Warner bros. presents a darker take on Batman

The Batman”, released in early March of 2022, is the darkest of many takes on the Dark Knight, having more in common with film noir or horror styles than typical superhero movies. Starring Robert Pattinson as Batman, the film has been a major box office success, pulling in over $750 million. It has been one of the most successful pandemic-era overseas releases, only behind Spider-Man: No Way Home and No Time to Die

Director Matt Reeves (director of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Cloverfield, Let Me In) and co-writer Peter Craig (screenwriter for The Hunger Games: Mockingjay [parts one and two], The Town) crafted a film that would starkly differentiate from previous iterations. Unlike the others, this version begins two years into Batman’s tenure as the Caped Crusader. We are immediately aware that the man under the mask is battling hopelessness as he struggles with his legacy as a vigilante. His years among the evil and corruption of Gotham have led him to question whether or not he actually makes a difference. This isn’t a superhero, eager to fight crime and protect the streets of Gotham. Rather, this is an internally-conflicted detective, fed up and losing hope in a dysfunctional city.

One distinctive aspect of this film is the unique visual style. Far from the bright, comic book worlds seen in previous superhero films, this rendition of Gotham is that of a dark and deeply corrupt city. Filmed almost entirely in Liverpool, nearly every scene shown in Gotham is both rainy and shrouded in darkness. We only see the city in the daytime a small handful of times throughout the three hour runtime. And even in the daytime, Gotham has a perpetual cloudiness to it, which only furthers the idea that the city is so rotten that even sunlight avoids it. The architecture also combines elements of old European gothic style, with modern aspects like billboards haphazardly placed on top. Obviously a movie needs to be lit in order for the characters to be seen, but Reeves is able to maintain the eerie feeling by only lighting up the scenes with visible light sources, for example street lights, fire, a car’s headlights, etc. 

The corruptness of Gotham is also reflected perfectly by the villains of the film. Paul Dano’s Riddler is not the bright-green goofball previously seen in Batman Forever, but instead a meticulous sociopath who manipulates the protagonists into directly furthering his agenda. The Penguin, previously played by Danny DeVito as an absurd mayoral candidate, is now a frightening mob boss who seems to have the entire city in his pocket.  

Part of the reason that this movie is so grim is that The Riddler is not a very far-fetched character. He is based heavily on the Zodiac killer, a famous serial killer who bamboozled authorities for decades, by calling them to report his own murders, and sending cyphers to police and news publications. Throughout the film, The Riddler essentially does the same thing, leaving cards addressed to Batman at each crime scene with cyphers inside, teasing Batman and the Gotham police. Furthermore, he wears a green mask and green jacket with a simple white insignia on the chest, much like the Zodiac killer was reported to have worn. We get the feeling that this villain could potentially exist in real life, which makes the movie all the more chilling. Additionally, we’re not so sure he’s wrong.

The connection between Riddler and Batman is hard to avoid. Ironically, they share the exact same motivations. They both want to fight the corruption of Gotham, though Riddler isn’t afraid to commit murders, and eventually destroy hundreds of homes and lives in the process. Both characters also keep journals, and both are orphans who grew up in unusual financial circumstances (Bruce Wayne was rich, Riddler was dirt poor). Mainly, though, Riddler is under the impression that throughout the entirety of the movie, Batman was working with him. And why not? They are both mysterious, feared figures within Gotham, who, as mentioned earlier, share essentially the same goal.

The moment in the movie that reflects these similarities best is in the final action set piece of the film, with the Riddler’s supporters attacking a flooded arena full of displaced citizens. In this scene we see Batman fighting the men, all dressed identically to the Riddler, and after disarming one, Commissioner Gordan asks who he is. His response: “Me? I’m Vengeance”. This line is so excellently written, as it is the exact same thing Batman says to a group of criminals in the very first scene in the movie. It is only in this moment that Bruce finally understands how similar he and the Riddler truly are. This moment sparks serious change in Batman, both as the masked vigilante and as a man.

This change that Batman experiences is ultimately the greatest aspect of the film, and is best demonstrated by the dichotomy between the opening and closing monologues. “I wish I could say I’m making a difference, but I don’t know,” he growls early on in the film. “Murder, robberies, assault –– two years later, they’re all up. And now this. This city’s eating itself. Maybe it can’t be saved.” Batman thinks of himself as the embodiment of vengeance, a figure looming in the shadows, striking fear in the heart of the common criminal. This is another way in which Batman and the Riddler are connected; both see themselves as the vengeance for the wrong-doings of those who turned Gotham evil, but it is only near the end of the film that Bruce realizes that Batman needs to be more than vengeance. Rather than being a shadow, striking fear into the thugs and criminals of Gotham, his effect must be with the citizens of his city, who ultimately will be the true victims if Batman is to fail.  “I’m starting to see now that I have had an effect here… but not the one I intended. Vengeance won’t change the past. Mine, or anyone else’s. I have to become more. People need hope. To know someone’s out there for them. This city’s angry, scarred, like me. Our scars can destroy us. Even after the physical wounds have healed. But if we can survive them… they can transform us.”