The Batman: The World’s Darkest Detective
“No more remakes.” It’s a complaint that doesn’t come from an unreasonable basis, considering that we have been introduced to four Supermen, three Spider-Men and two of every one of the Fantastic Four (with the newer version somehow managing to be leagues worse than its predecessor) since 2000.
But now that The Batman has entrusted Twilight alumni Robert Pattinson to play a role previously held by George Clooney, Christian Bale and Ben Affleck, I can actually get behind Hollywood studios revamping beloved comic book characters and their stories for the big screen: as long as it’s done with heart.
Cinematographer Greig Fraser has carefully crafted every individual frame of The Batman to be aesthetically hypnotizing: they’re perfectly lit and color graded in adherence to a cohesive beige-yellow, coppery orange palette paired with deep bluish gray undertones to curate a certain ambiance of bleak despair or haunting suspense. These visuals are so integral to producing the notoriously austere and rigid industrial hub that is Gotham City-it’s a city that generally lacks emotion and real human sentiment, home to inhabitants who have become victims or proprietors to this hellish environment in one way or another. Some critics have pointed out how dark Gotham looks as a production flaw, but I’d like to counter that observation because that’s quite simply the crew’s intention. Gotham City has always been innately horrible; from its fractured foundation to the smog-suffocated skyline, it’s supposed to be a living nightmare to look at.
Accompanied by a intense score by Michael Giacchino, the world of Gotham flares to life with cleverly titled tracks like Collar ID and An Im-Purr-Fect Murder.
The Batman also actively acknowledges the social issues that spawn from Gotham being the red hot epicenter of the country’s corruption and crime, and addresses the themes of (white) privilege and socioeconomic disparities, though they do falter here. Selina Kyle unknowingly throws a heated line about “white privileged assholes” to the city’s literal resident 1%, but it doesn’t have any gravity to make the lasting impact the screenwriters probably intended it to.
The film prefaces that Robert Pattinson’s Bruce Wayne has been masquerading around the city as Kevlar-covered vigilante Batman for two years now, but they do not completely deprive us of the origin story we’re all too familiar with. You know, the one where three Waynes take a “convenient” shortcut through the desolate Crime Alley after a late night outing at the cinema and Bruce is the only one to walk out? It’s referenced later in the film with a twist: Bruce Wayne’s parents were murdered to purge a possible threat to the agenda of criminal mastermind Carmine Falcone after Thomas Wayne intended to turn him in for killing a muckraking journalist.
Wayne’s been secluding his billionaire counterpart from the rest of the world for much longer. Rather than swaggering around as the beloved womanizer and daddy’s money billionaire-playboy, this iteration of Wayne is totally disconnected from the public realm and spends his time sulking around as the poster-child for angst. Somehow Pattinson, with black eyeshadow smudged all over his face and a low, gravelly voice that rarely speaks any words, has managed to amplify the emo persona of his infamous role Edward Cullen even higher. The film approaches Bruce’s intramural character and examines the man behind the cowl, rather than the golden facade he eventually puts up to hide it.
It’s clear that Bruce, both as the last descendant from one of Gotham’s founding families and the vigilante Batman, feels emotionally tortured by the burden of taking care of the city, which is hopelessly trapped in an infinite cycle of violent vindication. He’s been silently suffering all this time and there is quiet intensity is burning behind his eyes: this guy’s death stare could actually kill. This Batman radiates such an intimidating aura that criminals scramble off the streets mid-misconduct at the mere sight of the Bat-signal beaming up into the sky.
As someone who is pretty well-acquainted with DC comics, I was thrilled that the film embraced Bruce Wayne’s brilliant detective brain: his wits are arguably the most vital cog behind his operations as Batman and it’s a characteristic often overlooked for flashy shows of brute force instead. He thoroughly examines fresh crime scenes besides Gotham’s “Finest” (I use that very lightly as the film clearly emphasizes the corruption embedded in Gotham City’s Police Department), solves every one of the Riddler’s riddles without breaking a single sweat, and pursues his own leads to crack a case, searching for clues hidden between the dusty history of father’s abandoned work files.
Pattinson has boldly made his mark as the new Bruce Wayne and is definitively the most comic-accurate version of the Dark Knight. The narration woven into the beginning and end of the film is inherently influenced by the writing style utilized in iconic Batman comic storylines, such as The Long Halloween and Year One. The cast and crew has clearly conducted extensive proper research on the Caped Crusader to ensure that the film remains faithful to its ink origins.
Zoe Kravitz delivers my favorite Selina Kyle onscreen yet, a fiercely independent woman seeking liberation from the chains of her past though still maintaining compassion for the few people close to her heart. The tension and sensitivity in her dynamic with Bruce is only manifested by the actual chemistry in Rob and Zoe’s friendship, although I will admit that the two kisses sprinkled into the script seemed a little out of place.
Paul Dano plays the textbook sociopath and serial killer Riddler, whose twisted logic and extreme insanity were seriously terrifying and unsettling to observe. There was audible shock from the audience in my theater when we saw The Riddler full-bodied for the first time: we are startled by a jumpscare of sorts when the mayor moves out of camera view to reveal The Riddler standing silently still behind him in his darkened estate, exposed by a momentary flash of light from the television. The Riddler is adamant on unveiling the spoils of Gotham to the world, and his plans have managed to attract a fanbase of 500 loyal followers (this amount is explicitly stated in the script) on social media who shower him with hearts and loving comments during his live streams. His final act is bombing the flood wall encircling the city so that adjacent river will flood into the streets and symbolically “cleanse” Gotham, washing away the deceit that’s anchored it roots into the city’s soil, hence his maxim: no more lies.
The movie is undoubtedly long, clocking in at just under 3 hours, but I rarely realized the actual length until the halfway through the second act: which did feel a bit drawn-out in order to flesh out some plot details. A car chase on the freeway that ended with the Batmobile flying through the flames of an active explosion, relatively unscathed, lasted several minutes. Maybe I only felt the weight of time because the Penguin drives like he’s cruising on the scenic route alongside the California coastline.
The Batman contains an underlying detective story that has horror and crime elements drawing direct inspiration from psychological thriller director David Fincher’s Se7en and Zodiac. Unlike most MCU films which have recycled a carbon copy script over the past few years (admittedly, I am optimistic that Phase Four will retire this tradition), the Batman feels fresh and artistically inspired: it’s so much more than a superhero film.