Often considered to be some of the finest superhero films of all time, Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy undoubtedly changed the landscape of the genre for the forthcoming decade of Marvel and DC dominance. Worlds away from the candy-coloured dreamworld created by Joel Schumacher for the previous Batman instalment, 1997s Batman & Robin, Nolan’s new Batman operated in a dark, industrial Gotham spiked with realism.
Where superhero movies of the past had shown little respect to their characters, treating each like a cartoonish property, Nolan showed that these films could be both financial blockbusters and also great movies in their own right. To achieve this, however, Nolan sacrificed the spirit of the character himself, removing him from his comic-book roots and placing him into the realms of reality.
Whilst Nolan’s films remain great action movies, the recent release of Matt Reeves’ The Batman reveals just how far off they were from being ‘Batman’ movies, seeming like something of a caped imposter with the benefit of hindsight.
Where Nolan retreated from the world of Gotham, Reeves embraced Batman’s iconic city and made it a key aspect of the film itself, with the grimy city streets being explored with an unprecedented amount of depth and insight. Street goons antagonise civilians on the subway, crooks steal from corner shops and the shadows of the city brim with the fear of the unknown, it may be an overused cliche but Gotham truly feels like the main character of Matt Reeves’ vision.
“Hidden in the chaos is the element, waiting to strike like snakes and I’m there too, watching,” Robert Pattinson’s Batman describes the rainy streets of Gotham, with his opening monologue perfectly striking the balance between joyous melodrama and genuine sincerity. With an exaggerated art style, the city itself toes a similar line, with every street, from the cramped corners of the alleyways to the vast main roads simmering with mythic personality.
Truly, Reeves’ vision is incomparable to Nolan’s, who seems to disregard Gotham as the mere setting for Batman’s adventures, rather than a manipulative, dynamic city harbouring fear and motivation for its disgruntled citizens. Whilst one could argue that Christopher Nolan prefers to focus on story, character and subtextual meaning, there’s no denying that if one looks deeper, the wasted potential of Gotham is not the filmmaker’s only sin.
Known as one of the world’s smartest detectives in the comics, as well as one of its strongest brawlers, in The Batman, the titular character is actually given the breathing room to perform at his very best, forming a believable relationship with the Gotham City Police Department. Working closely with Jeffrey Wright’s Commissioner Gordon, the two characters form an unlikely buddy-cop duo in their hunt for the villainous Riddler, following crumbs of evidence to get to the crux of the city’s evil.
Constructed as more of a generic action hero in Nolan’s trilogy, these detective scenes are few and far between throughout the Dark Knight movies, with the latest portrayal of the caped crusader doing far more to build a compelling character.
It’s not just Batman either, with Zoë Kravitz’s Catwoman also showing the character and personality to beat Anne Hathaway’s previous version with one scratch and a threatening one-liner. From the costume to her importance in the main plot of the movie, Kravitz’s Catwoman is superior to Nolan’s lazy version in almost every way.
Much like how comic books provide countless different versions of the same character, the Nolan Batman trilogy can still be appreciated as a more grounded version of the superhero, even if the release of Reeves’ film exposes several fatal flaws. Quite simply, The Batman is the film Gotham deserves right now, with the success of Nolan’s vision feeling like a crucial touchstone of cinema history, not unlike Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy.