The Batman movie franchise has been a part of popular culture for almost 70 years. Although the movies aren’t as popular as they once were, the Dark Knight is still one of the most recognizable images in modern cinema. Now that he’s back with a stand-alone film, The Batman, the question is: Does the recently reformed Robert Pattinson deserve to take the throne as the next great Batman? Let’s examine.
The Batman is the first big-budget stand-alone film in the trilogy based on the comic book series of the same name by Bill Finger and Bob Kane. It was directed by Christian Bale and features the final performance of Michael Caine as Alfred Pennyworth. The film also stars Liam Neeson, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jared Leto, Selma Blair, and Bonnie Hunt. A portion of the film was shot in IMAX and featured some incredible special effects.
If you’ve never heard of DC Comics’ Dark Knight, you’re probably not alone. As far as the general public is concerned, Batman is arguably the most famous superhero of all time. For years, Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy was the only real gateway to the Dark Knight for moviegoers. Although Batman has been around for more than 70 years now, The Batman is the first time that most people are going to learn about him. It’s also the first time that they’ll see a film adaptation that is not part of the larger Batman film series.
Based on the unprecedented success of those previous three films, it’s no surprise that Warner Bros. decided to go big or go home this time around. The goal was to make The Batman the biggest film ever produced by Warners, and they surpassed even their own ambitious expectations with the final tally being a fantastic $783 million worldwide against a $185 million budget! It’s the movie equivalent of hitting a grand slam home run; not only did it perform well critically and financially, but it also launched the careers of several up-and-coming actors and actresses.
From Boy Wonder To Menace
It’s hard to believe that it’s been almost 70 years since Batman first appeared on the big screen in 1940. The Caped Crusader hasn’t been the same since, with several incarnations changing the game of crime fighting forever. The Dark Knight Returns, released in 2012, saw Batman return to his roots as a force for good combating tyranny and corruption. But it wasn’t until Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises in 2011 that Batman truly returned to form.
The Dark Knight Rises was essentially Batman’s last hurrah, serving as both a swan song and a prequel, explaining how Batman became the Dark Knight in the first place. But it was eight years before that, in 2009, that we got our first real look at Batman since the 1970s, and it was a doozy. Based on the Batman: The Escape comics, Batman: Year One was a bold departure from the norm, ditching the bright costumes and shiny outfits for an austere, armored look that would eventually become synonymous with the Dark Knight.
The first two installments of Christopher Nolan’s Batman saga—The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises—were respectively the 26th and 27th biggest films worldwide in 2012, and the 10th and 11th biggest films worldwide in 2011. But it wasn’t until 2015’s The Dark Knight Rises that Batman truly returned to form, making it the most successful of the three films.
An Impressive Cast
One of the reasons why The Batman is performing so well is because of its impressive cast. It might not be the most famous team of superheroes ever assembled, but it’s certainly the most interesting. The film also boasts one of the most interesting ensembles in recent memory, with Jared Leto, Maggie Gyllenhaal, and newcomer Robert Pattinson all turning in impressive performances. It’s no wonder that Warner Bros. and DC Comics were so keen to work with these three on this project.
While Bale’s Batman was never known for his comedic chops, he did eventually settle into a rhythm with his stunt doubles and CGI, giving us one of the best Batman/ Joker scenes in recent memory. Christian Bale will always be remembered for his intense and method acting work as Dick Grayson/ Robin, but he’s finally been given a chance to shine as the Dark Knight.
Similarly, while Michael Caine’s Alfred was a loyal and long-suffering servant, he also had a dry sense of humor that came through in his interactions with the other characters. He might not have been suited for the big-budget extravaganzas of the ’70s, but he was certainly at home in the stand-alone worlds of the ’00s.
A True Test of Your Own Loyalty
One of the things that makes The Batman stand out is its story. Based on the acclaimed comic book series by Frank Miller, the film adapts the 1992 story arc The Dark Knight Returns, which marks the beginning of a new era for Batman. But for those unfamiliar with the source material, the film also serves as a decent primer on what has transpired since the conclusion of The Dark Knight, giving context to the events that transpire.
The Dark Knight Returns was one of Miller’s most ambitious stories, adapting almost 30 years of Batman comics into one epic tale. The story was revolutionary in its time, as it marked the first instance of DC Comics’ Dark Knight fighting one of his greatest foes—the tyrannical overlord, Superman. But in adapting Miller’s classic, Warners needed to find a way to make it work for the big screen, trimming away the excess details while still retaining the essence of the story.
This is particularly apparent in the first episode, where Batman faces down an unsuspecting Superman and reveals his true identity. While the essence of the story is there, the film does cut away a great deal of the exposition, saving it for the moments where it was truly needed. It also helped that Miller himself was brought in to consult on the project, as he was the original writer of The Dark Knight Returns and understood better than anyone the significance of the story.
But all adaptations have their quirks, and although The Dark Knight Returns is a faithful adaptation, it does lose some of the depth that Miller was able to inject into the story. And while the cuts might have been made with the best of intentions, it’s still obvious that the material isn’t as fresh as it could have been. Still, the end results are impressive, with several accolades—including a Hugo Award—to show for it.
Perhaps the greatest compliment that one can pay The Dark Knight is that it is an absolute masterpiece of visual styling and production design. It is packed full of incredible costumes, sets, and vehicles, from the 1930s Shanghai to the sewers beneath Gotham City. While the film might not always play by the rules, it often breaks them, resulting in an almost otherworldly look that perfectly encapsulates the essence of the Batman franchise.
But beyond the stunning looks, the cinematography is also incredibly effective in setting the grim atmosphere of the story. It’s no wonder that cinematographer Robbie Ryan won an Academy Award for his work on the film, as he was also responsible for the incredible looks of Logan or the X-Men, or Mandy or the Mummy.
It’s also worth pointing out that the costume designs for women in The Dark Knight are absolutely breathtaking, with fashion designer Jovani stating that she had to draw from her own imagination rather than a catalogue because of the incredible requests she received from the cast and crew. In a movie where everyone dresses in black, it’s the women who stand out.
A Different Kind of Hero
It’s been eight years since Batman: Year One, and a lot has changed in comics as well as in popular culture. The Dark Knight might not always be the most popular character in the comic book world, but he is undoubtedly the most influential. It was during the making of The Dark Knight that Alan Moore, one of the greatest living comic book writers, famously opined that Batman was “an idea whose time had come.”
The Dark Knight stands for all that is good and right in the world, but it is also the example of how far superhero comics have come, how sophisticated they have become, and how integrated they have become into popular culture. Moore went on to say that after The Dark Knight, “nobody will ever be the same again.” And with good reason.
For those unfamiliar with the history of Batman, here’s a brief overview. The Dark Knight is the product of a generation raised on comic books, graphic novels, and superhero movies. Many of today’s top creators grew up reading Batman and experiencing the legendary masked crimefighter first hand. It was never really a question of if superheroes would become popular, but rather a matter of when.