4-Color to 35-Millimeter: The Great Superhero Movie Rewatch

Vengeance Is Mine, Sayeth the Bat — The Batman

From August 2017 – January 2020, Keith R.A. DeCandido took a weekly look at every live-action movie based on a superhero comic that had been made to date in the weekly Superhero Movie Rewatch. In this latest revisit we’ve covered some older movies—It’s a Bird… It’s a Plane… It’s Superman!, Mandrake, and the two Timecop movies—and two December 2021 releases—Spider-Man: No Way Home and The King’s Man—we now catch up with the first of three 2022 movies, The Batman.

The original plan for The Batman was for it to be the first solo film for Ben Affleck as Bruce Wayne and his chiropteran alter ego following Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice and Justice League. Affleck was also going to co-write and direct the movie, with several members of his supporting cast seen in those two movies coming over to the solo film.

Those plans changed in rapid succession, and by the time 2022 rolled around, we got a completely different movie in The Batman.

Affleck found that being both director and star was too overwhelming, and he wound up going into treatment for alcohol abuse and pulling out of the film. Matt Reeves was on the short list of directors to replace Affleck, and he wanted to go in a different direction than Affleck had been planning, and that, combined with the less than wonderful word of mouth for the DCEU in general and the poor box office of Justice League in particular led Warner Bros. to have The Batman be completely separate from the continuity established in the films from Man of Steel forward.

Reeves instead decided to do a younger Batman, one who’d only been working for two years and is still establishing his cred, and his legend. Reeves also (thankfully) avoided retelling Batman’s origin yet again. He also used two comics miniseries—The Long Halloween and its sequel Dark Victory, both by Jeph Loeb & Tim Sale.

Robert Pattinson—still probably best known for his role as the male lead in the Twilight movies—was cast as Bruce Wayne, a move that caused as big a hue and cry as Michael Keaton’s casting did in the late 1980s. Joining him are Jeffrey Wright, replacing JK Simmons as James Gordon, here still a lieutenant in the GCPD; Andy Serkis (previously seen in this rewatch in Avengers: Age of Ultron and Black Panther, and also directing Venom: Let There Be Carnage), replacing Jeremy Irons as Alfred Pennyworth; Paul Dano as the Riddler; Zoë Kravitz as Selina Kyle (never actually referred to as Catwoman); Colin Farrell (last seen in this rewatch in Daredevil) as the Penguin; and John Turturro as Carmine Falcone.

The movie did very well, and a sequel has been announced, with much of the cast returning. In addition, Farrell will be headlining a spinoff TV series on HBO Max, The Penguin.

 

“What I’m doing is my family’s legacy”

The Batman
Written by Matt Reeves & Peter Craig
Directed by Matt Reeves
Produced by Matt Reeves, Dylan Clark
Original release date: March 1, 2022

Image: Warner Bros.

On Hallowe’en night, Mayor Don Mitchell Jr. is watching footage of his debate with Bella Reál, who is running against him for mayor. Mitchell is pissed that she’s tied with him in the polls, but his anger is short-lived, as someone breaks into his home and beats him to death, then duct tapes him to a chair and scrawls “LIAR” on the tape.

Over a very pretentious voiceover, Batman patrols the city. He’s been operating for two years and is starting to gain a reputation. He stops some thugs with clown paint on their faces from beating up a commuter, but the commuter is just as scared of Batman as he was of the thugs. At one point, a thug asks who he is, and Batman replies, “I am vengeance!”

Lieutenant James Gordon of the GCPD has activated the bat-signal—which is just a huge-ass spotlight with bits of metal wedged into it in the vague shape of a bat—and he brings Batman to the Mitchell crime scene. The uniformed officers and Commissioner Savage are livid at having a masked vigilante present, but there’s a note on the body addressed to “The Batman.”

The greeting card has a riddle (“What does a liar do when he’s dead?”), and also a cipher. In addition, Mitchell’s thumb has been removed, and there’s more accusations of lying scrawled all over the home. Batman is also visibly moved by the fact that Mitchell’s son—who was out trick-or-treating with his mother—is the one who found the body.

He returns to the Batcave and removes his special contact lenses that contain cameras. He prints out the image of the cipher, and Alfred takes it to try to figure it out. Alfred also tries to get him to focus on Wayne family business, but Batman doesn’t care about that, rather stupidly forgetting that the only reason he can be Batman is because he’s fabulously wealthy, and he literally can’t afford to let the family business go to shit.

