'The Batman' and a Rebirth for The Dark Knight Mythos

The Batman Publicity Still 1 - H 2020
Matt Reeves shows there’s a way to make audiences feel like they're seeing the character for the first time.

“This guy’s crazy!” That line, delivered by an actor who may or may not be Colin Farrell playing the Penguin (we’ll get to that), pretty much sums up the vibe of the teaser trailer for Matt Reeves’ The Batman, showcased at DC Fandome on Saturday.

Arguably the highlight of the entire event, The Batman, starring Robert Pattinson as the Caped Crusader looks gloriously moody, strange, and unlike any Batman adaptation we’ve seen. I’m practically already willing to dub it one of the best movies ever made, and based on the number of YouTube views and social media interactions the teaser got, it would seem quite a few people would be willing to agree with that sentiment.

As exciting as it is to see so many characters from DC’s library brought to the big and small screen over the years, DC remains the house that Batman built. Before showing off the teaser, director Matt Reeves waxed poetically about his love and deep knowledge of Batman, like a true fan. He also cited his influences which include The French Connection (1971), Chinatown (1974), Taxi Driver (1976), and the comic Batman: Ego by Darwyn Cooke. What’s interesting is that none of those film influences are immediately clear from the footage shown, at least not in the same way that Todd Phillips’ Joker (2019) was so clearly inspired by Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy (1986).

(Watch the trailer.)

No, Reeves’ The Batman looks like a blend of David Fincher’s Seven (1995), and Zodiac (2007) alongside early horror films like The Phantom of the Opera (1925) and The Man Who Laughs (1928). There’s something unsettling about it all, as though the craziness doesn’t just extend to Batman’s Rogues gallery, but to Bruce Wayne himself. While audiences have become used to seeing Bruce Wayne as a refined, public persona, Reeves and Pattinson look to push the idea of a man who took his parents' death so poorly he decided to dress up as a bat to its logical edge, ie. “This guy’s crazy.”

Set to Nirvana’s “Something in the Way,” which becomes an orchestral mix with Michael Giacchino’s score, the trailer introduces us to James Gordon (Jeffrey Wright), and Batman, already partnered in fighting crime in Gotham. Set during the second year of Batman’s career, much like Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale’s comic Batman: The Long Halloween, a mysterious figure in a duct tape mask in the process of becoming the Riddler (Paul Dano) terrorizes Gotham with a series of grisly murders and puzzles. For the first time in a live-action film, audiences will get to see Batman fully embrace his detective skills as he faces off against adversaries transforming into iconic villains like Catwoman (Zoe Kravitz), and Penguin (Farrell).

There was some concern among fans before the release of the teaser trailer that Reeves’ film, by focusing on the early years of his fight against crime, would be too similar to Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy. That obviously doesn’t seem to be the case as Reeves has an entirely different vision for the mythos, that while still grounded, has a voice of its own.

Kravitz’s Catwoman is in the early stages of her career as a burglar and the homemade quality of her outfit is reminiscent of her appearance in Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli’s Batman: Year One. If Colin Farrell seems conspicuously absent in the teaser that’s because it’s rumored that he’s covered in prosthetics and that the Penguin looking guy at 1:18 and 1:54 is, in fact, the actor. The eyes certainly match, as does the earlier referenced line delivery. While there’s yet to be confirmation for the director himself, if the theory is correct, it’s certainly one of the greatest feats of makeup committed to screen.

With the early version of The Riddler, Catwoman, and the Penguin taking center stage in the film, Batman will certainly have his hands full, but it doesn’t look like he’ll be going easy on criminals. “I am vengeance” he says before delivering a beatdown on a makeup-clad goon.

Reeves’ has big plans for The Batman, which is set in its own world, separate from Ben Affleck’s portrayal of the Batman and the characters appearing in Justice League, giving the director freedom to play around. Already, there’s an HBO Max spin-off in the works focusing on the corruption and law enforcement in Gotham, and Reeves has designs on The Batman launching a new film franchise. Not only is the expectation that these characters will progress closer to their comic book looks, but that they will give birth to new adversaries. The makeup on the gang Batman encounters certainly give off Joker vibes. And the card containing Riddler’s riddle has an owl on the front, a possible hint at the Court of the Owls, recent villains created by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo, who were teased by the appearance of owls worked into the architecture and goods of Gotham.

The Batman, which is set to begin production again in September, not only looks to match expectations, but raise the bar on the character and his world. Reeves’ said that he believes Batman’s ultimate power is to endure, and endure he has.

Regardless of how many adaptations we’ve seen of the character, no matter how many explorations there have been of a boy losing his parents, and thus connection to reality in an alley, there is always some new stone to be overturned and make each cinematic Batman feel like we’re seeing the character in an entirely new way for the first time.