BY MATT TUCK, BLOGGER SUPREME
FB@ The Comic Blog
The Batman is anything but a lighthearted Marvel affair, and it is glorious. WARNING: SPOILERS.
Trust me, this is the Batman movie you have wanted. For those ready for something different than the typical MCU action-comedy formula, it’s the superhero movie you need.
Actually, if you peel back the bat signal, this isn’t a superhero movie. It is much closer to being a noir crime drama mixed with a suspense thriller. Forget the corny 1960s-inspired Riddler from Batman Forever. Paul Dano’s portrayal would have been comfortable in the Saw franchise. By the time we see him unmasked, he takes on an unsettling Hannibal Lecter quality.
On the DCEU scope, The Batman fits better alongside Joker. Each movie made valid points about the current social and political climate. Where Joker put a lens over society’s moral obligation to care for its sick and poor, The Batman examines the civil unrest gripping our country and where the line is drawn between justice, vengeance, and fanaticism.
Not to give too much away, the Riddler utilizes social media to broadcast his puzzles, which draws followers to him. In his mind, he is the hero, exposing Gotham City’s corrupt puppet masters and bringing them to justice. He doesn’t view himself as the villain, and the ends justify the means. That mindset attracts a following, and it culminates in one final, premeditated act of wanton violence that is eerily reminiscent of the mass shootings that have become much too frequent.
Dano lives up to the hype. From the test screening reactions to the haunting trailers, the actor was lauded as delivering one of the best Batman villain portrayals since Heath Ledger’s Joker. While it’s hard to compare Ledger and Dano, there’s no question that Riddler is captivating. It’s a unique take on a classic character that has never been done before, and it succeeds in many ways.
One of the most interesting aspects of the story is the relationship between Batman and his antagonist. The Riddler looks at the two not as opponents, but as an alliance with the same goal to right the wrongs. Through the Riddler’s deranged eyes, he and Batman are both masked vigilantes waging war on the seedy underbelly of Gotham. His riddles and puzzles are designed so Batman alone can decipher them, thus helping the two coordinate the final chess move. In fact, Riddler believes he is helping Batman by trying to rid the world of Bruce Wayne and the Wayne Family legacy.
That brings me to one of the best scenes in the movie: the confrontation between Batman and Riddler at Arkham Hospital. This is one of the more nuanced scenes, and Dano truly shines. If you have seen the trailers, then it would appear that Riddler knows Batman’s true identity. Then again, Riddler seems convinced that by killing Bruce, he is helping Batman, raising further questions.
You can look at this scene in different ways, and that is the cleverness of the layered dialogue. On one hand, it would seem he is outing Bruce under the watchful gaze of a close-circuit security camera. Then again, he seems to believe that both he and Batman want the last remaining Wayne to be punished. Riddler tells Batman that when he looks at the mask, he’s seeing the vigilante’s true identity. That could imply that Riddler is aware that Bruce and Batman are the same person, but the villain is the one person who understands hiding behind behind a normal exterior. And for this version of Riddler, that’s a feeling he understands better than anyone else.
THE BEST BATMAN YET?
Where does Rob Pattinson rank among Batmen? Like everything else about this movie, his portrayal of Bruce Wayne/Batman is unique, but it stays true to the spirit of the character. Anyone with worries about Pattinson bringing too much of a Twilight pre-teen daydream to the role can rest assured that Reeves didn’t let that happen. This may be the single most brooding version of the character ever captured on film. Not once does he smile - minus a smirk or two, but that doesn’t count - as either Batman or Bruce. As serious as Christian Bale’s take on the Dark Knight was, he could put on the charm and boast an insincere grin when it was called for. Pattinson’s Bruce doesn’t do that much, and it worked for this iteration of the character.
Like practically everyone else in the fandom, I love each Batman actor for different reasons. Toss out the Joel Schumacher abominations, and you get four versions of Batman/Bruce that are admirable. I plant Pattinson’s Bat slightly above Bale’s but behind Ben Affleck. Physically, Pattinson is more akin to Michael Keaton. Instead of bodybuilder physiques, Bat-Pat and Keaton had more realistic bodies. They were lean and fit rather than bulky like Affleck and Bale. It works for The Batman because it helps with the misdirection. Seeing Bruce Wayne, it’s hard to imagine Gotham’s criminal scum cowering in fear at seeing him. On the other hand, the Batman suit adds the illusion of size and strength. In essence, it would make it less likely for someone to assume Bruce is the Dark Knight.
