year One by Frank Miller written all over it. Upon hearing Year One, most fans would naturally want an origin story true to the comics so I can understand the decision to veer away from that and blend the storyline with The Long Halloween by Jeph Loeb and Batman Ego and Other Tails by Darwyn Cooke. However, small elements throughout the story allude to the Year Two choice not making the most sense. For example, Batman and Detective Jim Gordon have immense familiarity and pre-existing rapport but the concept of Gordon bringing him to a crime scene and generally cooperating with him is surprising to and clearly a fresh wound for the GCPD. Additionally, we are privy to the first (and flawed) instances of Batman using the Batmobile and other self-made tech liked the wingsuit, reminiscent of Year One growing pains. Regardless, The scenes involving them were perfect and highlighted the trial and error process of his arsenal of gadgets. The simpler solution in my opinion would have been to keep the premise in Year One but somehow indicate that Batman has been operating in Gotham for most of that year. That would make the GCPD’s hostility, his inexperience with challenging villains, and the fact that he is widely recognised in Gotham as ‘masked vigilante’, all the more synchronised.

Throughout the film, Bruce is consistently confronted with personal and professional developments that drive him to grow past his previous truths as both Batman and a Wayne. The major transformational moment occurs in the third act, after he subdues The Riddler’s minions and a more terrifying fate awaits those stuck in the water. After eliminating this final threat, he stretches out his hand to help those trapped out of the arena. This scene was one of the most important in the entire film for me because you can see their initial apprehension. Up until that moment, the general public had not seen him help others, only exact violence without understanding why or who he targets. It is the late mayor’s son that first takes the leap of faith, and the rest follow.

This particular event opened his eyes to how much the city needs his help and thus leads to the understanding that his role as a hero and protector is more important than inciting fear and vengeance. Looking back on the Riddler’s plan, no one else would have been able to save everyone in Gotham Square Park that day except Batman. I believe that knowledge is what sparks the crucial shift in his crusade, leaving a whole world of possibilities for the character in the films to (hopefully) come. His life’s work now as both Bruce Wayne and Batman is to (literally) rebuild and emancipate Gotham from its criminal underworld. I really appreciated the parallels between the start of the film, where the civilian that Batman saved begs “please don’t hurt me”, and the ending, where he starts to earn his city’s trust and respect.

From beginning to end this film felt like a familiar arc fresh off the pages of Detective Comics, specifically one of my favourites: Batman: Detective Comics Vol. 1: The Neighborhood by Mario Tamaki and Dan Mora. Regardless of subjective opinions on the comic, I mean that in the best possible way. Like The Neighbourhood, we follow a coherent murder mystery from beginning to end that explore’s Batman and Bruce Wayne’s personal and professional ties with a challenging villain and engaging narrative. It’s quite unorthodox for me to relate this film to such a new comic and not the numerous graphic novels it was actually inspired by; but The Batman’s ending actually felt eerily similar to closing the final page of a well written comic — I left the cinema both times completely satisfied but still wanted more. I can count on one hand the amount of times i’ve wanted a nearly 3-hour film to be longer (hint: only once).

The parallels I find between The Batman and Detective Comics lie in the attention to Bruce’s character. There are many layers to his crusade and that specific comic, to me, has always prioritised showing his psychological and investigative elements. Batman is literally the world’s greatest detective. He keeps extensive notes on every villain he faces, spends hours refining his gadgets after months of trial and error, and trusts no one in Gotham but Alfred, his batfamily and Commissioner Gordon. As soon as I heard Bruce narrating his diary at the beginning of this film, I knew I was in for something special. He spoke exactly like he does in the comics: poetically describing Gotham as its own character, musing about what his symbol represents, explaining the real reasons for why he does what he does. It’s fair and sometimes even canon to say that he prefers being Batman to being Bruce Wayne (or at least, feels more like himself in the suit than when out of it) and this film depicted that preference really well. We occasionally see Bruce Wayne in this film and when we do, it’s mostly related to his investigation, proving the severity of his dedication. I personally would’ve loved to see the flirty playboy ruse at least once but i’m actually relieved this film took the socially anxious recluse route. It added emotional depth and higher stakes to the interpersonal relationships he had and developed across the story.

