Is “The Batman” Better Than “The Dark Knight?” SPOILER FREE REVIEW
I was talking to a coworker recently where they asked how many Batman actors have there been. Oh boy, did they ask the right (and in many ways, wrong) person because I gave them 80 years worth of knowledge of Batman and his presentation in film. Batman is one of those complex characters that we all fall in love with, whether it his mind, his gadgets, his money, or what he stands for.
It is hard to believe that it has been 10 years since the conclusion of The Dark Knight Trilogy, and about 5 years since we heard that Matt Reeves was connected to The Batman. I bring up The Dark Knight Trilogy specifically because many people hail that version of the Caped Crusader to be one of the best ever, specifically referencing the second movie in said trilogy, The Dark Knight. Now, there are many people who still see Michael Keaton as the quintessential face of Batman while many people say Kevin Conroy is the unmistakable voice of Batman, but The Dark Knight in many ways saved the superhero genre and made the masses see superhero films as genuine cinema. Christopher Nolan's trilogy reinvented Hollywood in how not just superhero movies were made, but filmmaking in general.
That being said, I saw Matt Reeves's The Batman on Sunday at Roosevelt Cinemas. Up until that point, I saw people argue online whether or not this latest rendition is better than The Dark Knight. I did my best to avoid reading any comment sections, clicking on articles, or watching any videos. Now, I'll admit right now, The Dark Knight is one of my favorite movies ever. After I saw the movie, I still rank The Dark Knight over The Batman; however, I can totally understand why many people would regard this as their favorite Batman film. It was a fantastic movie.
In this review, I'm going to break down some similarities and differences between the two iterations and why both are great! When the title says "SPOILER FREE," I am not going to give away major plot details; however, I will be discussing the scope, environment and themes about two movies. There will be spoilers about The Dark Knight Trilogy, but that is a series that has been out and completed for ten years. If I do get specific, it will mostly be about things referenced in the trailer. If that still worries you, turn back now. If you are fine with that, let us continue.
How Each Gotham City Feels
Already, I have heard much debate between the two iterations of Gotham City. This is purely my opinion, and you may think otherwise, and that is fine. I felt that Nolan's Gotham was more grounded and believable than Reeves's. Both films were shot on location in a number of cities to give a sense of realism. Nolan's Gotham was supposed to be a much more grounded take of the city and the world around it. The idea was to make this believable. When watching those movies, I felt that I have seen a city like this.
In The Batman, I felt as if we returned to a version of Tim Burton's Gotham. It felt much darker and gothic. It had elements of Tim Burton's world mixed with tone of The Animated Series. Of course, it was modernized and made more realistic. This Gotham felt like it took many dark elements from real life cities, and synthesized them down to their worst elements.
Both Gotham's help set the stage for the story that both are telling perfectly.
One Movie Gave Us Bruce Wayne/Batman. The Other Gave Us Batman
It is made very clear in both films that Bruce Wayne is the real mask, and Batman is who he really is. The portrayals of Bruce Wayne are very different. By The Dark Knight Rises, Bruce Wayne became a recluse, but in Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, Bruce Wayne realized that he needed to play up his Bruce Wayne persona in order to protect his company, his image, and those around him. The way Christian Bale portrayed that back and forth, and the facade of being billionaire playboy philanthropist was spot on. I always like to refer back to Batman Begins after he swam in the pool with the models. As soon as he saw Rachel, he snapped out of it. He tried to explain to her that this was not truly him. Same goes for the party scene at the end where he "drunkenly" kicks everyone out of his mansion. Being Bruce Wayne while being Batman was a burden. Christian Bale's Batman wanted to save the city, but he also didn't want to do this forever. He was looking for a way out. He wanted a regular life with Rachel. In The Dark Knight, he dreamt of retiring, leaving Harvey Dent to be the city's White Knight so that he could hang up the cowl.
Robert Pattinson gives us a man who is completely consumed by Batman. Where Bale's realized he needed to keep up with his other half to a certain degree, Pattinson's Batman cares very little for being Bruce Wayne. Batman is his mission. Batman is who he sees himself as. Pattinson's Batman makes no attempts in being involved with his company in this movie. It is a big deal anytime Bruce Wayne goes out in public because he typically doesn't show his face. As Pattinson has stated in interviews, this Bruce Wayne is a weirdo. He is a recluse. He is consumed by the shadows, and seeks vengeance for the sake of his own gratification.
