The Next Era Of Batman & Revisiting Predictions – By Ben Clemmer.
SPOILER ALERT for The Batman.
The gap between blogs and relative silence since The Batman came out might be a bit of a tipoff that I have been struggling to collect my thoughts about this film.
While Batman has appeared on the big screen multiple times in the last decade, the last solo outing we got from the character was The Dark Knight Rises (2012). I wore a TDKR t-shirt to the theater for watching The Batman. I did feel ten years older. Instead of feeling overflowing excitement for the next on screen chapter of this character I’ve loved all my life, I was maybe more feeling an obligation to see the film as quickly as I could so there would be no harm from spoilers. I usually try to lower expectations for films that I am otherwise really excited for so I don’t hype them up too much in my mind. That said, I enjoyed The Batman immensely. As an avid fan of the character both on screen and in comics, I’m going to use this opportunity to talk about why the movie landed so well with me.
But first, I have some predictions to review. I made a blogpost last year about possible Batman comics that The Batman might pull from or would be cool if a future movie did. Really only one of these picks was hit hard and that was Batman: Earth One. With Geoff Johns as involved as he has been, that doesn’t come as much of a surprise. Batman: Venom had one small nod in the third act as Batman used what looked a little too bright green to just be a kick of adrenaline. Catwoman appears in Batman: Prey, but again this film seemed more focused on emulating the Batman comics that almost always popup on the list of influences. We’ve got Year One, The Long Halloween, No Man’s Land, and…
One observation from others who have come away from the film is that The Batman might have the best and most comic book accurate Gotham City to date. I agree. The entire franchise is better for it. There’s also significant contrast with the world. The Batman isn’t trying to be Batman in the real world. That was the Nolan trilogy. It’s hard for me to convey just how good this movie looked throughout. Environments like the Iceberg Lounge, Wayne Tower, and the perch for the Bat-Signal looked amazing. That said, Caleb and I spent our second episode talking about some of the amazing visuals of the Planet of the Apes films. As the films grew darker and more apocalyptic, Matt Reeves showed how comfortable he was in these sprawling, dangerous environments.
As we dive into the characters, there’s one obvious element to discuss, how the movie uses names. Batman calls himself “Vengeance” and is also called this by Selena. We get to know Selena Kyle in a similarly early phase here, before her masked identity is well known. Oswald “Oz” Cobblepot is called the Penguin by some. The only big name that really has their name used throughout the film is the Riddler. Sometimes names from the comics (or not from the comics) are used to hide identities like Henri Ducard, Miranda Tate, or John Blake. That said, when you know who a character is from the beginning but you’re watching an origin story, it’s interesting to see how certain names are and aren’t used. More on that later.
The city truly did feel like a character and part of that was what this film delivered on that has been a long time coming for a Batman film. The Batman is actually a mystery. We meet so many of the major players in the film early on. The Riddler, Catwoman, and the Penguin all pop up in the film’s first fifteen minutes. We get a clear sense of who is involved in the murders and the conspiracy inspiring them, but we aren’t sure why they are happening. While Heath Ledger’s Joker was an agent of chaos, seemingly inflicting harm with abandon, the Riddler’s crimes seem targeted with a purpose, one that makes us ask questions. I want to spend more time on Pattinson’s Batman and the world the movie builds once I’ve watched the film a few more times. That said, there are three performances that felt like they came right out of the comics in amazing ways.
The first is Zoe Kravitz as Catwoman. As I’ve talked with friends about the movie, I’ve praised Kravitz as perhaps the best live action Catwoman we’ve gotten. So much of this film would fall flat if she and Pattinson didn’t have amazing chemistry. She gets a lot to do and her part is more grounded in the source material than any of the other live action portrayals we’ve had. We have to start with Batman: Year One. The costume design and short hairstyle feel pulled from that book, as does Catwoman living in a rundown apartment overloaded with cats. Her burglary hasn’t paid off just yet. The way she’s woven into the story is also pulled out of Jeph Loeb’s writing, which lets Kravitz shine further into the film in more emotional moments. She also gets an exit reminiscent of a choice in the Arkham games. Catwoman is given a choice at the end of the movie to aid a city falling further into ruin or take her out.
