In the past year, we’ve seen many superhero films hit the big screen. With so many iconic characters to choose from, the opportunity to make a splash in the superhero world is at hand. While many fans may argue that casting a major celebrity in the lead role is what made these films so special, it was more than that. It was the combination of all the elements that made these films so memorable.
A Perfect Fit
To start, let’s discuss what Reeves had going for him. Not only is he a well-respected director who has made a name for himself by taking on complicated stories of good vs. evil, but he also happens to be a perfect fit for the role. Reeves has a flair for action scenes that viewers know and love. In one of his earliest films, the critically-acclaimed Cloverfield, he deftly weaves intense action set pieces together with a dark sense of humor that even today’s audiences can’t resist. The action sequences are some of the most exciting and well-designed set pieces ever put to film, and they’re a perfect fit for the grizzled, badass detective.
In another of his films, the recent The Batman, the viewer is given a tour de force showcasing not only Reeves’ directorial skills but also the cinematic might of the entire crew. While many films set in Gotham City would be tempted to go for a more realistic approach, the filmmakers behind The Batman instead opted for a stylized one that gives the film a gothic sheen. The result is an incredible marriage of art and science as the action scenes are so intricate yet beautifully choreographed that they seem almost unreal. The effect is that the film feels like a comic book come to life, and that alone makes it worth the watch.
A Bit Of A Change
Besides being a perfect fit for the role, Reeves is also a welcome change of pace from the usual superhero fare. Instead of focusing on the usual brooding superhero archetype, Reeves’ take on the role is a bit more subdued. This is particularly noticeable in the way he handled the character of Batman. While his previous films have often starred a dark-skinned person in black clothing, here Batman is played by a very pale British man in a colorful, stylized aesthetic that is both artistic and unique. The overall effect is that of a more mature and sophisticated take on the character that we haven’t really seen before.
Whether or not this aesthetic choice was a conscious decision by the filmmaker, it certainly worked, with or without a doubt, one of the best portrayals of Batman to date.
The Perfect Storm
That brings us to our next point, the perfect combination of all the elements that made these films so special. First and foremost, we have a director who is both innovative and daring while also having a clear vision of what he wants from the production. Second, we have an action-adventure story that is both surprising and exciting. Third, we have an ensemble of incredibly talented actors, including some Hollywood heavyweights.
The first three acts of The Batman are a veritable crime-fighting masterclass. We are first introduced to the film’s main protagonist, billionaire inventor Bruce Wayne, who has just finished developing a new line of hi-tech gear for the military. When a Chinese gang breaks into his home to steal his designs, Wayne uses his extraordinary brains and resources to fight back. With the help of his faithful butler, Alfred, and an army of international police, Wayne sets out to destroy the crime network once and for all.
As exciting as the plot may sound, the real highlight of the first three acts isn’t so much the story as it is the massive ensemble cast and the technical wizardry on display. From Tovah Feldmoon’s luminous portrayal of Queen Hippolyta to Richard Madden’s commanding performance as Alfred, the screen is bursting with talent. It’s hard to remember a time when Hollywood produced such a veritable treasure chest of amazing performances as they do these days.
A Stylized Take
Speaking of times when Hollywood produced such treasure troves of amazing performances, let’s remember the golden era between the 1930’s and 1950’s. Back then, Hollywood wasn’t afraid to experiment with different styles, so they could put a fresh spin on classic stories or create original premises for films. One of the best examples of this is the legendary The Great Gatsby. Based on the novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald, the film’s stylized takes on both the Roaring Twenties and the golden age of jazz are undoubtedly one of the film’s highlights. However, as amazing as many of the film’s design choices are (from costumes to sets to hairstyle), it’s Arthur Crabtree’s portrayal of Nick Carraway that really stands out. The elegant, introverted narrator is an incredible feat of acting by the British actor, and watching his character interact with the flashy, jazz-loving characters of the decade is both fascinating and satirical.
It’s clear that Arthur Crabtree took his role very seriously, as he reportedly studied Fitzgerald’s work and worked with the novelist and the author of the music scene in Fifties New York, Angus MacLane, to get the details right. Crabtree’s Nick Carraway is as much of a gentleman as he is a narrator, and he makes the character his own personal study. The combination of Nick’s narration and his character’s dedication to scholarly research is something that is both comedic and moving, and it’s something that makes Arthur Crabtree’s Nick Carraway one of the greatest narrators in movie history.
Gotham’s Dark Knight
We move to the second part of the film, which focuses on Batman as he patrols the streets of Gotham City, protecting his hometown from crime and corruption. When a new kind of gang threatens to destroy Gotham City’s judicial system as a whole, Batman must seek assistance from allies and enemies alike to protect his city. In what will become a running theme throughout the trilogy, the film alternates between gritty, crime-scene photography and brightly colored, stylized shots, giving the film a distinctive look that is both cinematic and unique.
The first thing that will strike you about this section of the film is Chris Messina’s incredible performance as Harvey Dent, the heroic prosecutor who becomes the Batman’s most powerful enemy. In the comics, Dent is known for his good humor, so it is no surprise that he plays a very funny and charismatic role in the film. What is surprising is just how well he fits the gruff, no-nonsense persona that the Batman usually saves for the big screen. While most of the film is set in a realistic, dark Gotham City, there are numerous instances where Batman’s dark side emerges. In one particularly memorable scene, Harvey is shown wearing a ridiculous fake smile while interrogating a suspect. As soon as the person realizes what’s going on, they give way and reveal the sinister side of Dent that the Batman knows all too well.
Unfortunately, this is the sort of performance that tends to get a film’s fans killed. As much as we may love to see Harvey Dent emerge as Batman’s antithesis, the fact remains that he is Batman’s enemy. We saw the same thing with Bane, another of Batman’s archenemies. Bane is perhaps the greatest villain to emerge from the DC Comics, and that is mainly thanks to his imposing physical stature and his utter ruthlessness. Even then, it’s arguable that Batman’s greatest enemy is Ra’s al Ghul, a.k.a. the “The Demon’s Rainmaker,” due to the fact that he has a genuine rivalry with the Dark Knight going all the way back to the 1990’s. Ghul’s plan typically involves gathering a team of villains and tearing Gotham City apart, using what is essentially a massive bomb as a sort of mobile castle.
While Batman may stand a chance against his rivals in a straight fight, odds are he would lose a battle of wits. It is for this reason that the Dark Knight relies on his resources, using tactics such as poison gas and high-tech weaponry, to destroy his enemies. If Batman is to save Gotham City and its inhabitants, he must rely on his brains and brawn to outsmart his enemies, something that is certainly reminiscent of classic Sherlock Holmes stories.
Told With Artistic Freedom
When it comes to superhero movies, there is a general consensus that they have gotten more and more creative in the ways they tell their stories. One of the best examples of this is 2012’s The Incredible Hulk. Based on the Marvel Comics character, the film takes a more unique, artistic approach. In particular, it focuses not only on Bruce Banner’s (Mark Ruffalo’s) inner struggle between his violent desires and his desire to be a responsible, ethical human being, but also on the character’s emotional journey. The results are both gripping and thought-provoking.