STORY & PHOTO BY AMY DAO
Things took a darker turn in Gotham on Friday, March 4 as “The Batman” released in theaters. According to Variety, the DC film earned $248.5 million globally on opening weekend, topping box office charts as the second-largest release alongside “Spider-Man: No Way Home” amidst the pandemic. However, that isn’t the only thing to make a return to the commercial big screen: Robert Pattinson has reclaimed his way back into the large-scale blockbuster market post-Twilight saga and the indie arthouse world starring as Bruce Wayne. From the opening Easter egg robbery of “Good Time Groceries” nodding to Safdie Brothers, “Good Time,” Pattinson’s brilliantly eccentric project choices have not only propelled him out of a long criticized teen vampire franchise; He’s revamped The Batman with a darker, emo-alternative twist.
In Pattinson’s portrayal of Bruce Wayne, he does not feed into Gotham’s longtime playboy prince persona. Rather, we see his identity consumed by the shadows, unhinged from the trauma of his own past. In an interview with GQ magazine, Pattinson talks about how it’s opened up another avenue for his character and the story’s sense of tragedy. “Like, it’s a sad movie. It’s kind of about him trying to find some element of hope, in himself, and not just the city. Normally Bruce never questions his own ability; he questions his ability to change” he said. And it’s a thought worth examining in this version of the DC comic. It explores how Bruce Wayne’s crippling childhood trauma has left him without a will to live beyond wearing the mask, and his identity decaying alongside the grimy, crime-ridden backdrop of the city that reeks of corruption and anarchy.
Director, Matt Reeves, wastes no time on-screen rewinding the same played exposition with the death of Thomas and Martha Wayne. Nor does he follow the formulaic hero versus villain screenplay we might have anticipated. Gothams civilians are initially as afraid of him as any other common criminal. The Batman that exists here is not quite (yet) a heroic vigilante. He’s first introduced stepping out of the darkness at the subway tracks because he feels in darkness, and Bruce Wayne is nothing but a shadow to his own flaccid identity. It is his response to Alfred’s concerns that being Batman “is his family’s legacy” that reveals the disconnect he feels to the world around him.
There is a continuity of corruption and brokenness that infects Gotham, creating a cycle of damaged people throughout a generation. The murder of Gotham’s current mayor leaves another son without a father, a pattern that may be doomed to repeat. We can see the parallel expands across the spectrum, villain to vigilante. There is a shared point-of-view of both Batman and Riddler. From spawning through binoculars to Batman’s self-identifying “vengeance” also reclaimed in Riddler’s masked followers, Reeves provides subtle metaphorical clues alongside dark riddles to imply they’d somehow be connected in the end.
The “we’re not so different, you and I” narrative is heightened, but it’s not the first time this closely woven thread is seen. Joker and The Batman have also shared their moments on-screen blending these two contrasting identities. In Director Christoper Nolan’s “The Dark Knight,” it is the Joker (Heath Ledger) that tells Batman “Don’t talk like one of them. You’re not! Even if you’d like to be. To them, you’re just a freak, like me!”
There is a range that is tested to what is considered just or evil, to the point where it is the villain that must wash away the sins of the city at the end, quite literally, in the metaphor of water flooding through Gotham. It is worth examining that Reeves’ version of Martha Wayne is also described to have a history with Arkham Asylum, opening up other possibilities and layers to our existing protagonist. The commentary behind institutional corruption destroying society can allude to Director Todd Philips standalone origin story, “Joker.” We may feel remorse, anger, or disgust behind different things throughout the film, but everyone’s interpretation of what exactly disturbs them about the film is different. Is it that the system breeds these kinds of broken, unhinged individuals left with nothing but the desire to commit heinous crimes and inflict pain on others? Or that no one is listening to the issue that raises these problems, to begin with, to have prevented it?
It is our Batman that must make the choice, to step out of the shadows and “into the light” to differentiate himself, to change. Because existing outside of the mask requires him to confront the difficult realities of his past and why the city needs someone like him. But he couldn’t do it alone. Selina Kyle (Zoe Kravitz) allows him to tap into his declining humanity as Catwoman. Her own need for vengeance made him realize he wasn’t the only one living in anguish as a result of Gotham’s corrupted leaders. Or even their “sins of the father.”
While it was The Riddler that inflicted the chaos, it is Batman that ultimately comes to disrupt it. The visual metaphor of “out of darkness, into the light” really displays itself at the end, with the fire he lights to guide the leaders out of the rubble. Both our villain and vigilante may have both felt darkness as a consequence of Gotham’s corruption, but they lie on opposite ends of the same spectrum. Perhaps that is why one kid only had half of a face painted amongst the fully face painted subway gang at the beginning of the film on Halloween. Or perhaps there is a subtle implication of the next villain, Two-Face, to be written. It can even allude to why the mayor’s son had been recurring in this Batman’s narrative, as it opens speculation for fans with a possible origin of Robin. Perhaps Reeves wanted to explore the possibility that there is always room for change within the darkness, but the spectrum of what defines morality is incredibly vast.
So, who is el rata alada? Or the half-painted subway member recruit? The mayor’s son? I guess we will have to wait to find out.
STORY & PHOTO BY AMY DAO