Matt Reeves’ The Batman is now in theatres around the world – and it’s received a lot of praise from critics and fans alike.
A large part of that praise is directed towards its dark tone and particularly moody portrayal of the Dark Knight – something that’s been largely lacking from previous Batman movies.
But did Reeves go too far with it? In this piece, we’ll be discussing exactly that by breaking the movie up into three main parts; its tone, its setting (Gotham) and its main character.
Note: there will be spoilers for The Batman in this article.
While you’re here, why not check out our ranking of the best Batman actors?
The Batman’s tone is very different to every Batman movie that came before it – and indeed every superhero movie that came before it.
That’s mainly because it doesn’t actually feel like a superhero movie at all. It feels more like a neo-noir detective movie – think Frank Miller’s two Sin City offerings – with the central character being an investigator who narrates the movie in a dank and dark setting.
It’s almost oppressively dark in terms of its color scheme, with the only major escape from blacks and greys being the occasional blood red scene, which itself conveys a profound sense of dread and death.
An ominous feeling of threat looms throughout The Batman – not only in the threat from the Dark Knight’s enemies, but the Caped Crusader himself. When Batman attacks his foes in the movie, it’s almost as if he’s the villain in a horror movie, stalking them like a predator, invoking terror (perhaps even in some more sensitive movie viewers) before he makes his move.
For many Bat-fans, this is the bleak, almost scary tone they’ve been waiting for in a movie – it’s reminiscent of the popular Batman comics written by the aforementioned Frank Miller in that sense. For others – particularly those familiar with more child-friendly Batman iterations – it is, perhaps, a little over the top in that regard.
As with any Batman media worth its salt, the setting of The Batman is Gotham City.
Gotham has been depicted as everything from ugly and comical in the Tim Burton movies, to realistic and rather beautiful (in a moody kind of way) in Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy. While Gotham often has similarities with New York, in The Batman, it’s more realistically representing the crime-ridden New York City of the 1970s and 80s.
Now, The Batman wasn’t filmed in NYC (aside from a handful of overhead shots) – it was actually filmed largely in Liverpool and Glasgow in the United Kingdom and is meant to be an amalgamation of any number of real world cities with gothic architecture – but it’s clearly heavily influenced, in a number of ways, by the aforementioned version of the Big Apple of 40-50 years ago.
Everything from the look of the newspapers, the style of the architecture and the residents’ accents, to the political infighting and corrupt institutions (including the police), absolutely screamed “pre-gentrification (70s and 80s) New York City.”
Back then, New York had a reputation as “Fear City,” when the city that never sleeps was a hub for organized crime and was essentially ran by the mob. It wasn’t until the Mafia Commission Trial (1985-86), when the implementation of wiretaps was able to bring down the mob, that New York finally cleaned up its act (if only things were that simple for Batman).
But what better way could there possibly be to convey rife criminal activity than by explicitly emulating the real world’s most famous city when it was at its crime-ridden worst?
Moreover, the death of Carmine Falcone hinted at a complete paradigm shift going forward, with a more chaotic criminal reign of terror potentially coming into the fore. The Penguin will take a more prominent role, while the Riddler looks set to team up with the Joker in a partnership that could be a complete nightmare for Robert Pattinson’s masked vigilante.
In other words, this already-grim version of Gotham City, which is a clear reflection of the most corrupt and rotten version of real world New York, is only going to get worse going forward in this new Batman franchise.
Finally, we come to the star of the show. The main draw. The titular character himself. The Batman.
Pattinson’s version of the character is completely different to his predecessors’. He combines (and indeed exacerbates) the darkest elements of all those who came before him. He’s even more brooding than Christian Bale’s version of Bruce Wayne and even more frenzied and animalistic in his fighting style than Ben Affleck’s version of Batman (we’ll cover an example of this in a couple of paragraphs’ time).
Having already so iconically played the introverted and stubborn, but exceedingly vicious and dangerous Edward Cullen in the The Twilight Saga, this version of Bruce Wayne was perfect for Pattinson.
Pattinson’s Wayne is essentially an emo goth, living a life of perennial bereavement for his long-deceased parents. He dresses almost exclusively in black, doesn’t seem to have any conventional hobbies or interests, rarely socializes and generally seems quiet, reserved and withdrawn.
His Batman, however, is a different person altogether. Pattinson’s Wayne sees Batman as an escape from his sorrowful life, whereby he can not only keep his mind occupied in his role as a sleuth (this movie depicts Batman as far more of a detective than any before it), but can also let out his repressed rage in the most ferocious fashion – one particular beatdown of one of the Riddler’s followers in the movie’s climactic battle was as bloodthirsty as Pattinson’s aforementioned vampire character ever was. He is “vengeance”, after all.
This Batman records his nocturnal activities as a vigilante, so he can watch them back as Bruce Wayne when he gets home. It’s almost as if he undergoes a werewolf-esque transformation when he dons his cape and cowl, and the only way to take in exactly what he did and what information he obtained as Batman is to re-watch it as Wayne. It’s a pretty dark and creepy concept.
Whether or not The Batman is too dark and moody is subjective and open to interpretation – it depends entirely on what you’re looking for in the Dark Knight. Some people like a more cartoonish and kid-friendly version, in which case this won’t be for them. Some people think he should be extremely gritty and as dark as his iconic costume, in which case this is the version they’ll have been yearning for.
But one thing’s for sure: The Batman is damned dark and moody.