Tom Jolliffe looks ahead to The Batman ahead of its release next year…
The Batman has had an odd production filled with all manner of issues. For one, production has suffered the same as many other studio films of late with the presence of a worldwide pandemic. Shutdowns and delays lengthened the process of shooting a picture with a huge weight of expectation upon it. Given the nature of modern blockbuster cinema, a Batman film is nothing out of the ordinary. After Christopher Nolan seemingly perfected the comic book genre and made it what Scorsese might call ‘cinema’ with The Dark Knight, Zack Snyder took the reigns and merged Batman into the world of Superman (the unison which has played out countless times in comic book form). The Batfleck era brought some love, but mostly critical derision and indifference, not least as Affleck’s promising work in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, seemed a little more stilted by the time he came back for Josstice League and subsequently the Snyder Cut of Justice League. Here’s the thing though… Affleck will return in The Flash, as will Michael Keaton.
The Batman’s R Batz (the artist formerly known as Robert Pattinson) under the watchful eye of Matt Reeves doesn’t have the benefit of space. He’s so bound by the very recent history and the other Batmen who will run concurrently. Again, this probably isn’t that untoward given the modern cinema landscape, but it’s a difficult situation. Would Tim Burton’s Batman have had the same impact if the caped Crusader was appearing in another film around the same time? Perhaps only if it had been something from Cannon at the time, replete with all the flaws their comic book films tended to have. Pattinson too, came into the role with as much antipathy as any caped crusader has previously had to deal with. The Twilight guy? Seriously? Such is the majority audience, it wasn’t surprising that mainstream viewers weren’t aware of Pattinson’s continued cinema existence after twinkly vampires. They hadn’t seen Good Time, High-Life or The Lighthouse. Perhaps blissfully unaware that Pattinson was more than an EMO vamp, and actually one of the best actors of his current generation. Whether he proves right for the role and can inject the kind of intense characterisation he’s capable of, will remain to be seen (there have been whispers of on set issues, but nothing more than expected for films this big and undoubtedly mostly ungrounded).
A first teaser promised some moody visuals and a dark interpretation. The latest DC FanDome trailer expanded on those teases and gave us a broader look at the visual scope and at Batman’s intended foes. What can we take from the most recent trailer? For one, the film promises to be visually resplendent, as close to the darkest graphic novel depictions of the caped crusader as previously seen. Distinct monochromatic visuals, interchanging several key colour palettes is particularly striking, a little different from the de-saturated world Snyder created (infused with an overabundance of slow-motion of course). Perhaps Reeves vision is a little less derivative you might argue, than Snyder’s, and more overtly striking (and graphic novel tinged) than the more gritty and ‘cinema’ visuals Nolan created. Indeed Nolan’s key source of inspiration in his best depiction of Batsy was Heat. You can draw some comparisons with Reeves, even going back to Burton’s original gothic blend of time periods. Though whilst Burton leaned on boldness and theatricality, playful exaggeration of the mixed periods of inspiration for his Gotham, Reeves seems to have a more honed, dark and consistent vision which may well just shift in colours. At least this is what the trailer suggests.
Perhaps one of the biggest sources of inspiration from a cinematic visual perspective, could be Alex Proyas’ exceptional The Crow. The film still ranks as one of the greatest comic/graphic novel adaptations, perhaps sorely overlooked in discussions over the pantheon of such films. Proyas, if you’ve followed him across social media, has often maintained that a number of films have at best referenced his work, at worst pilfered in creating their own visual worlds, not least from The Crow and Dark City (both of which had moments lifted in The Matrix as an example). Indeed, Reeves trailer brings certain shades of The Matrix (displacing the monochromatic green as dominating colour with the reds and ambers seen in the trailers), and thus everything the Wachowskis paid homage to. The brooding and gothic tone, combined with colourful villains in a dank, rain swept world certainly evoke The Crow heavily, as does a shot of Pattinson minus mask with the contrasting black and white makeup on his face.
Reeves has previous with creating evocative and dark worlds, but in a more Earthy, naturalistic tone with his work in the Planet of The Apes reboot trilogy (directing the more distinctly auteur final two). In fact Reeves, as a visual powerhouse, might be a little under the radar still, despite nailing two very excellent Apes films and showing an interesting ability to change style from picture to picture (going back to his auspicious, Cloverfield, Reeves’ sophomore feature). If he nails the landing with The Batman, he may well attain the kind of iconic status that is afforded to other directors, even Snyder (who has a certain reverence despite his inconsistent delivery and difficult relationship with coherence). If the visuals and spectacle promise to be there, now much will depend on those other elements in crafting a world beyond ‘theme park’ that may even potentially cross the same boundaries that Joker and TDK did.
Pattinson will undoubtedly be great, even if he’s still leaving some unconvinced. In truth some may never swing around to his depiction. Colin Farrell looks unrecognisable and like he may have some fun with The Penguin, and Zoe Kravitz will be an excellent Catwoman. If the film has a potential trap, it’s that it could become overfilled with antagonists, but in that perpetual search for anyone to come close to Heath Ledger as an antagonistic force, the ace in the pack here could well be Paul Dano. Dano is almost criminally underrated. Doomed to play oddballs, geeks, outsiders, psychotics, or generally eclectic character parts, Dano now has a huge scale platform to show what he can do, in a character thus far underutilised in cinematic Batman depictions. Jim Carrey’s explosion of over the top comic styling was so excessive as to leave an open space for someone to come in and inject intensity to future depictions. The Riddler, unlike the clown prince, is fair game. It’s open territory to become the iconic version of the role (outside of 60’s TV).
There are pitfalls of course. That perpetual desire to match Heath Ledger, and now in the wake of Joaquin Phoenix becoming the second man to win an Oscar playing The Joker, has meant a litany of glorified impersonators (across an array of blockbuster villains). There are definite shades of Ledger in the brief snippets of Dano in the trailer, but that’s just the trailer. Dano has within him an ability to portray a mix of the awkwardness, crushed humanity and intense delusion of this villain. He can imbue the role with character and complexity. Sensibly, the trailers are keeping his character fairly mysterious, a riddle, if you will. Indeed, these films can often only be as good as their villain. If The Dark Knight had one flaw, it was perhaps in being as much a Joker film as it was Wayne/Batman and Christian Bale was a little overshadowed. If Reeves can balance that well, and Pattinson does something standout to really carve an extra dimension into the role, then this will stand the film in good stead as it faces this difficult challenge of becoming iconic in a field already well stuffed with great comic book films and not least Burton and Nolan’s best depictions of the Caped Crusader. We’ll find out next March. What are your thoughts on the latest The Batman trailer? Let us know on our social channels @flickeringmyth…
Tom Jolliffe is an award winning screenwriter and passionate cinephile. He has a number of films out on DVD/VOD around the world and several releases due out in 2021/2022, including, Renegades (Lee Majors, Danny Trejo, Michael Pare, Tiny Lister, Nick Moran, Patsy Kensit, Ian Ogilvy and Billy Murray), Crackdown, When Darkness Falls and War of The Worlds: The Attack (Vincent Regan). Find more info at the best personal site you’ll ever see here.