One thing I appreciated in Pattinson’s performance was the lack of the gravely Batman voice. I understand why Bale and director Christopher Nolan went that route as it furthers the dichotomy between Bruce and Batman. After three movies and countless spoofs, it was time for a change, and I enjoyed Pattinson’s more subtle voice work in that regard.
Say what you will, but my favorite Batman remains Bat-fleck. I like an older, wiser Dark Knight, which was a novel idea pre-BVS. He has the commanding screen presence whether he’s dressed as Batman or Bruce Wayne, which was necessary for a fight with Superman. The costume is a bit heavy on the fake muscles, but it makes sense in the context of the DCEU. The digitally altered voice is logical, and it adds to the hardened aura, especially when he utters the famous lines, “Tell me, do you bleed? You will.”
All praise for Affleck aside, Pattinson delivers a solid performance of Batman. While my heart will long for Bat-fleck, I look forward to seeing another round of Bat-Pat.
THE SUPPORTING CAST
The world is gushing over Zoe Kravitz as the new Catwoman. Her portrayal falls firmly in line with how Frank Miller imagined the character in Batman: Year One. If there’s anything we’ve learned from Netflix’s Daredevil and now The Batman, it’s hard to go wrong with an adaptation if you stick to Miller’s masterpieces.
Similar to Pattinson’s Batman, Kravitz’s Catwoman is slightly different from what we’re used to seeing on the screen. Forget the cliches and S&M vibes from Michelle Pfeiffer in Batman Returns. This Selina Kyle is more understated, and her sheer bravery is put on display. Rather than being the nerdy loser who’s nearly murdered by Christopher Walken (but if you had to pick a way to go, death-by-Walken isn’t so bad), she is street savvy who fits in better among the criminal element than she does with Batman. The best part is she erases any memories of Anne Hathaway’s overzealous and oftentimes corny line delivery from The Dark Knight Rises and the infamous Catwoman movie starring Halle Berry.
As strong as Kravitz’s performance was, the scene stealer was Colin Farrell. His Penguin is a stark contrast to Burgess Meredith or Danny Devito, who were portrayed as physically weak. Farrell’s Penguin is Carmine Falcone’s top mob enforcer. He’s more Tony Soprano than evil supervillain, and that fits what is a grounded take on Batman. What can’t be denied is how funny he was at times. For the most part, Farrell played the role with straight seriousness, and that is in line with the rest of the movie. At the same time, there are moments when I couldn’t help but laugh at his delivery and contempt for Batman and Jim Gordon.
Speaking of Gordon, Jeffrey Wright was serviceable in the role. There’s not much to say here because he was more or less average. If you have seen Westworld, then you know Wright is a solid actor and a great choice for the role. Given more room to show his range, he could rival Gary Oldman’s Gordon from the Dark Knight trilogy. With the Penguin streaming series due up next, I suspect we will see much more from both Wright and Farrell.
The only complaint I have is a modest one. John Turtorro felt out of place in his role as Carmine Falcone. Turtorro has established himself as more of a comedic role after his career-making work with the Cohen Brothers and, to a much lesser extent, the Michael Bay Transformer franchise. It made it hard to take him seriously as Gotham City’s boss of bosses. The one cringey moment in the film was Turtorro’s death scene and his last cliché gasp. Had this been a Marvel comedy, it could have worked, but The Batman was far too serious for that trope.
A REFRESHING CHANGE FOR COMIC MOVIES
If you’re a hardcore MCU fan, chances are that you weren’t impressed with The Batman. Where were the jokes? Where was the Silver Age camp? Where were the bright colors? Dear God, where were the CGI boss battles? The House of Mouse’s influence was missing from this one, and it was for the best.
That’s not to say I don’t enjoy the MCU; I do. I watch all the movies and series, even if I complain about them. For someone like me who’s ready for a mature, serious take on the superhero genre, The Batman is supremely refreshing.
Matt Tuck is the author of the novel, Lost Bones of the Dead. He is a professional writer, avid comic collector, former teacher, and the Blogger Supreme. You can follow him on his Facebook page, The Comic Blog, or on Instagram at matt.tuck.writer.