Well, here we are. The final big-budget Hollywood blockbuster of 2018. On one hand, it seems fitting that the last major movie to be released before the end of the year is the culmination of nearly a decade of cinematic obsession. On the other, it feels like it’s been too long coming, and there are still so many questions left unanswered.
The anticipation for The Batman was through the roof. For those who haven’t been following the franchise closely, it’s a rare opportunity to see where it all started. And for long-time fans, it could also be the last big screen appearance for many characters. The first film in the trilogy, The Batman, was released in May of 2018 and became the third highest-grossing movie of all time, only falling short of Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War. It also won multiple awards, including the coveted SAG Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role (Freddie Mercury).
The movie tells the story of billionaire playboy Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale), who reluctantly donates much of his vast fortune to fund a private investigation team. To prove his innocence, he sets out to investigate a series of murders that are plaguing Gotham City. This leads him to team up with his former ward, now turned vigilante Batman (Ben Affleck), who is also determined to uncover the truth behind the killings. Along the way, they’ll face both internal and external forces trying to bring them down.
While the first installment of the trilogy is largely regarded as a critical and commercial success, The Dark Knight Rises and The Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice were universally panned by critics and failed to impress audiences worldwide. However, it’s safe to say that no matter what, The Batman will be remembered as one of the greatest superhero films of all time.
If you’ve seen the movie, then you know what I’m talking about. If not, then let me fill you in. It’s the story of Batman, the millionaire playboy who donates his fortune to help out victims of crime. The movie starts with Batman trying to find the source of a strange signal that is causing people to commit murder. While on this mission, he meets and eventually helps out the young Vicki Vale (Alice Eve), who works for a gossip magazine and becomes the object of obsession for the Caped Crusader. Eventually, after Batman stops the murders, he and Vicki fall in love and team up to fight crime. Through most of the movie, Batman remains scrupulous about not getting involved in personal relationships, even though he clearly has feelings for Eve. This leads to many humorous scenes with the Dark Knight and the “Popular Crimes” reporter investigating various cases together. It’s a fun dynamic, and ultimately, it’s what makes the movie work. In the end, though, Batman is forced to choose between being true to himself and breaking through his no-personal-relationship rule and protecting Vicki, or living a private life with her and ignoring his mission to help others. This is a classic “chicken or the egg” dilemma that Hollywood blockbusters have always found a way of tackling. In this case, it’s an impossible choice and Batman’s journey is both entertaining and thought-provoking. It’s a beautiful story, told with perfect pacing and incredibly charismatic acting from start to finish. From the moment we meet Bruce Wayne, it’s clear that director Christopher Nolan has crafted an indelible character out of the literary figurehead. He is driven by a fierce sense of moral duty and a firm belief that the well-being of the city is more important than the desires of one man.
For those who have followed along from the beginning, it’s interesting to note that there are still so many unanswered questions. Most notably, as I’ve mentioned, is the question of whether or not Batman will maintain his no-personal-relationships policy. Many fans wonder if (or when) he’ll break his rule and start dating. So far, he’s managed to stay true to himself, but it’s an ongoing storyline that will likely continue into the next movie. Another question relates to Alfred Pennyworth (Sean Bean), Wayne’s loyal bodyguard and adviser who has basically served as an extension of the character’s will ever since his debut appearance in Batman Begins. In that movie, we’re told that Alfred had once been in love with a woman named Victoria Vale. Is this still the case? Or has Alfred found love (and a higher purpose) with another character, perhaps Barbara Gordon, the famous scientist and Alfred’s adopted granddaughter? Perhaps the question is moot. With so much ambiguity, it’s difficult to know whether or not we’re supposed to take Alfred’s opinions on faith or have reason to doubt them. It’s an important point to make regarding a character who is supposed to represent the ideals of the Batman franchise. You don’t often see that level of careful writing and thoughtful storytelling in modern blockbusters. It’s an old-school luxury that many filmmakers don’t always have the time for.
The Making Of The Batman
To say that the making of The Batman was a visual triumph would be an understatement. The film was shot almost entirely on location in London and (most of) Scotland. The producers had to contend with severe winter months and severe cutbacks in the availability of staff, making each day’s production a real adventure. The fact that they were able to pull it off is testament to Nolan’s unique eye for detail and extraordinary attention to detail. Every scene, no matter how big or small, played a crucial part in creating the perfect sense of atmosphere.
The storyboards for The Batman, which were made available online in the lead-up to the movie’s release, are absolutely stunning and provide a rare glimpse into the creative process. It’s clear that a lot of thought went into each and every frame. And it shows. Every bit of artifice, from the fake snow to the stained glass, serves a purpose. Even the actors’ hair and make-up are designed to look like they’re on another planet. It really does feel like you’re stepping into a different world, and not just the CGI world, but a heightened reality where things are more organic and convincing.
Nolan’s use of miniatures in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings expanded to grand scale in The Batman. Though the sets were massive and the cameras were able to capture an incredible amount of attention to detail, the director still found the need to augment the sets with hundreds of individually posed miniatures. These are used for both practical and decorative purposes. The miniature horses (and other galloping animals) that appear in almost every scene are just two examples of how these mechanical marvels help to bring the movie to life. Even the flying monkeys that were prominently featured in the marketing campaign couldn’t quite live up to the grand scale of the movie they appeared in. It was truly an amazing sight to behold.
I could go on and on about The Batman. From the intricate designs of the costumes and sets to the witty repartee and dramatic confrontations between the leads, this movie is a triumph. And though it’s not exactly what you’d call an underdog story, I’d argue that its humble beginnings make it all the more special. While many fans may be sad to see the end of an era that started with Batman Begins, I feel confident that whatever comes next will be just as exciting.