One Movie is About A Hero. One Movie is About a Villain.
The thing everyone goes back to about The Dark Knight is Heath Ledger's performance as The Joker. It was terrifying, it was well executed, it was gritty, and it was believable. When playing a role like The Joker, you run the risk of going over the top or being too cartoony. Heath Ledger gave the role of his career (and life) by playing The Joker. Yes, the movie shows us much of Bruce Wayne and Batman, but this movie was mostly a character dive into The Joker.
With The Batman, we focus on Batman. The Riddler is a fascinating intellectual foe for Batman; however, this movie hones in on Batman's detective work and gives us a look into the life of a Batman who is still figuring out who he is. This movie even includes narration from Batman's perspective, kind of like boxed text of Batman's inner monologue in the comics. Even in just facial expressions, you can infer the pain and the thoughts going through his head as Robert Pattinson exudes that angst very well.
Batman's Rogues Gallery
The Dark Knight gave us foes such as The Joker, Two Face, and Carmine Falcone. The Batman gave us The Riddler, The Penguin, Catwoman, and Carmine Falcone. I would love to get into Catwoman more, but if I did so, I would be spoiling a lot. Suffice to say, I really loved this incarnation of the character and how much depth that they gave her. Zoe Kravitz played it well, and this may be my favorite live-action iteration of Catwoman.
This is the first time that we have seen The Penguin on the big-screen since Burton's Batman Returns. Both portray the character VERY differently, but they both serve well for the stories they are telling. If anything, this latest iteration is an origin for the character, and we have much to see.
Between the two Falcone's, the one in The Batman was more integral to the plot, and to me, was more of a formidable foe. Nothing against Eric Roberts, but John Turturro's version had more depth. Where Roberts' just felt like another crime boss, Turturro's was someone who you feared. He was a fleshed-out villain, and you could feel the presence that he had over Gotham.
Now, for the main villains. The ways that The Joker and The Riddler hijacked the media were very similar by exploiting the news and online methods. They struck fear into the whole city, and pitted people against each other. They were both intellectual foes for The Batman, and not just challenged his mind, but also his morality. Both villains see Batman as an equal, yet in different ways. By the end of each film, both villains manage to change something about Batman's perception of his role in Gotham. One major difference between the two villains is that The Joker made things happen himself and was always in the action, while The Riddler remained in the shadows. Heath Ledger easily has way more screen time than Paul Dano. A credit to Dano, he stole the show with every little bit of screen time that he has. One scene towards the end of the film gave me chills, and shows why he is a fantastic actor. Heath Ledger's Joker was a menacing figure on screen. Paul Dano's secrecy and shadowy performance probably added to the mystery and intrigue of his character.
We Weren't Spoon-Fed Exposition
A major difference between the two movies is that The Dark Knight was a sequel while The Batman was the first of what will most likely be a trilogy. Where many other Batman movies tirelessly bring us back to the scene where the Wayne's were killed at some point, and then show us some kind of training, The Batman strays from that path. Majority of people know about his origins, and don't need to see it again. Of course, Bruce's family history is integral to the film and the character; however, we weren't just given scenes that we have seen dozens of times. Batman and Jeffery Wright's James Gordon have a phenomenal chemistry throughout this film that isn't forced on us or overly explained. We know that this is Year Two for this Batman, and we know that they have established a trust by this point. Plus, we didn't get scenes explaining how he gets or develops all of his tech. He just has it, and that is fine. Instead, The Batman just got into the drivers seat right away and said, "This is Batman, and this is our story." Unlike other iterations, I felt we were able to focus on this Batman, and less of the build up to Batman. It must be acknowledged; though, that The Batman has previous incarnations such as The Dark Knight to thank for that.
Without trying to spoil much of the film, since this was just opening weekend and many more of you are yet to see it, that is all that I will say right now. When you have so many characters in a film like this, you worry that it will get too congested. I would argue that Matt Reeves did a good job of giving each character a decent amount of breathing room throughout the film, which was refreshing.
Let us know what you thought of the movie, and also where you saw it! Be sure to continue supporting Hudson Valley businesses, like the theaters below.