The New Batman Is Deeply Unsettling. The Director Says That’s the Point

It is best to start early BatmanOur hero steps into a station to confront a bunch of hooligans with face paint who are trying to harass Gotham citizens. Their ringleader is punched by him. Perhaps a little too often. A little too much. Does he enjoy it? The man Batman has saved doesn’t say thank you. Instead, Batman crawls backward asking for his own life. Batman not only causes fear among villains but also creates fear within the hearts and minds of his victims.

“I wanted to play on this idea that Batman is going to unleash on these guys, and there’s a part of you that can’t wait to see it,” says director Matt Reeves, whose superhero reboot hits theaters March 4. “You go to a Batman movie to see that moment. And then you see it’s having a toxic effect. It makes you get a little unsettled.”

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Batman starring Robert Pattinson, isn’t exactly a horror film, but it revels in discomfiting its audience. Though Reeves started working on the script with Peter Craig in 2017, it manages to capture our current feelings of despair and isolation—a sign that the discontent that permeates the movie has been brewing for a while. Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy told the story of a superhero desperate to help his city eradicate corruption so that it would no longer need someone to watch over it. Reeves’ version knows a bright future is not possible. That’s an apt, if grim, observation at a time when a pandemic, increased anxiety about global warming, and a war in Europe have contributed to a pervasive sense of doom.

The line between good or evil in superhero movies is often very clear. Reeves’ new film is cloaked in realism and a moral muddiness that echoes thrillers like Se7enNeo-noirs and the like Chinatown.Batman and the Riddler are on the hunt for a serial killer. Played by Paul Dano, he’s a far cry from Jim Carrey’s green-suited slapstick character from 1995’s Batman Forever. Dano’s Riddler hides behind an army-green mask and leaves puzzles for the Caped Crusader on mutilated corpses. Like Batman, he targets Gotham’s corrupt politicians and gangsters. Unlike Batman, he’s willing to kill, and—no less frightening—has leveraged social media to amass a violent, fringe following. “The far-out parts of internet culture, I found that scary,” says Dano. “The film is more terrifying because of its contact with reality.”

Reeves is an actor whose past work includes the movie “Monster”. CloverfieldInstalments and payments in the Planet of the ApesFranchise, seeks to add a humanist approach to genre filmmaking. Und in BatmanReeves empathizes for his antagonist and criticizes him. Superhero movies “can be a reductive, iconic genre,” he says. “I wanted to create a movie with shades of gray.”

See the full review Batman Is Dark, Real Dark—Or So It Wants Us to Think

Batman Is Dark, Real Dark—Or So It Wants Us to Think

Jonathan Olley—Warner Bros. and DC Comics(L-r) Robert Pattinson and director Matt Reeves and on the set in Warner Bros. Pictures’ Batman

Pattinson’s eighth live-action Batman movie is a vast improvement on the TV-version from the 1960s. Tim Burton’s film adaptations were dark, but not grim. Nolan was the one who created nearly 20 years of DC Comics dark films. They drew heavily on somber comics with stories about torture and psychological abuse. Warner Bros. did briefly depart from Nolan’s playbook when they hired Joss Whedon, a veteran of Marvel Studios to spice up the dialog. Justice League, The Batman Swings back to grit

Naturally, there will be critics who compare. Batman to Nolan’s films. Reeves is able to distinguish his vision from previous films. This moody, atmospheric movie is uninterested in Batman’s gadgets, and the car-chase scene, while terrific, is purposefully grounded: the Batmobile weaves down a crowded highway, rather than taking flight. The film cracks only a few jokes, mostly at Batman’s expense.

Christian Bale excelled at playing Batman’s two sides: the charming, if smarmy, Bruce Wayne (harkening to hisAmerican Psychoday) and the brooding cricket. Reeves requests Pattinson play. HisEach person has their own strengths. Bruce is not a playboy and prefers to be at home writing. He is forced to go out without his mask. TwilightThe star hides under his bangs. And Reeves spares viewers another scene of Bruce’s parents’ death, instead alluding to a tragic past through his mournful glances at rich boys toddling around Gotham.

His Batman is also not as confident: early in the film, Bruce admits he’s been patrolling the streets of Gotham for two years to keep the city safe, and if anything, crime has gotten worse, not better. He may have inspired others to dress up in bat masks and terrorize people by provoking fear in his enemies. “Most films start as an origin story. In this way, he kills his parents. He masters himself, and then dedicates himself to this mission,” says Reeves. “I wanted him to be human and flailing and struggling.”

