Warning: spoilers ahead! My relationship with “The Batman” (2022) goes back all the way to June 2020, the year of the first DC FanDome event. School had been canceled three months earlier and a year of Zoom school was rapidly approaching in the months to come. Every movie had been pushed back at least a couple of months, if not a year or more. The DC FanDome event was everything I was holding on to for the coming future of blockbusters.
What I didn’t expect, however, was Nirvana blasting through my phone as I saw the edgiest Batman ever, played by Robert Pattinson no less. Two months later, I marked “The Batman” as my most anticipated movie of 2021, and a year and a half later, in 2022, I’m glad to report that it paid off.
Thursday, March 3, 2022, I was drowning in homework and midterms, but I had one thing that I knew I wanted to do: make the thirty-minute walk to New Town to sit down in the Regal Cinemas for three hours and watch “The Batman” with my friends. Sitting in the theater, the screen fades to a black screen and boom: the giant, bright Warner Brothers logo fills the screen followed by the title of the film in that same bold lettering.
This is one of the best opening sequences I’ve ever seen in a movie theater. The film opens on a family on Halloween night, and even if you don’t know that much about Batman, you could suspect that this was Bruce Wayne’s parents in a silly domestic moment right before their murder in the alleys of Gotham. However, unlike the many subversions of my expectations, this is not the Waynes. Instead the movie starts, in true Gotham fashion, with the gruesome murder of Mayor Mitchells by the terrifying Riddler hiding in the shadows right behind him. Introducing the Riddler in this fashion sets him up to be a cold parallel to Batman. Who you thought were the soon-to-be-dead Waynes were actually the soon-to-be victims of the Riddler’s own vengeance for his destitute upbringing in the Gotham Orphanage. Already, both figures are seeking vengeance for their orphan statuses: the Riddler takes it out on the corrupt upper class of Gotham, while Batman opts for the criminals that run about the streets of Gotham at night.
And that’s exactly what we see next. Pattinson starts up a stellar edgy monologue as he walks through the chaotic streets of Gotham on Halloween night, talking about how the Bat Signal or even the mere sight of shadows sparks fear into street criminals. The monologue comes to fruition when we finally see it, or rather, we hear it. Batman’s heavy boots thunking into grimy puddles strikes fear into his targets and the audience itself. He doesn’t speak, the only words he utters are to state who he is and his purpose at the same time: “I’m vengeance.” Thus, we have two juxtaposed characters trying to do their best for Gotham in the only way Gotham knows how — dark, gritty violence.
Setting this film in year two of Bruce Wayne being Batman is genius. As a result, we are not force-fed the same story of his parent’s death (see: “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice”), yet we still see Bruce Wayne dealing with the resulting trauma. We are spared the playboy Bruce Wayne persona and we instead get to see a tortured, conflicted Batman whose ideals come into question when the Riddler and Catwoman come into his life and turn his already upside-down life even more upside-down. Bruce Wayne doesn’t need to speak because the audience already knows what he’s going through, given that they have at least some prior Batman knowledge.
Bruce’s whole “vengeance” thing doesn’t work. And it’s exactly Catwoman who shows him that. He thinks that she is exactly like him, just in female form. Someone who has a conviction so great that they turn to a persona of night-crawling vigilantes. Bruce isn’t expecting Selina Kyle to come into his life, but she does. She works perfectly into the puzzle pieces that are Batman and the Riddler. She is determined, strong, and dangerous, and it is Bruce’s mistake for thinking that she will be exactly like him. Their partnership is tenuous at best, both trying to use each other for their own gains. Selina, however, is not afraid to kill her enemies despite not having done it before. She is totally willing to pull the trigger where Batman just opts to brutally beat up a guy in the rain.
This difference comes to fruition when they both face Carmine Falcone who, coincidentally, killed both of their parents. Faced with a terrifying decision, Batman does not kill him and does not let Selina kill him. Again, he is struck with a brutal mirror of himself if he ever deigned to murder someone. Bruce sees himself in Selina, even though they come from vastly different backgrounds, and by stopping her from killing Falcone, he stops himself.