Using just the letters in “he lies still,” the answer to the riddle, Alfred and Batman discover a simple message in the cipher: “DRIVE.” On a hunch, Batman and Gordon check out the mayor’s rather large fleet of cars. One of them has a blood-covered tool wedged inside it. They find a USB drive with Mitchell’s thumb attached to it (yes, it’s a thumb drive…). For some stupid reason, they plug it into the car’s USB port and it shows pictures of Mitchell at the Iceberg Club—a known mob hangout—with a woman who is not his wife. Also visible is the club’s proprietor, known as “the Penguin.” The drive immediately e-mails the pictures to every news source in the city (which is why you don’t just plug thumb drives into things willy-nilly!).

Batman goes to the Iceberg Club, beating up a bunch of bouncers before Penguin finally agrees to see him. Penguin claims not to recognize the woman with the mayor, but the server who brings Penguin his drinks (as well as money in exchange for drugs) obviously does recognize her.

The server, whose name is Selina Kyle, immediately leaves the club and hails a cab. Batman follows her to her apartment. The blonde in the pictures is her roommate and lover Annika. Kyle then changes into a catsuit (ahem), and goes to Mitchell’s place. Batman thinks she’s going back to the scene of the crime because she killed him, but it turns out she was there to retrieve Annika’s passport, which Mitchell was holding onto to keep her from leaving the country.

Image: Warner Bros.

They return to Kyle’s apartment to find it trashed, and Annika missing. A news report reveals that Savage has also been killed, a rat-maze attached to his head allowing the rats to nibble him to death.

Gordon sneaks Batman into the morgue to check Savage’s body, and also the rat trap, which has another card addressed to the Batman hidden in it, with yet another riddle and cipher. While Alfred works on the cipher, Batman sends Kyle back into the Iceberg Lounge—specifically to the 44 Below club-within-the-club which is where all the mobsters and corrupt officials hang out—while wearing the special contact lenses. Kyle chats up District Attorney Colson, who reveals while flirting that everyone’s scared because of Savage and Mitchell being killed, making it clear that they’re all part of some kind of conspiracy related to the destruction of Salvatore Maroni’s criminal empire, which was the biggest drug bust in Gotham City history, and which was a career-making bust for both Mitchell and Savage. Kyle also tries to find out what happened to Annika, but while she gets some hints that something bad has happened, she finds out nothing concrete.

While heading home, Colson is kidnapped by the Riddler.

The next day is the funeral for Mitchell, and Bruce Wayne shows up for his first public appearance in years. The press goes nuts, and Carmine Falcone greets him as well, reminding Wayne that his father saved Falcone’s life from a gunshot wound years ago. In addition, Reál talks to Wayne, wishing to get his support for her mayoral bid.

The funeral is interrupted by Colson’s car crashing into the church. The DA has a bomb attached to his neck and a phone attached to his hand. The phone keeps ringing, but nobody answers it, the cops instead clearing the church. Wayne changes to Batman and appears in the church, which pisses the cops off. Batman answers the phone call—which has been ringing for a long time, which is, um, not how cell phones work—and it’s Riddler, who has three riddles for Colson—the answer to the last of which would reveal who informed on Maroni. That informant is the rat Riddler was referring to in his murder of Savage. But Colson refuses to answer, and Riddler detonates the bomb.

Batman is injured in the explosion and brought to police headquarters. Gordon convinces Chief Bock to let him talk to Batman alone, that he can convince the vigilante to play ball. Behind closed doors, though, Gordon tells Batman that he needs to punch Gordon out and escape, as he’s a dead man if he stays. This happens, and Batman gets away.

Later, Gordon and Batman meet up after Alfred has provided another clue from the latest cipher: “You are el rata elada.” That’s sort of Spanish for “rat with wings,” which Batman assumes means “stool pigeon,” or another name for the informant Riddler wants to expose.

Image: Warner Bros.

They go after the Penguin, interrupting Kyle trying to steal money from the Iceberg Lounge, and accidentally finding Annika’s corpse in a trunk. After a shootout and a car chase with the Batmobile going after the Penguin, the latter is captured. He is not the rat, however, and he doesn’t who know it is. He also knows Spanish better than Batman or Gordon, as he knows that the proper formulation is “la rata elada,” not “el rata elada,” and only then does Batman realize that the first three words are a pun for “URL.” He goes to rataelada.com and winds up in a chat with the Riddler, who reveals that his next target is an old orphanage that was funded by Thomas and Martha Wayne, and where Bruce lived for a time after they were killed.

The place is long-abandoned now, and it’s clear that Riddler still harbors an animus against Thomas, who was running for mayor when he was killed, and according to Riddler, his Gotham Renewal Fund, which was supposed to help the city, was built on lies. Realizing that Riddler’s next target will be Wayne Tower, Batman calls Alfred, only to find out that he received a letter bomb an hour earlier and has been hospitalized, with tremendous damage done to the tower.

