The Batman is the Quintessential Batman Movie
This article contains spoilers for "The Batman"
Batman has been one of my favorite superheroes since I was a kid. I would go to libraries and comic book stores as a kid and read every comic book I could find, and Batman resonated with me. He was just a flawed guy with lots of mental issues, yet he still managed to be the most steady person in high pressure situations. He had a dry sense of humor and was rough around the edges, but he really genuinely cared about doing the right thing and being a symbol of hope. What made Batman a hero wasn’t him beating the crap out of people, having ungodly powers, being a philanthropist as Bruce Wayne. It was the fact that against incredible odds, a guy dressed as a bat became a symbol of hope for a city that is an institutional failure from top to bottom. Batman believes in the power of institutions to do better and be better and is not afraid to go against the system when it routinely fails without ever losing himself entirely despite all the struggle. Matt Reeves’ “The Batman” perfectly captures the core concepts of this character. On top of that, we get a great noir movie and a really clever detective story.
One of the best aspects of the comics is how Gotham is its own character. Inspired by urban decay in cities like New York, Gotham is filthy. It is riddled with crime, the politicians aren’t actually in charge and can’t really do anything, and law enforcement turns a blind eye to crime organizations. This is the first live-action Batman movie to have nailed this aesthetic. Here, Gotham looks, sounds, and feels like a place where Batman is the only option left for any progress to be made. The contrast between light and dark in this movie is so stark, as is the contrast between the brighter, fuller colors and the darker, muddier side of things. There’s a great sequence in the beginning that really solidifies the tone of this movie. Criminals see Batman's signal lighting up the sky. They turn to the shadows. The shadows in particular are pure black, and it looks like Batman could be in any of the shadows. So they have no other option but run away.
Batman himself is very rough in this movie. He’s been at this for only two years. He’s reclusive, dealing with a lot of guilt, repression, and anger. His introduction looks like a scene out of a horror movie. He slowly emerges from the shadows, and shots focus on his boots as he slowly marches towards his opponents, almost like his boots are their own character. Fear and intimidation are tools for him, and since his suit is armored, he lets bullets hit him like they’re nothing. He truly does not care about what is happening to him, and even if he does want to save people, it doesn’t come off that way as civilians fear him just as much as the criminals. He records everything he does, both with contacts that double as eye cameras and with written notes in a notebook. There is clearly a lot of work this Batman needs to do. In his opening monologue, which is him narrating his observations in his notebook, he is aware of and can see how being Batman affects him and he is still ironing out the kinks of why he is doing what he does. Ultimately, he is a victim of circumstances who donned an outfit to do what he can to fix a city he really cares about.
This is what makes his dichotomy with the Riddler, the movie’s primary antagonist, so fascinating. Like Batman, he too is an orphan. But he wasn’t a billionaire. He is a victim of a broken system, a system often made worse by people like Thomas Wayne, Bruce Wayne’s father. He sees all the inequalities present and sees that corruption is just as commonplace as the rain at night, yet no one is doing anything about it and common people like him are just forgotten. In fact, in this movie he literally sees it. The Riddler just so happened to live across the street from the Iceberg Lounge, a club which is a front for mob activity and is frequented by crime bosses, law enforcement, and politicians alike. Similarly to Batman, Riddler is a victim of his circumstances who donned an outfit to do what he can about the broken world around him. It just so happens that his method involves a serial killing spree of Gotham’s most influential political and criminal figures, terrorism, and riddles.
The aforementioned Iceberg Lounge is a central location for this movie, and it is utilized to the fullest. At the tip of the iceberg, it’s just people partying to really loud EDM music (which is all top-notch in this movie). But the lounge is the main base of operations for the Falcone Crime Syndicate, led by the charismatic, soft-spoken Carmine Falcone and his aggressively Italian right-hand man Oswald Cobblepot, known as Penguin. Working in this club as a waitress and “hospitality worker” is Catwoman, aka Selina Kyle. She too is another victim of Gotham. Her mother worked at the same club she now works at, and Falcone is her father. In this movie, Catwoman is a lot like Batman, but her focus isn’t on bettering the city. Her focus is on taking care of herself and those around her who she ends up caring about.
The biggest mistake that the great trailers for this movie made was advertising this movie more like an intense, epic, superhero movie. But most of this movie is not that. In fact, there are long sequences where Batman is in costume and not fighting. He’s walking around a crime scene, observing all the details. He is solving ciphers and riddles. He is piecing together Riddler’s endgame, an endgame that forces Batman to confront his past. In this detective work, he is joined by Jim Gordon, a lieutenant in Gotham’s police department and one of the very few people who is just as incorruptible as Batman. The two make an incredible pair both in terms of character chemistry and humor, balancing each other out and learning to trust each other more in the face of horrific odds.
The film’s third act is where the whole story comes together. After Gotham’s entire criminal conspiracy is exposed by Riddler, he sets off bombs along the sea wall that flood the city. At this moment, Batman has lost. Riddler’s plot has worked fully, and Riddler has sent his followers to the final place of shelter in the city, where the newly elected mayor, Bella Real, is. Through this movie, Bella Real is also working to bring real change to Gotham from within the system that Riddler sees as too far gone to fix. But Batman realizes that it isn’t just about stopping crime or bringing about justice through vengeance. Through the movie, his vengeance path has only brought about more violence and chaos inadvertently. He accidentally becomes the biggest piece in the puzzle of Riddler’s plan. Through the movie, Batman ends up reacting more emotionally than he intends to because he hasn’t come to terms with so many things. But in the movie’s finale, he finally realizes what he has to do.
He has to save people. Batman realizes that his story is the same as the story of his city. In his final monologue at the end of the movie, he notes that the city is angry, hurt, and scarred like he is. But overcoming them is a whole other challenge, and he realizes that his role in the story of Gotham is not to avenge it, but to bring it hope.
That is “The Batman.”