Tuesday 15 March 2022

The Darkest Knight

As I've written previously, one of my fondest undergraduate memories was attending a special 70mm screening of Tim Burton's Batman, with Nick Smith, at the Odeon Bournemouth.

So, it's only justice that my scholarly partner-in-crime dons the dark detective's cowl for The Batman. The Dark Knight Trilogy casts a long shadow... How does this latest incarnation compare?

Guest post by Nick Smith

The Batman has been a long time coming. It was worth the wait.

The DC Comics adaptation was heralded when Ben Affleck assembled the Justice League and the title was confirmed in 2016. The movie was teased over the past couple of years, with cast/crew interviews and trailers. Ultimately, Robert Pattinson (Tenet) would replace Affleck in the titular role. Meanwhile, Zack Snyder's Justice League is a touching tribute to familial love and loss.

It wasn’t anybody’s fault – COVID-19 slowed down production, with multiple breaks in filming. Sadly, one crew member died after becoming infected. This grim event shrouded an already gloomy movie, which blends Denny O’Neil’s dark knight detective, David Fincher’s serial killer thriller Se7eN, and the relative realism of Batman: Year One.

In this lengthy tale, Bruce Wayne is two years into his vigilantism. He’s a haunted emo kid who sulks and sneers at his father figure, Alfred Pennyworth (Andy Serkis), while coming to terms with the brutal death of Thomas and Martha Wayne. Thankfully, we’re not subjected to yet another rerun of their murders, which has been depicted innumerable times in comics, animation and live-action films.

Yet the tragic event permeates this movie down to the final turning point, where another orphan compares his fate to Bruce’s.

Pattinson gives an enthrallingly broody performance as the driven rich kid Bruce, keeping the pouty facial expressions that made him infamous in The Twilight Saga to a minimum. Zoe Kravitz, who previously voiced Catwoman in The LEGO Batman Movie, reprises her role with enthusiasm and makes her character’s soap opera-worthy lineage plausible. The Batsuit, vehicles and Batcave help to make their environment as authentic as possible.

The real standout characters are James Gordon (Jeffrey Wright) and Alfred Pennyworth. The actors flesh out these two-dimensional DC characters and make them seem as if they’ve been breathing in the shadows of this grimy fictional city all their lives, weary yet still hopeful thanks to the Batman.

Beyond keeping it real, though, director Matt Reeves (Cloverfield, War for the Planet of the Apes) has a palpable love for the Batman’s grittily woven world. His joyful response to getting the opportunity to play in Gotham’s gutters shows through in the action scenes, the tone of the film and even in the music from Oscar-winning composer Michael Giacchino (Spider-Man: No Way Home), which occasionally echoes the ‘60s TV show theme.

Allowing Pattinson to react like a human being to dangerous circumstances, rather than an invulnerable hero, Reeves entertains the audience while keeping up a sense of danger and doom. He pulls off this tough balancing act so well he'd put the Flying Graysons to shame.

Affleck portrayed an older, more cynical Bruce Wayne and it would be great to get beyond the hero’s early years. But in the meantime, it’s a treat to mire ourselves in the devilish, demented Gotham of The Batman.

Have you seen The Batman? What did you think? Let me know in the comments below.

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