Out now, The Batman in UK cinemas has caused quite a stir. This isn’t a return to the DCEU, nor even Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy. The Batman changes a lot of things about the superhero movie, but none more so than the way in which we think about the characters.
Getting the debate out of the way immediately: Batman is a superhero. He many not have any superpowers but he still ranks among the legion of comic book characters that have saved the world. Several times over, in fact. And so, yes, Batman does pass as a superhero, even if in this film he’s particularly naïve.
The Batman Changes Batman
So jumping straight in with the essentials: The Batman shows a new side to the character that we haven’t seen on the big screen before. While Batman Begins attempted to extend the origins of Batman, it really was a lengthy montage of suffering and training and then suddenly the superhero is born. This is not the case with The Batman.
Here, we see Batman in his youth. Just two years practicing vigilantism; he is frequently out of his depth. He makes mistakes. Acts before he thinks. He doesn’t have the experience to see the consequences of his actions, nor the tools to back them up. Ultimately, he’s weak.
While being played by a mid-30s Robert Pattinson, Batman comes across almost as a teenager. He’s hot-headed and prone to bouts of angst. Though Bruce Wayne may well suffer from daily anguish at the thought of his murdered parents, he doesn’t just take it out on the bad guys; everyone – friend or foe – takes the brunt of his anger.
Bruce Wayne is Barely a Part of The Batman
Batman’s alter ego is rarely seen in the film. Only a few minutes of screentime of The Batman‘s three hour runtime is given to Bruce Wayne. The film casts this in the light that Wayne no longer considers his everyday persona as useful to Gotham City, instead believing that becoming Batman is the answer. That the Batman stands for something. It’s almost as if Batman’s secret identity is Bruce, not the other way around.
When we do see Bruce, he’s just as angsty as in his Batman persona. Worse still, he’s disengaged with everyone around him. When the mayoral candidate, Bella Reál, attempts to talk with him he simply looks right through her. The only meaningful conversations he has in the film are with the mob boss, Carmine Falcone, and the ever trustworthy Alfred Pennyworth.
The Batman is Not an Action Movie
While diehard fans may argue about the intrinsic value and mise-en-scene of other Batman movies, they are by-and-large action orientated affairs. The Batman gives the same feeling at first, with a rollercoaster of an opening hour. But all the while it’s establishing Batman as a detective. The Batman has much more in common with film-noir than it does the DCEU films.
Batman (or Bruce) appears in almost every scene of the film. We never cut to the bad guys to learn about what they’re doing, and the clues to piece together the mystery are revealed to the audience along with Batman. We’re solving the case in our minds simultaneously with the hero on-screen, not unlike one of the many critically acclaimed Humphrey Bogart films in the film noir genre.
Batman Shows Growth
Many superhero films begin with an origin story. They move into action. Then comes the hero’s downfall. Then it’s his overcoming of the odds, and a return to former glory. This is not how The Batman does things.
Batman starts angry. He’s violent and quick to explode. Once he realises his personal connection to murders happening across the city, he slows down. He’s still going to get rough, but he’s aware he needs to gain knowledge, not dish out punishment.
We also see several scenes in the movie where, as an inexperienced vigilante, he doesn’t yet have all the gadgets he’s famous for. Later sees demonstrate he learns where his equipment is lacking, and new additions come into play. By the end of the film, he’s riding a themed bike that looks completely different to the retro motorcycle he begins on.
This demonstrates a character development that reaches beyond the usual revenge motive. Batman is maturing throughout the film; learning about just what it means to be Batman.