Detective Comics (2016) #1035

My only shortcoming with The Batman, like many comic book movies, lies in the third act but not in the way you might think. Every action scene was stellar (can we talk about his insane Gotham Square Park entrance from the roof) as was everything that came after it. However, The Riddler’s final act completely lost me. Even though the plan and rescue were executed perfectly, I still struggle to see exactly what the antagonist benefitted from flooding the entirety of Gotham. While I understand the narrative attraction to create an even more shocking turn of events than the audience could ever expect, Mass murder was never his MO. This is a skilled villain that had Batman and the GCPD on ropes for 95% of the movie. He might be egotistical and envious of Bruce Wayne, but irrational acts of violence are moreso the style of his neighbour at Arkham… How did targeting specific corrupt individuals that played a part in the Renewal conspiracy turn into a punishment for the entire city including orphans and disprivileged people like himself? Why would he instruct his followers to murder the one electoral candidate that actually wanted to make a change, before she had the chance to make good on her promises? I absolutely think there’s a connect between the riddler’s initial goal and the incel-like tendencies in the third act but I didn’t see that connection being made at any point. I also think that Riddler’s monologue on being an orphan should have been centred around poverty and the city’s relationship with money — a central theme throughout the character’s history and the root of Gotham’s crime problem. I can assume that Riddler wanted to create a problem Batman absolutely could not stop, but by that logic, his surprise at Bruce not finding out about the plan on time doesn’t make sense and, again, was never implied.

The way I see it, the very concept of morality between superheroes and villains represents the positive and negative sides to the human mind. It’s quite philosophical in that way. Through comics and their characters, we are able to explore the vast multifacetedness of the human personality on both sides of the scale. we understand, critique and even mock the backstories, personalities and moral codes of these heroes and compare them to one another, just as we do ourselves. In this context, I would say that anti-heroes lie somewhere in middle between the scales of good and bad. They hold no sense of superiority and tend to stand confident, if not proud in their lethal crusades. Having a personal ethos and standing firm without regret in your own actions and thoughts is objectively as unabashedly human as one can possibly be. Up until his final ploy, I compared The Riddler’s serial killings of problematic figures not much different to that of Frank Castle (AKA The Punisher). As we saw in the series, Frank specifically murdered those who wronged him and with a military background, felt no particular urge to hold back from doing so. as for the gun debate:

Gotham Adventures #9 (1998)

The trouble with anti-heroes however, lies in the line crossed between saving lives and taking them. Hence why theres a distinction between anti-heroes and vigilantes: one group kills and the other doesn’t. This is something that Batman understands very well. His no-kill rule is far more complex than it is perceived to be. In Batman: Under The Red Hood, Jason Todd and Batman fight over the latter’s refusal to kill the joker despite the villain’s immunity to reform. He explains that it would be too easy to cross that line, but if he did, he would never be able to come back from it. He understands that crossing the line would make him no better than the villains he locks away. Spoken best by Susana Polo in her article The Riddler, Killmonger, and the trap of villains who are right, which explores the moral complexities of villains in opposition to the heroes that defeat them:

‘If the Joker represents the violence and nihilism at the heart of humanity, then Batman represents the will and compassion to deny that part of ourselves and take control of our destiny. If Lex Luthor represents power unchecked, Superman represents how a person with great power should actually fucking behave.’

Ultimately, The Batman provides the character development and growing pains of Year One, with a villain he almost couldn’t handle — if The Riddler hadn’t intentionally gotten himself arrested, who knows when he would have been caught? The world isn’t as black and white as it seems and the people around us are much more than our assumptions of them. I feel that the latter statement can be easily applied to any character in this film — especially Selina Kyle and The Penguin — and still hold weight. If that isn’t a testament to all around excellent character building and overall scriptwriting, i don’t know what it is.

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