Riddler also leaks evidence that Thomas hired Falcone to kill a reporter who was threatening to expose Martha’s history of mental illness. (Martha’s maiden name is Arkham, and the Arkham State Hospital was funded by the Waynes.) Wayne goes to Falcone to confront him about it. Falcone claims that Thomas went to him because Falcone owed him a favor; he also hints that Maroni is the one who had Thomas and Martha killed because of his relationship with Falcone. However, when Alfred awakens from his coma, he reveals that Thomas only wanted Falcone to pressure the reporter, not kill him, and he threatened to expose Falcone’s role in the murder. Alfred believes that it’s possible that Falcone had Thomas and Martha killed, but he’s not sure—it might have been just some random asshole.

One thing Alfred is sure of: despite what the Riddler is saying, Thomas wasn’t concerned about his image, he simply wanted to protect his wife from the scandal.

A bouncer at the Iceberg Lounge is also a cop, Detective Kenzie. (When Batman recognizes him in the station house, Gordon opines that he must be moonlighting at the Iceberg, and Batman replies that he may be moonlighting as a cop.) Kyle brings Kenzie to the rooftop where the bat-signal is housed, having turned it on to summon both Batman and Gordon. Kenzie admits that they all work for Falcone, and that Falcone is the rat they’re looking for. He informed on Maroni in order to get rid of the competition. Mitchell told that to Annika, which is why Falcone had her killed. Kenzie also says that they all used Thomas Wayne’s Renewal Foundation to launder money and fund their bribes and payoffs after Thomas died.

Kyle reveals that Falcone is her father, having knocked up her mother when she worked at the club. Kyle kicks Kenzie off the roof, and heads to the Iceberg while Gordon and Batman save Kenzie, pulling him back up.

Kyle goes to the Iceberg to kill Falcone—who didn’t even know she was his illegitimate daughter until this confrontation—but Batman stops her from doing it, convincing her to allow Gordon to arrest him instead. However, Riddler kills Falcone while he’s being put in the car, and then is rather easily captured and arrested.

Image: Warner Bros.

The Riddler is a forensic accountant named Edward Nashton, who was inspired by Batman. He asks to see Batman, who visits him. Nashton goes on for some time about Bruce Wayne, and how Wayne never understood what it was really like to be an orphan because he had so much wealth. It’s several minutes before it becomes clear that Nashton hasn’t figured out who is under the cowl, but is instead lamenting the one target he didn’t hit, as Wayne wasn’t home when the letter bomb went off.

Batman makes it clear that he doesn’t view the Riddler as a partner, and he’s appalled that Nashton was inspired to become a serial killer because of him. Riddler in turn reveals that he has one more attack left.

Batman goes back to Riddler’s apartment, where the officer guarding the place reveals that the weapon used to kill Mitchell was a carpet tucking tool (the officer’s uncle installed carpets). That prompts Batman to rip up the carpet in the apartment, which reveals a chalk drawing on the underfloor of his plan: to use car bombs to blow up the already-crumbling seawall that keeps Gotham from flooding.

The bombs go off, and Batman discovers that Riddler recorded a video for his online following before he was arrested, urging them to don similar costumes to him and infiltrate Gotham Square Garden in order to take out Mayor-Elect Reál.

Batman heads there. The city is in chaos as the streets are flooding like whoa. GSG is a designated shelter, and Reál refuses to let Gordon take her to safety, as she insists on helping her people. Batman—aided by Kyle and Gordon—stops the various Riddler-inspired snipers who somehow managed to sneak into a major arena that was hosting a mayor. When it’s all over, Gordon unmasks one of the snipers and asks who he is, and he replies, “I am vengeance!”

Batman realizes he needs to be a symbol of hope, not vengeance. He works tirelessly to help those injured or left homeless by the flooding. Meanwhile Nashton is incarcerated at Arkham, and he befriends one of the other inmates, who giggles a lot…

Kyle and Batman meet one final time in a cemetery. She’s leaving Gotham, considering it beyond saving. Besides, with Annika dead, there are too many bad memories. She asks him to come with her, and he, of course, refuses. They kiss and she then heads out of town, with Batman heading back in.

 

“You’re gonna die alone in Arkham”

Image: Warner Bros.

On the one hand, I’m very disappointed that we didn’t get to see Ben Affleck’s older Batman in a solo film. One of my favorite aspects of the mostly awful Justice League was seeing a Batman who was pushing forty and struggling to fight the one enemy he can’t defeat: the aging process.

