By Danielle Momoh
I have always been unable to take the concept of Batman seriously. It was not the fact that Batman’s superpowers are money and a massive lack of grief counseling. That did not stop me from enjoying the many versions of the pointy crusader on the big screen, notably Nolan’s infinitely grandiose entry. Despite my efforts, it was always the innate smugness of Bruce Wayne that rubbed me the wrong way. It was ridiculous that one man believed him and his pointy hat were the only things keeping an entire city from ruin, but it was him outside the Batsuit that chafed. Bruce Wayne made women swoon, and men straighten their spines. He lived both his personas in bold, capital letters. Bruce Wayne, the Billionaire Playboy, swaggering through charity galas or Batman To Be Feared, putting henchmen in wheelchairs for life. He had his fair share of trauma, but apart from his funny habit of playing dress-up, there was innate steel to him. Even if his confidence was a front, it was a well-maintained one. If you knocked on his chest there would be a loud thunk, suit or not. Robert Pattinson’s and Matt Reeves’ Batman, however, is all flesh and bone.
The audience is introduced to this Batman through an insidiously slick montage of Gotham on Halloween. His voice flows over the oddly haunting scenes of petty crime like the constant rain that pours on the city. The gloomy voice-over and the subsequent fight he gets into are not uncharacteristic of past iterations of Batman. It is the uncertainty with which he carries himself at the first Riddler crime scene that reveals the real person behind the cowl. He is not trusted by the Gotham City police yet, and more importantly, he does not entirely trust himself. There is no easy self-assurance to him, not even a facade. Flashes from forensic cameras skim off his face and you instinctually feel it is only the Batsuit that stops him from shrinking away. As a Nirvana pumps through the screen and seemingly into the streets of Gotham, Pattinson’s Batman races through fully formed. His existential sulking and innate imbalance. His red-rimmed eyes and smeared black makeup at the end of a long day. He looks, feels, and moves like a teenager stuck deep in a rebellious phase.
And what else is Bruce Wayne at his core but an extreme case of arrested development? His self-seriousness is suddenly no longer induces an eye-roll, it resonates. His angst-filled writing is the only way he knows how to get out his emotions, too scared to talk to any of the people in his life because he may reveal the scared boy lurking underneath his scowl. He throws himself on the sword every day, not mature enough to realize that real responsibility and sacrifice are not things you choose. He laments the state of a city he has the power the change but no real idea how to. He longs to be a child again and wears the impossibility of that like a dark shroud. Robert Pattinson not only masters the brood of the self-ostracized adolescent, but also the stilted emotional expression. Bruce’s relationship with Alfred has never felt more like a parent desperately trying to connect with their shut-in offspring. Bruce doesn’t know how to assure Alfred of his importance in his life, hoping his acceptance of his presence conveys enough. Despite this, the brilliance of Pattinson’s depiction does not lie solely in its relatability. It interplays perfectly with Matt Reeves’ story and vision.
Within a cityscape constantly drenched in darkness, it is only natural that Bruce shrinks vampirically from light, wears sunglasses indoors, and sports a heavy side-bang. In a Gotham that has more in common with the depictions of major cities in David Fincher films than any in reality, Bruce also harkens to the classic Fincher protagonist. He searches for clues through stacks of dusty files. Wading through a world full of incompetence and degenerates, he fears he is not too different from them. Aware of his powerful status, but to what end? His anger fuels him, but he has to force himself to relive the very violence he enacts every night. His enemies are mirror images of himself, children trapped in grown men’s bodies, lashing out at a world that has wronged them. The film frames his battle with the Riddler as a twisted coming-of-age saga, a realization of deadly myopia. While Matt Reeves undoubtedly makes The Batman his own, he rightfully takes a page from my favorite director when crafting this world and particularly its central character. Both directors recognize there is nothing more compelling than watching a socially-estranged loser attempt to serve something greater than himself. In other words, there is no keener pleasure than watching a teenage boy be emo. And for Reeves’ and Pattinson’s Batman, it’s not just a phase.
About the writer
Danielle Momoh is an aspiring film writer and scholar, currently working towards a Film & Media Studies Degree at Boston University. She enjoys bemoaning the lack of camp in modern cinema, wearing too many colors, and rewatching The Social Network. She is frequently spotted roaming the streets of Boston, searching for the perfect quiche. Her more informal film thoughts can be found on her Letterboxd: https://boxd.it/JjAD