A “dark” Batman movie doesn’t feel like a fresh idea in 2022. In the aftermath of Christopher Nolan’s trilogy and Ben Affleck’s stint in the DC cinematic universe, even casual audiences are familiar with a dark Dark Knight. But that actually only makes the latest reveals for The Batman refreshing.
What Happened? — On Sunday, Warner Bros. released new stills of The Batman, the stand-alone movie from director Matt Reeves. Along with behind the scenes set photography, there were two buzz-worthy looks at actors Paul Dano and Colin Ferrell in costume as their respective villains, the Riddler and the Penguin. Of particular note was the Riddler, whose appearances in the trailers thus far have been shrouded in shadows.
Now seen with better lighting, fans can see the Riddler’s new mask and oversized military surplus jacket with a question mark drawn on it. It’s certainly a different Riddler than fans are used to seeing, from the camp classic Adam West Batman series, where the insanely-fit Frank Gorshin played the Riddler as a mischievous trickster, to 1995’s Batman Forever, where the outsized charisma of superstar Jim Carrey eclipsed anything unique about the character.
Paul Dano will play a comparatively “grounded” version of the Riddler, which Dano himself likened to the Zodiac Killer in an interview with Empire. But when the images went viral on Twitter many reactions were negative, including dunks that likened the jacket to Melania Trump’s notorious fit.
There were supporters too, though. “Incredible,” tweeted media personality Cameron Hawkins, “Nobody wanna wanna see them damn Steve Harvey suits every iteration, Riddler is a damn terrorist.”
Detractors of the look bemoan that The Batman eschews the camp qualities inherent to Batman’s story. But a character’s look alone doesn’t reveal everything. While this Riddler lacks the goofy suits and canes, and looks more like a man with a disturbing Reddit history, that doesn’t mean Matt Reeves is ignoring what makes Batman and the Riddler special.
The Bat and the Cat — The Batman is expected to give audiences a peek at Batman’s earlier crime-fighting years. It’s not an origin story — Batman is expected to be fully formed at the start of the movie — but Robert Pattinson’s role is a scraggly, rough-around-the-edges Batman learning to get a grip on Gotham City’s underworld. Reeves has described his film as a “Year Two” story.
There are also key inspirations from comic book writer Tom King, whose years-long stint on DC’s Batman appears to be the main source of the film’s pairing of Batman and Catwoman, played by Zoë Kravitz. Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle have always had a recurring romance, but Tom King’s run was centered around their relationship. In 2019 interviews, Pattinson name dropped Tom King’s Batman as one of the comics he’s read for research.
Though King’s Batman was as dark and gritty as Batman comics tend to be, they also had a campy levity. King’s run on Batman is famously characterized by irony, just not in the way that’s reminiscent of the more intentionally-goofy Joel Schumacher movies.
In King’s Batman, Batman and Catwoman enjoy trysts on Gotham City’s rooftops while fighting off villains like Kite-Man, whose “Hell yeah” catchphrase led to one of Batman’s greatest punchlines. In another memorable issue, Batman #37, Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent team up... for a double date with Selina Kyle and Lois Lane, which includes switching their superhero costumes for an intentionally-convoluted premise.
The history of superhero films is an ongoing battle between camp and verisimilitude, and 2022’s The Batman will have tensions between the two. While so much of the movie is “grounded” — from the Batmobile being a souped-up muscle car to visible stitching on the Batsuit — The Batman is the first movie to acknowledge that Bruce wears black makeup under his cowl.
It’ll also be the first Batman movie in years where Batman and Catwoman might explicitly hook up (their escape at the end of The Dark Knight Rises only implies this). And the Riddler loves to leave question marks in his coffee. Jim Carrey made camp his whole schtick in Batman Forever, but Paul Dano is making it seem effortless.
The Inverse Analysis — I think The Batman will surprise people. Yes, it’s another dark noir about Batman, but Matt Reeves isn’t a careless storyteller. His acclaimed installments in the modern Planet of the Apes trilogy prove he has a thoughtful approach to genre that’s both grounded and not-so-grounded. Even if things look gritty, as in the case of a serial killer Riddler, there’s definitely more going on under the surface.
The Batman will open in theaters on March 4, 2022.