The Batman: A Dark Night in the Franchise

Vy Nguyen, Op-Ed Editor

 The shadows can be a dark place.

Photo courtesy of IMDb

Gotham, the somber scenery of The Batman, is ensnared in these shadows as the titular Bruce Wayne (Robert Pattinson) lurks below the depths of city streets while standing up to seedy rapscallions, robbers, and rich scoundrels. Although the urban blight’s vices — avarice, desire, and corruption — are his exigence, the shadows are simultaneously the film’s fatal flaw. 

In Matt Reeve’s 2022 film, Batman is no longer the luckiest orphan ever, but he morphs into a brooding, vigilante who faces nothing but bad luck and corruption, slinking into darkness and wallowing in cynicism. With our hero slipping into the background, less-relevant characters rise to the forefront of the plot, giving the audience more than what they want but not what they need: Batman himself.

The Batman depicts a seemingly hopeless search for answers in an even more hopeless Gotham as the Batman chases an unrelenting Riddler (Paul Dano), who unveils the upper class’ most well-kept secrets through a series of, shockingly enough, riddles. Through his cryptic Instagram Live-like videos and killing sprees, he ruthlessly and successfully unmasks the privilege of the wealthy, from the Penguin (Colin Farrell) to crime boss Carmine Valcone (John Turturro) to even Bruce Wayne himself. 

Although it’s understandable how the Riddler and his schemes are excessively elaborate, the plot incessantly jumps from one goal to the next. One minute Batman is deciphering a code, and the next, he’s angrily spray-painting his living room floor, which can easily disorient the viewer.

Photo courtesy of IMDb

When the Riddler is unmasked, he is revealed to be a distraught orphan who tolerated abuse from the foster care system. If you remove the masks and muscles, the only thing that sets him and Wayne apart is chance and fate. Both are orphans. Both, in their own ways, force truth to emerge from the shadows. Both believe that they are working towards the greater good. Therefore, the Riddler’s investigation of the upper class prods at Batman’s own privilege while subverting the savior complex too many superhero movies succumb to. 

Dano’s visceral portrayal of both resentment and desire might propel audiences to root for the villain’s success, questioning whether the hero even deserves his title at all. Mimicking David Fincher’s 1995 thriller, Se7en, The Batman’s parallels and differences between the protagonist and antagonist blur the not-so-discrete lines between the “good guys” and the “bad guys,” creating a nuanced and multi-layered mystery plot.

Although Dano was able to reinvent the Riddler into an eccentric yet eerie villain, Pattinson’s interpretation is unfortunately reminiscent of a pubescent teenager’s emo phase. Donning smudged eyeliner and knock-off Doc Martens, this Batman is not the chivalrous man young children look up to, but instead, he and his solemn voice-overs melt into Gotham’s saturnine darkness as opposed to commanding it. 

Photo courtesy of IMDb

Though scenes lull and lapse with Batman trudging through each new clue or riddle, nail-biting fight scenes and Zoë Kravtiz’s clever Catwoman are like refulgent street lights shining through the neo-noir film. Both contribute to the city’s ruthless and jungle-like atmosphere, with a stylish Catwoman prowling the streets in search of a lost friend while the combat, instead of lazily relying on guns for action, employs animalistic, old-fashioned fist fights.

However, despite these highlights, The Batman was, at most, a perfunctory addition to the Batman franchise, especially compared to predecessors like The Dark Knight. The shadows can be a dark place, and disappointingly enough, this film, along with its somber Batman, does not stand out; it just blends right in. 

 

The Batman is now available in theaters, is 176 minutes long and is rated PG-13 for mature audiences. Viewer discretion is advised.