Dano’s Riddler is a villain in the thrall of the crimefighter. “There can be no Riddler without the Batman,” says Dano. Reeves suggested Dano be read Mindhunter,The first FBI team to pursue serial killers. (The actor had to take the book to coffee shops to read so he didn’t have to keep it by his bedside: “I get squeamish.”)

Many of Batman’s most iconic nemeses have been scene stealers. Joaquin Phoenix and Heath Ledger won Oscars for their roles as Joker. Tom Hardy’s hulking figure and muffled voice as Bane defines The Dark Knight Rises—for better or worse. The Riddler, by contrast, is a specter: he doesn’t show his face for most of the film. And when he does, he’s a human with a reason for his anger and a meticulous moral code.

Paul Dano as Riddler
Jonathan Olley—Warner Bros. PicturesPaul Dano as Riddler in Batman.

Every character in Reeves’ film has a backstory, usually a tragic one. And Reeves seems much more interested in the systemic issues that created Gotham’s many villains than his predecessors ever were. For instance, Gotham is littered with orphans, including Selina Kyle (Zoë Kravitz), also known as Catwoman. Bruce Wayne, unlike all other orphaned children of Gotham was cared for by an attentive butler at a lavish mansion. Nolan briefly alludes to Batman’s privilege in The Dark Knight with a telling crack about a Batman imitator wearing “hockey pads” instead of Kevlar. It was hilarious. Justice League largely ignores Batman’s wealth.

However, BatmanSelina calls Bruce out on the narrow vision of Gotham that he has because he is a white man with the security of an inheritance. “He’s completely sheltered and has this moral superiority,” Reeves says. “He encounters her in the underworld and assumes she’s morally corrupt. And he’s entirely wrong about her because he didn’t have to struggle.”

Reeves’ Gotham is notably more diverse than past iterations, and as a Black woman, Selina’s challenge to Bruce carries greater weight. Reeves doesn’t hit you over the head with this commentary but quietly shows how the characters’ backgrounds might affect their relationships. This movie is, at its heart, a love story about two people from different worlds trying to learn to trust each other—even as we, the audience, can’t decide whether either should be trusted.

Jonathan Olley— Warner Bros. and DC ComicsZoë Kravitz as Selina Kyle in Warner Bros. Pictures’ Batman

For a movie called BatmanThere are many different viewpoints in the film. In the very first scene, Reeves plays with the camera’s point of view: we see a rich family in their home, shot through binoculars. Is someone spying on the family? Does it look like someone is plotting the murder of the Wayne family from the past? Does Batman watch a corrupt Gotham politician? Are the Riddler trying to target a victim or is he? Reeves employs this ambiguous shot once more in the film. This time, he focuses on Selina in her own apartment. It feels as if she is being violated by the camera. “I loved this Hitchcockian point-of-view storytelling where you use the camera to implicate the viewer,” says Reeves. “The viewer is now the voyeur.”

These aren’t just tricks of the camera. Reeves has a bigger question on his mind: If Batman stalks the city calling himself “Vengeance,” what really differentiates him from the vengeful villains he’s hunting down? The morality of Nolan’s Batman was never in question—only whether Gotham perceived him as a do-gooder or a madman. However, this Batman needs to decide to be good.

Superhero movies are often misunderstood due to their popularity and their powerful symbolism. Ledger’s Joker, who has a truly frightening agenda, has been boiled down an image and a caption: “Some men just want to watch the world burn.” A Marvel joke—“Thanos was right”—devolves from a radical take on environmentalism to an ironic quote on a coffee mug.

This kind of simplification can be especially harmful to Batman. In the comics, he’s been a pure hero and a borderline villain. “There’s a version of glorifying a kind of brutality of Batman that’s fascist,” says Reeves. “You could see that meme. And then there are other portrayals where you could see that he’s struggling in this very human way.” By constantly changing perspective and forcing us to consider Batman’s exploits from different points of view, Reeves insists on a more complicated protagonist who has to reflect on what, exactly, he wants to symbolize: fear or hope. “I wanted him to be forced to have an awakening,” he says, “and confront what he’s doing.”


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