But alas, it was not to be, and I’m extremely happy with what we got in its place.

Batman has had several different modes over his eight-plus decades: noir vigilante, wise-cracking superhero, the world’s greatest detective, violent vigilante, obsessive nutjob, brilliant polymath. Often different interpretations of the character have mixed two or more of those aspects.

However, one element that has been missing from pretty much every screen interpretation of Bats is him as the world’s greatest detective. Only Adam West’s version has remembered that Batman is often the smartest person in the room. Lewis Wilson, Robert Lowery, and Michael Keaton played the noir vigilante. West, Val Kilmer, and George Clooney did the wise-cracking superhero. Christian Bale and Affleck did the violent vigilante, and the two of them were not only not the smartest person in the room, they deliberately handed over the smart-person stuff to someone else, Bale to Morgan Freeman’s Lucius Fox, Affleck to Jeremy Irons’ Alfred.

But Matt Reeves and Robert Pattinson actually give us the dark knight detective, as Batman has to think his way through a lot of this movie. There’s a great line from the comics, The Question Annual #1 from 1988, written by Denny O’Neil—one of the greatest writers of Batman, as well as one of the greatest editors to work on the Bat-titles—where the Green Arrow says, “I thought you just swung down from the rooftops and cleaned bad guys’ clocks.” Batman’s reply: “Occasionally, I do. That’s approximately four percent of my activity. The rest of it is finding out things.”

Pattinson’s Batman is always finding out things, and it’s great to watch. He’s also a Batman who’s still figuring stuff out, isn’t always together, occasionally makes mistakes, and sometimes bites off more than he can chew.

What I especially like is that Pattinson’s Bruce Wayne is young in a way that Christian Bale never was, even when he was doing Batman’s very beginnings. He’s still in seventeen kinds of pain from the death of his parents, and he hasn’t figured out how to balance his life just yet. But he’s working on it. It’s a stage of Batman’s career that we rarely see (though not as rare as Affleck’s older version), and it’s a nice change from the prior iterations of Bats on screen. I particularly like the way he evolves from his “I am vengeance” declaration at the top of the movie—an appellation that both Kyle and Penguin make fun of him with throughout the film—to realizing that he needs to be a symbol of hope and justice, not vengeance.

Image: Warner Bros.

The movie itself is beautifully filmed. There’s a miasma hanging over Gotham throughout the film that is very fitting: it’s a dark, dank place, where it feels like it’s going to rain any second. It’s also a very corrupt place, but there’s hope in people like Gordon, like Batman, like Reál.

The acting is stupendous here. Nobody ever went wrong casting Jeffrey Wright in anything, and he just kills it as Gordon. Zoë Kravitz is an extremely worthy addition to the pantheon of great live-action Catwomen alongside Newmar, Meriwether, Kitt, Pfeiffer, Bicondova, and Hathaway. Paul Dano is devastating as the most psychotic iteration of the Riddler yet, Colin Farrell is barely recognizable as he plays the Penguin as a goombah gangster right out of a Scorsese film, and John Turturro practically steals the movie as the sunglasses-wearing Falcone, who just oozes pure nastiness.

And Andy Serkis is the latest in a series of brilliant Alfreds. Has any comics character been so constantly brilliantly played onscreen as Alfred Pennyworth? Alan Napier, Michael Gough, Michael Caine, Sean Pertwee, Jeremy Irons, Jack Bannon, and now Serkis, all perfect in the role…

As good as the movie is, however, it is way too long. It never quite drags, but it never is particularly fast-paced, either. It was much easier to sit through in my living room with its pause button than in the theatre, I can say that for sure. There are plenty of great movies that are very long, and you don’t notice the running time—Seven Samurai, Avengers: Endgame—but The Batman seems to embrace that it’s a long story, almost calling attention to it. That’s not always a benefit. There are also a few minor plot holes and head-scratchers, and some of Riddler’s clues are so abstruse that it strains credulity that anyone would figure them out. By the same token, others are even more simplistic than Frank Gorshin’s silly wordplay from the 1960s

 

Next week we look at the next step in Sony’s continuing series of Spider-Man-adjacent movies, Morbius.

Keith R.A. DeCandido will be a guest at GalaxyCon Raleigh in North Carolina this weekend. He’ll be appearing at Bard’s Tower, Booth 1125 in the exhibit hall, alongside fellow word-slingers Claudia Gray, Christopher Ruocchio, and Marion G. Harmon, as well as actor Carlos Ferro. Keith will be selling and signing his books all four days of the con, and also doing some panels. Come by and see him!

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