Bruce’s growth throughout this film is subtle but amazing. You can tell that he hasn’t forgiven anyone for the death of his parents all those years ago. He is brusque with Alfred and does not fully trust him. He is surprised when Alfred says that his cufflinks were given to him by Thomas Wayne. Even though Alfred taught Bruce how to fight (instead of him learning from ninjas), Bruce obviously wants to just be a vigilante on his own. By the end of the movie, Bruce has both learned the truth about his father’s death and also seen Alfred on the brink of death. It shocks his system enough to realize that, deep down, he loves Alfred like a father and that it’s okay to let him into his life. Together, they can set out to realize Thomas Wayne’s vision for Gotham and truly bring justice for his untimely death.
The Riddler is pivotal to this. The shocking moment where the heroes unmask one of the Riddler’s followers for him to say, “I’m Vengeance,” is a cold shock to Bruce’s system. He realizes that even though this city took away his parents, his answer should not be to turn to vengeance. That is what those criminals have done: the higher-ups taking money out of Thomas Wayne’s renewal fund is an ache on the city that they contribute to through seeking vengeance. Batman must turn away from violence and focus on helping the city through his masked endeavors.
Batman jumps into the flood below to help free the people trapped under the rubble from the fight he contributed to. Lighting a red flare, the first person to trust the Batman is the little kid that was orphaned from the first Riddler’s murder. Of all the Bruce Wayne mirror characters in this film, this boy is the first that Batman can help before it’s too late. By saving this kid, Bruce makes peace with the angry orphan inside him that wants vengeance on the city of Gotham. He now knows that he can instead support the city’s recovery from the Riddler and assure that nothing like this happens again, that no one needs to crave vengeance on Gotham and its innocent people.
“The Lego Batman Movie” says that all good movies start with a black screen and end with a white screen. “The Batman” opens with a gritty, dark scene in the rainy depths of Gotham’s underworld and the caped crusader that lives here is ruthless and dangerous, operating in the shadows. The whole movie operates at night, sunrise, sunset, or under cloud cover. However, the end of the film finds the sun shining on Batman holding a scared girl’s hand as she is lifted into a helicopter to be transported to a hospital. He is no longer the “Vengeance” that trusts no one. This is a Batman that has opened his heart and assistance to the city of Gotham. He is dedicated to healing Gotham and might just heal himself in the process.
Obviously, there is a lot in this movie to talk about (it’s three hours long). For some rapid-fire things, the Batmobile scene was absolutely jaw-dropping. The engine start-up is one of the greatest, most visceral things to hear in the movie (apart from the Batman theme itself, of course). I cannot wait to see more of Colin Farrell’s Oswald Cobblepot-slash-Penguin. I felt that this film functioned mostly to introduce his character, but now that Carmine Falcone is out of the picture, he can truly shine in his villainy and clash with Batman as their ideals for Gotham wildly differ. The introduction of a new Joker is always a daunting sight to see as that can go either really badly or really well. I have faith in this new Batman world to handle him in a fresh, new light that hopefully won’t bring too many outcries from Batman fans.
As for the future of this Robert Pattinson Batman-verse, I hope it doesn’t become a “cinematic universe” that so many people expect of comic-book movies these days. This film shined where it treated the audience as a mature group of Batman fans who wanted a new take on the Batman without a rehashing of what we’ve already seen. This film was wholly just about Batman; introducing aliens or different dimensions without taking away the grounded reality that’s already been established would be difficult and unnecessary. It’s been a while since we had a solely Batman-centric set of movies, and Robert Pattinson’s iteration of the character has the perfect chance to helm this microcosm of the DC Universe.
As for the future, I believe that the next step for this film series would be to introduce Robin. It’s been far too long since we had a live-action Robin on the big screen. The lessons Bruce Wayne learned in this film would come to the test raising another orphan boy. If he’s dedicated to helping Gotham, he would have to start where it started for him: with an orphan.