The Batman Re-imagines the Caped Crusader to Stirring Effect

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The Batman Re-imagines the Caped Crusader to Stirring Effect

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

For a runtime of almost 3 hours, you will be amazed to know how much of Matt Reeves’ “The Batman” is shot during broad daylight – almost none! Even the rare daytime shots are supported by overcast skies or a near-invisible sun. Treated like a neo-noir, the film makes ample use of shadows to the extent that Robert Pattinson’s Batman enters the film during an unruly rainy night at a rundown subway station, ruminating “They think I’m hiding in the shadows. Watching. Waiting to strike… I am the shadows.” Cinematographer Greig Fraser adds measured darkness to the frames in this new vision for the caped crusader that stands apart from the past versions due to its overall bleakness.

The Batman creates a morally ambiguous universe filled with untrustworthy characters.

Sample the character traits of our protagonist. The Tim Burton/Micheal Keaton, Christopher Nolan/Christian Bale and Zack Snyder/Ben Affleck interpretations are all marked by a dual personality – the tough superhero who operates on Gotham’s streets and Bruce Wayne – the charming playboy who hobnobs with the who’s who in posh parties. Reeves reinvents this alter-ego, by stripping Bruce off any shade of aura. This Bruce is a recluse with no friends, seething internally due to the loss of his parents. Even paternal Alfred (Andy Serkis) is told to maintain an emotional distance. Pattinson, faithful to Reeves’ vision, does not smile once. The internal world of Bruce seems so glum, that one can feel the physical and moral exhaustion whenever we see him on screen.

The hollowness of this Batman’s purpose is mirrored by other major characters in the film.

The film creates a morally ambiguous universe filled with untrustworthy characters. While the past versions deify Bruce’s father as a heroic Mayor and a tragic martyr, Reeves does not even spare Thomas Wayne. The film uses Pattinson’s voiceovers to put us inside the troubled head of Batman. So when he realizes that his father was not the hero he thought him to be, we are left more broken, and a little torn. The Batman, whose motivation to be a vigilante is rooted in the loss of his father, comes face to face with a dark secret that shakes the foundations of his raison d’etre.

The hollowness of this Batman’s purpose is mirrored by other major characters in the film – Selina Kyle/Catwoman (played by the scene-stealing Zoë Kravitz) and the Riddler (Paul Dano). All three are orphans, but brought up in different circumstances. While the previous Batman narratives whitewash the white, privileged background of the Dark Knight, Reeves’ Selina and Riddler miss no opportunity to send Batman through a guilt trip and make him aware of certain social realities. This paints a rather internal-looking, doubtful Batman, and instead of rooting for him, the audience is left questioning how much of a legitimate claim he even has in trying to act as anyone’s saviour. It’s a question no batman film has teased before.

The ominous vibe of the film is accentuated by Michael Giacchino’s menacing score that establishes the mood of a decaying Gotham city.

The ominous vibe of the film is accentuated by Michael Giacchino’s menacing score that establishes the mood of a decaying Gotham city. But the key to Reeves’ approach lies in another track used twice in the film. In an interview, Reeves attributes his inspiration behind the new Batman to the real life tragic, reclusive figure of Nirvana’s frontman Kurt Cobain. He says, “When I write, I listen to music, and as I was writing the first act, I put on Nirvana’s ‘Something In The Way’. That’s when it came to me that rather than make Bruce Wayne the playboy version we’ve seen before, there’s another version who had gone through a great tragedy and become a recluse. So I started making this connection… the idea of this fictionalized version of Kurt Cobain being in this kind of decaying manor.” Music becoming the inspiration behind a comic book hero has its own revelatory quality.

 Music becoming the inspiration behind a comic book hero has its own revelatory quality.

Inspired by his upbringing, the song spoke to Cobain’s troubled upbringing, and its blocking of the singer’s path to some sort of redemption. It’s a similar connection between Bruce Wayne and his own childhood that prevents him from becoming a functionally balanced. It is perhaps what pushes the caped hero to violence and vengeance before contemplation. This gruesome violence unleashed by Batman and Riddler stands apart in its gritty realism compared to the comic book approach by Tim Burton, the restrained style of Christopher Nolan and the epic sequences in Zack Snyder versions. Only at the end of one such violent climatic sequence, as the Bat sees his yearning for vengeance mirrored in anarchic goons, does he understand that he will have to stand for something more than anarchy.

Pattinson has delivered the unlikeliest of shifts in a superhero we did not know could be imagined any other way than the last one.

One of the most moving sequences in the film plays out towards the end as we see Batman not fighting, but simply acting as shepherd to a group of people walking through a flood, followed by the first sighting of the blood red sun at dawn. Will this mark the beginning of a brighter chapter in the Reeves/Pattinson universe? We’ll have to wait on see, but on first evidence Pattinson has delivered the unlikeliest of shifts in a superhero we did not know could be imagined any other way than the last one.

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