Heroes & Villains: ‘The Batman’ Finds the Sweet Spot Between the Films of Burton and Nolan

Recently I’ve been feeling a bit creatively bankrupt. Well, that may be a bit of an overstatement but there hasn’t been much in the way of comics that have come across my virtual desk that turned my proverbial crank. When writing one of these things I try to get beyond the general “book good, art nice, you read book” when doing a review. It’s doing a great disservice to the creators that put tremendous effort into making a book when all I can muster is 500 words give or take that basically translate to a shrug.

Writing about writer’s block has been done to death as well so this won’t be that. It’s more so that nothing is interesting to me right now which is only mildly disastrous for my pseudo career as a columnist. 

Hoping to shake off some of the creative cobwebs I went to my local bargain basement discount store to see if any weird old trade paperbacks had made their way in. All I found, however, was a Star Trek collectibles price guide that was somehow both brand new and twenty-five years old. Seriously, this book was published around the time I was graduating high school and the overstock must have been sitting untouched in a warehouse  since then. 

So of course I bought one.

Turning to the topical I went to see The Batman last Friday and it sure was a Batman movie. That may sound like I didn’t enjoy the movie which I can assure you wasn’t the case. In point of fact, I liked The Batman a great deal more than the last three movies Batman has been in…so there. 

Whenever possible, I try to see “event” movies opening day. A part of me wants to get out ahead of spoilers because no matter how many keywords I filter on social media some clever scamp will find a way to blast spoilers out into the digital ether by aping vagueness but still saying everything they shouldn’t be saying. Another part of me is Grandpa Simpson in the episode that has a flashback to him watching the first Super Bowl and telling Grandma Simpson, “We have to support this thing or they may not do another one!”

Listen, I never said either of my reasons for seeing stuff opening day were particularly good ones. Also, I’m not going to spoil anything so read on without fear.

The Batman felt like the sweet spot between Tim Burton’s fantastical interpretation of the character and Christopher Nolan’s “grounded” take on the character. With Glasgow standing in for Gotham City you get a sense that the fictional city could indeed be a real place and not just Chicago (later Pittsburgh) standing in for it. The movie also embraced its comic book source material which I appreciated. I always got the feeling that Nolan secretly hated that he was making a comic book movie by trying to make it a hashtag grounded as possible. 

Back to the sweet spot I mentioned above…thirty-three years ago after Burton’s Batman tossed the nation, possibly THE WORLD, into the waiting claws of Bat-mania, DC Comics began a rather fertile run on all things Batman. The case can be made that the seeds of this were sewn by Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli with Batman: Year One and also Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns but titles like the anthology series Legends of the Dark Knight allowed a rotating roster of creators a chance to tell their Batman stories all unencumbered by DC’s mainline continuity. Thanks to this, I was able to read stuff like Grant Morrison and Klaus Janson’s Gothic storyline well before I was ready to tackle something like that (Not that I’m complaining).

The film that Matt Reeves has crafted feels like the comics that spun out of Bat-mania’s wake. No other movie can really feel like a Tim Burton movie and we don’t need another ultra realistic take on a superhero since it was something that Nolan perfected. The Batman is a film that knows its audience and the audience already knows Batman’s origin so we mercifully get to skip Thomas and Martha (WHYDIDYOUSAYTHATNAME) Wayne’s murder this time along with training montages of Bruce Wayne doing CrossFit. Sure he’s a younger Batman, we know this because of his YEAR TWO emblazoned journal, but he’s still a capable crime fighter.

This is certainly the most detective oriented Bat-film we’ve received to date insomuch as we see Batman, Gordon, and Alfred figuring stuff out. It was a smidge off-putting not seeing Bale’s Batman screaming “WHERE IS SHE???”at someone for a change (yeah, yeah I know he analyzed a fingerprint in one of the movies and did some facial recognition searches but I feel like that barely counts as “world’s greatest detective stuff”).

Another thing you can’t escape is the movie’s length, which clocks in at a girthy two hours and fifty-five minutes. I would have liked an intermission because even though I opted not to get a soda before my screening I still had to run to the restroom in the middle of the movie. All that being said, the movie did not feel like a slog at any point like some other multi-hour opuses featuring the character. 

While discussing this movie with a friend who had yet to see it, I was waxing philosophic on the existence of superhero movies. The modern superhero movie has existed for about three decades now with only short periods of dormancy and it sure feels like they have no signs of stopping for good. I’m hopeful that The Batman is symbolic of DC movies as a whole turning a corner but I guess we’ll see what The Flash movie has in store for us this year.

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