Let’s get back to Jeph Loeb and talk about Carmine Falcone. I prefaced this blog with a spoiler warning because this is a significant detail that this movie uses to great effect. Selena Kyle’s father is the Gotham City crime boss Carmine Falcone. John Turturro brings the character to life in a way that also feels very true to the comics. Tom Wilkinson was good in Batman Begins, but there’s so much more for Carmine Falcone to do here. The hairstyle and mustache feel lifted from the comics. The soft, raspy voice echoes Don Vito Corleone (keep an eye out for our next episode). He also wears dark glasses in so many of his scenes and Turturro does an amazing job despite the fact that for many of his interactions, we can’t see his eyes.
Paul Dano’s Riddler does the opposite for much of the movie. The only part of his body we can see is his eyes. As impressed as I was by Kravitz as Catwoman and Turturro as Falcone, I came into this movie with the Riddler as my favorite Batman villain, eager to see what territory Dano would explore. The Riddler of the Jeph Loeb comics like The Long Halloween, Dark Victory, Catwoman: When In Rome, and Hush feels much like the typical Riddler of the Bronze Age comics or Batman: The Animated Series. Riddler is a criminal genius, who is not a physical match for Batman, and he is usually seen in the green suit and bowler hat. The Riddler we get here is a massive departure from so many versions we’ve seen in the past, but there’s still a few clear instances of creative and psychotic puzzles Batman has to solve.
In terms of plotline, we still have some comic references to books like Gotham Central: Soft Targets where the mayor dies in the opening moments or Dark Victory where the victims of a serial killer are people of power and influence. The Riddler was reimagined as a serial killer in the Geoff Johns written Batman: Earth One, but I keep coming back to a single book.
There are many references. This version of the Riddler doesn’t really have a vendetta against Batman. He has one against Bruce Wayne. The same can be said for Hush. This version of the Riddler on the surface might just seem like Ledger’s take on the Joker. Let’s take a classic comic book villain with decades of history and do a terrifying reimagining of him for the 21st century. That’s there, but consider more of the specific choices made. Consider Dano’s Riddler in silhouette. He wears a coat and his face is covered in a mask that functionally serves to keep his identity a secret, but does little more. The same can be said for Hush. Finally, let’s come back to the names in the movie. Batman Begins got a lot of mileage out of having a character appear but have them be misidentified at first. Again, Ducard is revealed to really be Ra’s Al Ghul. The Riddler is killing people to eventually get to the man whose actions killed Edward Elliot. Hush is said when that name is revealed. We never get a conclusive identity on this version of the Riddler. One name used is Eddie Nashton, a name he had in the comics. But consider if this movie decided to reverse engineer one of the reveals of the comics.
In Hush, it is revealed that Thomas Elliot was working with the Riddler. In the animated film based on the comic book, the ending was changed to actually make Hush Edward Nygma. The two characters are linked and The Batman gives us what I think is a third version of this link. The Riddler is the public name of the character. This works for the story of the film as well as marketing that the movie has three of Batman’s biggest villains in it. The last time Catwoman, Penguin, and the Riddler appeared in the same live action Batman film was 1966. What we actually get in Paul Dano’s Riddler, is a version of the character that has the DNA of Hush woven into it. His costume, his motivations, and perhaps even his real identity make this a huge possibility. I love that they left it open ended.
Gotham City is now in No Man’s Land. Riddler successfully causes massive harm for the city and The Batman sets up for a sequel, making the decision that maybe should have been made by The Dark Knight Rises. If you want to do the No Man’s Land story, you probably need two movies to do it well.
Anyway, I hope you enjoyed this descent into Gotham’s underworld. Our latest episode on legacy sequels also had a strong superhero focus. Our next episode will drop earlier in April than our normal last Friday of the month. Time to get back to editing.