Vices and vengeance: “The Batman” reimagines a darker Bruce Wayne


The train station looks just like a Gotham subway should: covered in grime, dirt and of course, rain (it’s always raining in Gotham). As a beaten-up train screeches to a halt, people come swarming out of its doors — most notably, a group of ruffians clad in Joker-esque face paint, following a poor, unsuspecting citizen who’s just trying to get home. 

As the eerie musical score picks up its pace, the gang converges on the innocent man, fists raised to commit the senseless violence that every superhero movie thug lives for — that is, until something moves in the shadows, and we see him at last: the Batman, clad in shadowy black from head to toe, materializing from the darkness as his deep voice echoes in the distance: “They think I’m in the shadows. But I am the shadows.” 

So begins “The Batman,” director Matt Reeves’s latest take on the story of the famous caped crusader. The film follows the familiar journey of Bruce Wayne, billionaire by day and winged vigilante by night. The villain he’s up against this time is the scheming Riddler, a gas mask-wearing killer who is murdering Gotham’s highest-ranking officials one by one, leaving clues for Batman at each crime scene. It’s a race against time to discover both the Riddler’s identity and motive, and Batman and his allies face new obstacles around every corner.

With political commentary, sweeping cinematography and a chilling musical score, “The Batman” shows us a side of Bruce Wayne that we haven’t seen before: not the charming, suave playboy we’ve come to know from the likes of Christian Bale’s portrayal from 2008’s “The Dark Knight,” but instead, a brooding, beaten-down character who reminds us that all Batman is, really, is a man. 

A new hero?

After years of watching Batman grace our cinema scenes, we’ve come to expect a dark, joyless man from a dark, joyless city, and “The Batman” certainly delivers on this front while still showcasing a new layer of depth to Bruce Wayne that is unique to this particular film. 

Palo Alto High School senior Colleen Wang said she found this iteration of Batman to be a new and interesting take on the character.

“It’s a pretty refreshing take on Batman that was different than my expectations,” Wang said. “This shows more of his smart and investigative side. Batman is usually this city vigilante, and compared to the previous DC movies where he’s doing crazy and unreal stuff like killing Superman, this definitely feels like a breath of fresh air. This Batman gets hit more than a couple of times, and does get hurt from those hits.” 

It’s this rawness and vulnerability that has always set Batman apart from his superpowered counterparts, and in “The Batman,” the character’s antihero status is put on full display. Robert Pattinson, who plays the titular role, is accompanied by a thundering musical motif that audibly references Darth Vader’s “Imperial March” from the Star Wars films, alluding to the character’s darker side and leading the viewer to question Batman’s true goodness.

“It’s a pretty refreshing take on Batman that was different than my expectations.”

— Colleen Wang, senior

Junior James Yi said he feels Pattinson’s portrayal of Batman did a good job of displaying the uncertainty of Batman’s true moral code. 

“It’s kind of different from the normal superhero movie because instead of saving people like a ‘hero,’ he [Batman] acts as a kind of antihero and just beats up the bad guy,” Yi said. “The actors did their jobs really well in portraying the emotions that the characters really had. Bruce Wayne got zero sleep and was kind of crazy and the actor [Pattinson] reflected that.” 

Capes and commentary

Christopher Nolan’s (2008) “The Dark Knight,” which stars Christian Bale and Heath Ledger as Batman and the Joker, is often touted and critically regarded as the best Batman film, and has multiple parallels to the 2022 film. 

Both the Riddler and the Joker use social media to release disturbing videos of them taunting their victims, which are aired on live news channels to terrorize the public. 

This use of social media to perpetuate violence is particularly disturbing in light of the multitude of crimes that have been inspired by the Joker character featured in “The Dark Knight.” Social media is still used today as a tool for extremist movements to gather a following and organize violence, a clear parallel to the Riddler’s following in “The Batman”

What makes the Riddler such an unsettling villain is not his real identity — which is, in the end, irrelevant to the plot of the film — but the fact that his identity doesn’t matter. He could have been any civilian of Gotham, any man off the street, a point that he reinforces by inciting violence in so many others. 

Yi said Reeves’ comparison of the Riddler and Batman’s similar backgrounds gave new depth to the commentary made in the film.

“The political aspect of it was interesting, because it gives a commentary of the attention different people get because of their socioeconomic status,” Yi said. “The Riddler and Batman are both orphans, and throughout the movie you see Batman going through the pain of solving his parents’ murder, but in the interrogation scene you see that his conditions weren’t that bad compared to the Riddler who also grew up poor and without parents.” 

Similarly, the Riddler’s obsession with truth and distrust of Gotham’s government and rich billionaires is a sentiment that morphs into a critique of capitalism and a harsh spotlight on the inequities that make up Gotham’s very core. He is willing to do anything in his power to dismantle the lives of those in charge, and expose the intricate conspiracy that connects the mafia to Gotham’s police force. Through his sadistic killings and mocking clues, he reveals the motivation behind all of it — money — and displays the unjust lengths these people are willing to go to to get it.

“The political aspect of it was interesting, because it gives a commentary of the attention different people get because of their socioeconomic status.”

— James Yi, junior

This undoubtedly serves as a direct parallel to how deeply ingrained money is to our own society, and comments on how it can affect decision- making and can influence choosing whether to do the right thing. 

Wang said she believes that although themes of political commentary were there, more could have been done to bring these themes center stage.

“It would’ve been great if there was more focus on the small political moments, like passing by a conversation between regular people about it or scrolling through social media,” Wang said. “Although the idea was definitely present, I felt it was only utilized when necessary for the plot, although I also understand how Batman’s long runtime might make it difficult to add these things.”

Starting anew

Overall, “The Batman” reads more like a brooding detective flick than a brawling, knock-out superhero film. The caped crusader solves mysteries, untangles riddles and goes on a wild goose chase across Gotham, showcasing a smarter, more insightful side of the dark knight. 

Furthermore, supporting characters like Catwoman (Zoe Kravitz) and James Gordon (Jeffrey Wright) accompany Batman on his quest, and bring a small sense of levity to the otherwise brutally dark film by providing us with heroes that aren’t as sullen and speechless as our main character tends to be. 

While the film tends to drag a little towards the end (it does go on for three hours, after all), it’s an interesting take on the character and makes up for any plot inconsistencies with its beautiful cinematography and haunting music. 

However, when all is said and done, the star of “The Batman” isn’t Batman himself. Instead, it’s Gotham City, spotlighted in all its gritty, slimy glory, and shown for what it is. The city is built on inequality, corrupt systems, and for much of the film, seems like a pretty terrible place to live — and yet, some people still rise up against injustice, no matter how hopeless it may seem.

Whether these heroes (or antiheroes) are motivated by vengeance or love, it doesn’t matter — there is still hope for Gotham City, and “The Batman” makes sure that we know it.