Something in the Way

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It took The Batman to get me to leave the friendly and safe confines of my home and venture forth out into the cruel and sick world, find a cineplex playing the movie, pay for my ticket, and sit in a darkened theater with several other strangers. A movie starring a character who means a great deal to me. A character who can be camp and silly, dark and brooding, old and world-weary, and so many other interpretations.

The Batman is the latest in a long line of interpretations. To wit, how you view The Batman is directly related to your relationship with the character. Love or hate this iteration, Batman, the character, has captivated me for decades.

I am eight years old, and after school, I love three shows: Star TrekThe Monkees, and Batman. In the days before cable or streaming, I’d flip the channel on the actual television to channel 13 and catch these shows back-to-back-to-back.

My first vinyl record was The Monkees. One of the first hardcover books I ever read was The Star Trek Reader by James Blish. But Batman was the one that really captured my attention. I didn’t understand camp. I didn’t know who Cesar Romero, Burgess Meredith, or Julie Newmar were. It was a live-action Batman and Robin, and I didn’t care about anything else.

I am ten years old, and my father brings home a plain paper bag filled with the week’s comics. Always DC, never Marvel or some other company’s heroes. Only DC. Always DC. There was a time in his life when he purchased the entire output of DC Comics every month. Back when comics cost ten or fifteen cents each. He kept it up until the mid-1980s, when he stopped. Comics cost about $1.25 an issue at that point, and I think the comics industry was evolving into something else, graphic novels, and he was out. He liked it better when it was all in color for a dime. A buck and a quarter for 22 pages just didn’t have the same attraction. Comics as books? Not quite there yet. We’d need another decade before that became the norm.

For me, though, the silver age DC comics were everything. My father’s collection sat in the attic for a long time when I grew up, and I’d beg him to go up and bring down a banker’s box of books. He’d oblige me, and I would devour them cover to cover. My favorites were Batman and the Legion of Super-Heroes.

I am 21 years old in 1989. I wore a black sweatshirt with a yellow-oval bat symbol emblazoned on the front as often as possible. It was a few months before the Keaton movie hit, and I knew it was going to blow moviegoers away. People actually bought tickets for a movie they didn’t want to see, just to see the trailer. It is a quaint thought today with YouTube and its ability to allow anyone to watch a movie trailer 200 or more times to analyze every frame for clues.

It is 1992 and I’m watching a Batman cartoon. It is a direct representation of the comics I grew up reading.

It is 1997, and I’m watching a terrible movie starring George Clooney as Batman. I am now old enough to understand camp.

It is 2005, and I’m watching a Batman movie where he doesn’t even appear until more than half the film is over. It’s the most realistic take on the character in live-action ever at this point.

It is 2008, and The Dark Knight wins Heath Ledger a posthumous Oscar for portraying the Joker.

It is 2016, and Ben Affleck takes on the Batman character and, so far, has never really been able to make it his own.

It is 2022, and I’m watching Robert Pattinson’s interpretation. His Bruce Wayne is the tenth live-action Batman from movie serials to camp television show to serious film to now. I don’t know if it’s the best interpretation, as it is more accurately just the latest.

Viewers will get even more Batman. Next year we will see Ben Affleck and Michael Keaton don the cape and cowl again.

How will you view this latest incarnation? You will have to ask yourself, where do you slot into this litany of the Bat? Are you a Nolan fan who thinks his trilogy is the best? Do you have a soft spot for Adam West or Kevin Conroy? Did you start with the comics, graduate to graphic novels, and now can critique the use of red in The Batman?

No matter if you love The Brave and the Bold version of Batman or Ben Affleck, it’s all in the interpretation and what you hate others love and vice versa. Batman can be many different characters and has over the years.

Whoever embodies the character finds their own way in and out. Same with the viewer.

The Batman is not a superhero movie. At least, not in the same sense as other superhero movies, mainly Marvel superhero movies. Marvel makes popcorn movies. They are wonderful action movies with larger-than-life characters, incredible special effects, and solid stories.

The Batman is not that kind of movie.

The Batman is a modern-day noir. I can tell you with absolute certainty that Marvel Studios will never, ever take one of their characters and make a modern-day noir.

Director Matt Reeves has decided his Batman is a dark, vengeful vigilante with a grunge undertone, and he nicks the best bits of superior films to make this movie. He opens with a voiceover straight out of Double Indemnity to set the tone along with the stark visuals. As many have already pointed out, Paul Dano as the Riddler feels cribbed from David Fincher’s Se7en. The dichotomy of James Gordon and Batman echoes the same as the characters Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt embodies in Se7en.

The story at the center of everything is a mystery — corruption at the highest level. Good people are doing bad things. Bad people are doing bad things. A billion dollars is just sitting there for the dirty cops and politicians to use. The Batman actually takes the Dark Knight Detective moniker from the comics and applies it in the movie. There is so much going on in this three-hour extravaganza that sometimes the viewer can lose the plot. So many characters are important and not so important that you can lose track.

I knew Selina Kyle’s friend was unimportant primarily as a character, but a fresh viewer might not. I kept waiting for Colin Farrell’s Penguin to do something menacing, but he never does except keeping the overall story grounded in organized crime. John Turturro’s mob-boss Carmine Falcone is important, but hey, isn’t the Riddler murdering people?

Ultimately and thankfully, it all fits together in a tight puzzle of a plot. We get the answers. We get some resolution. We even get a potential teaser of a sequel.

It just isn’t a superhero movie.

It’s a film noir pretending to be a superhero movie, and it does it extraordinarily well.

Robert Pattinson is impressive in the cowl, where he does a remarkable job acting with his face. Zoe Kravitz adds the right amount of steamy sexual tension. Paul Dano might get some award nominations his way over his portrayal of the Riddler. Colin Farrell’s Penguin, while unrecognizable, is the one actor definitely having fun.

Overall, The Batman is a captivating neo-noir thriller with impressive set pieces, low-key special effects, and my favorite Batmobile ever.

Will you like it? I don’t know. When did you first hear about this character dressed as a bat?

March 14, 2022


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