There’s a running joke among my friends that whenever a new Batman movie comes out, I start talking
about it in class the next day. To be fair, I don’t really attend that many classes—I mostly just sit in the back and write
homework. Nevertheless, I feel that it’s my duty to spread the word on what I’m sure will be a masterpiece of theatrical
And while I’m usually right about these things, I’ll admit that Warner Bros.’ The Batman was probably the
biggest surprise of the year. Not only did it manage to avoid the widespread critical and commercial backlash that
attached itself to other superhero pictures (namely, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice), but it actually ended up being
quite good. So much so that it became the second-highest-grossing film of the year, behind only Black Panther.
So what made The Batman work? Besides the fact that it was directed by the extremely capable Mike
Newell, who brought us the superb Sam Raimi epic Evil Dead movies, and starred one of the greatest cinematic
presences of all time in Robert Pattinson (the latter of whom, by the way, was also responsible for one of my
favorite horror films of the past fifteen years, 2017’s Lost City Raider), it has a number of things going for it. For
one, it embraces what fans have been hoping to see for years: a darker, grittier take on the Dark Knight. Gone are the
comic book colors and polished tonytones of previous films, replaced by a grimy aesthetic that gives the movie a more
And while it still maintains the basic framework of Batman’s origin story, the 2017 version diverges
significantly from traditional storylines. The Dark Knight doesn’t just fight bad guys; he also has to contend with
wonderful, upstanding citizens who decide that vigilante justice is the best course of action. This results in a more
complex plot that highlights the inherent gray area that exists at the heart of any vigilante investigation.
When it comes to Batman, even the most experienced eye can oftentimes be fooled. Since his inception in
1939, the Dark Knight has been the subject of countless books, films, and videogames. Yet, the character still
manifests a significant presence in popular culture, spawning numerous derivatives, parodies, and homages. The fact
that fans have spent more than 70 years asking for, and anticipating, a darker take on the character only makes it
weirder that the character is still as relevant today as he ever was.
The Darker, the Better
The Dark Knight is one of the most recognizable figures in pop culture, and for good reason: his design
stands out among the sea of blurry superhero faces that pervade our cinema. With his silhouette bat-shaped ears
and sharp teeth, the Dark Knight is easily identifiable. But beyond his looks, what makes the character so
endlessly appealing is his existential angst. It’s difficult to put your finger on exactly what makes Dark
Knight so special; it’s something about his mixture of fury and loneliness that resonates with audiences the
In most of the Batman films that preceded The Dark Knight, the audience knew exactly what was
happening. There was no doubt about the outcome of the story; the bad guys were going to get their just deserts, and
the good guys were going to walk away unscathed. But in the new millennium, the tables have turned. Gone are the
easy victories, and in its place are stories where the Dark Knight doesn’t have answers. Where he doesn’t know who
he is fighting, or why he’s fighting. These are the kinds of questions that drive us, the audience, mad as well.
The Dark Knight represents a departure from comic book movie norms, and for that, he has my respect. When
comic books were first adapted for the big screen, the filmmakers had to adhere to the same rigid formulas that
defined these often-childish stories. The success of Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman movie was the first glimmer of hope
for fans of the character, who had begun begging Hollywood for a less-is-more approach to their interpretations of
Dick Grayson’s alter-ego. But as the 21st century progressed, that hope turned to horror as the more serious-minded
movies proved to be more successful at the box office than their comedic counterparts.
Before The Dark Knight, even the most iconic Batman films like 1941’s The Wolfman and 1966’s
Batman Forever were essentially comedies. You might as well call the 1942 short Superman vs. The Jersey Devil a
romantic comedy, despite the fact that these two cinematic oddities go hand in hand. The difference is that these
earlier Batman movies were made before comic books became as important to pop culture as they are today. So for the
first time in years, we’re presented with a Batman movie that feels fresh, new, and exciting.
A Whole New Dimension Of Angst
It’s not just that the movies are getting darker; it’s that the stories themselves are getting
more interesting. In fact, The Dark Knight is rich with ideas and insights into the human condition. It’s not just
that we’re learning new things about the character, either; the things that we think we know about Batman are
starting to feel a little bit rusty, as they do with any well-worn protagonist. This is evident in how his
story—which begins with his first encounter with Ra’s al Ghul, a man who will go on to become the villain
that we recognize from the popular television series—is starting to feel familiar.
That’s not a bad thing per se, but given how much we’ve all heard about (and read about) Ra’s al Ghul, it
wouldn’t be a massive surprise if certain plot points feel a little bit predictable. When Batman first encounters
Ra’s al Ghul, he is sporting a full-head of hair. But it’s not long before we see that this is more a case of
coincidence than anything else, as the character’s iconic skull-shaped logo seems to be a callback to an earlier
stage in his life. The Dark Knight represents something new and exciting for fans of the character, and it’s in these
ways that it manages to stand out among the sea of increasingly similar superhero movies that litter the landscape
of Hollywood today.