While on the press junket for “The Batman” lead actor Robert Pattison and director Matt Reeves often compared the titular character to Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain. Reeves had Cobain in mind as he wrote the first act, shifting the perception of the billionaire playboy that we have seen across several films over the past 30-plus years. This was a big risk, as comic book purists tend to not respond favorably when a significant character trait is changed for the silver screen, but one that was both necessary and paid off in a big way in our recent, darkest version of the Caped Crusader in The Batman.
At this point, we all know Brue Wayne’s backstory. The son of the billionaire Wayne family, Bruce’s parents are taken from him at a young age as they are shot to death in front of him leaving a theater. This event and the decay of his beloved Gotham City lead to his using his vast wealth and resources to become the Batman and save the city. Reeves spares us of the shooting, but what he did well was show the fallout of such a traumatic event. It has been 20 years since Thomas and Martha Wayne were murdered and Bruce is very much disturbed and unbalanced, so much that Bruce Wayne is essentially non-existent. He makes no attempt to live the dual life and doesn’t care. There is one scene where the accountants of Wayne Enterprises are coming to the mansion to go over finances and not attending could cause Bruce to lose his fortune and he doesn’t care. Being Batman has completely consumed his identity as the cowl allows him to be who he really is while Bruce Wayne is just a persona.
With Pattinson reportedly signing a three-picture deal with Warner Bros., this is definitely a storyline I am excited to see develop as I expect that he will have to learn to live two lives in the follow-up film.
As Batman, he may do heroic acts, but he does not seem to care about how he is perceived by the city. He emerges from the shadows in the opening scene of the film to save a man from being beaten by a gang, the potential victim is not relieved at his arrival, but instead horrified that he may be next. Batman stands and leers over him before leaving, offering the man nothing to change his perception.
Opposite of Pattinson is Paul Dano as the Riddler, delivering a much darker turn than Jim Carrey’s performance in 1995. Part Zodiac Killer and part John Doe from Se7en, this Riddler is one committed to exposing fraud in Gotham and tests Batman’s title as “World’s Greatest Detective”. Dano, who has been an underappreciated actor for much of his career delivers a career performance and one that is in the upper echelon of Batman villains.
Finally, Zoe Kravitz brings us what is easily the best performance of Catwoman on the big screen. Michelle Pfeiffer was still a bit cheesy, Anne Hathaway’s character lacked depth and Halle Berry’s turn isn’t worth mentioning. Karvitz’s Selina Kyle has serious depth and a driven storyline along with exceptional chemistry between her and Batman. With Warner Bros. committed to a Batman universe, it will be interesting to see how they move forward with her.
As the years pass, the Batman films keep getting darker and more serious, something we owe a large sum of gratitude to Tim Burton for as he pushed back from making a more family friendly film (and something Warner Bros. learned he was right about when they tried to do an about-face in the 1990s). The Batman continues that trend, delivering us a film that is part noir, part mystery and part horror film that follows the Christopher Nolan strategy of delivering a Caped Crusader immersed in realism. Warner Bros. spend the past decade trying to catch up to the Marvel Cinematic Universe with mixed results, but I hope that The Batman is the starting point of a new universe and one they do right this time.