Full disclosure: I am not a diehard superhero fan. At all. My first interaction with the Marvel Cinematic Universe was during the pandemic, when I decided to watch the movies in chronological order to see what all the fuss was about. I wrote down some of my initial thoughts – including “Captain America is boring AF” – before packing it all in when I got to a talking racoon.
It’s not that I expected to be blown out of the water by a bunch of lycra-clad custodians of the peace, but I had hoped that they would live up to at least some of the hype. Instead, I was left resentful of the hours-long commitment I had made to an unfulfilling franchise.
Yet one superhero series I can fully get behind is Batman. Not only do the movies have grit, the storylines are fully formed and the characters are complex. Rather than the half-baked, open-ended tripe of Marvel movies, which always feel like filler – a means to get to the next stage of the story, instead of just getting to the point there and then – the Batman films are all solid movies in their own right. They all tie in nicely with each other, but each individual instalment is considered and masterfully executed.
And while there have been many iterations over the years, Robert Pattinson’s caped crusader in The Batman is definitely one of the best to date. He has the whole brooding, pursed-lipped vigilante thing down to a tee (I mean, the guy did play a tortured vampire who wanted to suck his girlfriend’s blood), but he is also stripped of all the fancy gadgets and vehicles so synonymous with the character. Without the Batmobile and his decked-out lair, he has an oddly relatable quality.
Perhaps it’s because Batman is human (and yes, before you say, I know Tony Stark is also a mere mortal). He makes mistakes; like when he parachutes into a bridge and takes a pretty mean tumble; his car stalls, or when he is training himself to take the emotion out of his quests – even though it’s the pain of his parents’ deaths that motivates him to shine a light on greed and corruption. Rather than being an all-singing, all-dancing illusion, he is flawed and enigmatic, and viewers have no choice but to be invested in his character.
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At times, the franchise feels like political commentary – Matt Reeves’s movie being no exception. He is holding a mirror up to the world; taking aim at those in power and exposing those who have gained from other people’s suffering, while hiding behind a squeaky clean veneer. At one point, Zoe Kravitz’s Catwoman even swipes at the “white, privileged a******s”.
The threat of terrorism is something modern audiences can also very much relate to. Heath Ledger’s Joker in 2008’s The Dark Knight really tapped into contemporary fears and highlighted how his evil was a product of society. Likewise, the Riddler in The Batman utilises social media and the dark web to garner a fanbase of criminals, who wish to take down The System. It’s these eerily accurate villains, who operate in the underbelly of civilisation, that arrest viewers and blur the lines between right and wrong, who force viewers to question their own sense of morality.
Look, I’m not saying the MCU is without its positives – there’s obviously a reason it’s so wildly successful (even if it’s lost on me). It should also be said that a lot of people are seeking escapism from the harsh realities of post-pandemic life and a break from the news in the midst of war. Some will relish the improbability of The Blip happening in real life, or draw comfort in MJ and Spider-Man’s awkward teen romance.
But in all honesty I think these films pale in comparison to the legacy of Batman. They lack substance and are so wrapped up in fantasy they have become devoid of any tangible link to humanity – which seems bizarre given that the very premise of the genre is to serve allegorical tales of caution. Instead of inviting me to lose myself, the nonsensical world of the MCU is jarring and synthetic, and R Patz’sBatman only highlights its many, many flaws.
With the world seemingly coming apart at the seams, it’s exactly why this darker representation is so fitting right now.