Benjamin Wollmuth is a writer who loves to express his opinions on literature, TV, film, video games, and other media.
Matt Reeves's long-anticipated Batman film, The Batman, has finally arrived in cinemas, and it is everything I wanted it to be and more. It's a film that takes its time in setting up the film's mystery instead of rushing to a conclusion just to show what people want to see: action. Yes, the film includes some of the best fight scenes involving Batman I have ever seen, but it also shows a Batman in the middle of his journey to becoming the world's greatest detective. It's a film that definitely feels 3-hours long, but, like Avengers: Endgame, you leave the theater happy that it was 3 hours because it allowed for more character and plot development. It was 3 hours of things that you actually wanted to see. People who are not fans of Batman or mystery films will probably get antsy watching this movie. But for me, a Batman fan, this is exactly what I wanted it to be.
There's my extremely short review.
Now, I should probably explain the title of this article, yeah?
The Superhero Genre Today
Now, when I say The Batman brings freshness back, I don't necessarily mean that it has been gone. All I'm saying is that the argument can be made that many comic book movies released today all feel the same. A villain––oftentimes wielding the same powers as the hero––emerges, and the titular hero of the story must find a way to stop them. Now, how that plot is handled can include some freshness. Wonder Woman, for example, gave us a period piece set in World War I. Aquaman gave us a superhero movie with many scenes set underwater. On the Marvel side of things, Shang-Chi gave us a marital arts superhero movie, Eternals gave us a cinematographic masterpiece (the film wasn't great, but it looked beautiful), and Spider-Man: No Way Home showcased heroes we never thought we would see again. They were all very copy-and-paste superhero movies, yet they all felt unique in some way. You could say that filmmakers are starting to understand that if superhero movies lack freshness, no one will want to see them. However, these films––as great as some of them may be––are still your average superhero movies where the hero fights the villain and nothing more. The hero wins in the end and the villain loses. But that's just plot 101, right? Well, plot 101 can be broken. Avengers: Infinity War is proof of that. Not all superhero films have to end in the exact same way.
With Infinity War, Marvel was able to inject some freshness into the MCU, which can be a difficult task, especially in regards to a long-running franchise. When you have one character getting multiple movies about them, you run the risk of losing freshness. This risk is intensified when dealing with reboots. Sony ultimately failed with The Amazing Spider-Man because a reboot wasn't warranted. Yes, Spider-Man 3 wasn't great, but people were still holding on to Tobey Maguire. And sure, Andrew Garfield definitely portrayed a very different Peter Parker/Spider-Man, but it was still just Spider-Man fighting a villain. It wasn't until Marvel Studios stepped in and brought Spider-Man into a larger universe––brought freshness––that the character was revived.
Batman is another character who kept getting movie after movie, and sometimes, the sequel or reboot didn't feel warranted. While Ben Affleck's Batman definitely felt different, it felt too soon. Only four years prior did Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy end, and as great as it was, by the end of it I was left feeling a little let down. And as much as I love Batman, I told myself I needed a break, and did not expect to see a new iteration so soon after one just concluded. And now we have another one. Isn't it too soon?
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Perhaps. But as the title of this article indicates, Matt Reeves injects freshness into this take on Batman––a freshness that allows this movie to stand out not only amongst other Batman films but amongst comic book films in general. So, while we may have jumped from Ben Affleck to Robert Pattinson a bit too quickly, at least we can say that the two Batmen feel different. Reeves has given us a reason to forget that just last year a different Batman was being overshadowed by the super-powered members of the Justice League.
Why Is This Iteration Different?
What makes this iteration unique is its intense focus on realism. It moves away from the impracticalities most superhero films contain, opting instead for a grounded story that, in the end, seems very plausible. For starters, Batman's gear isn't over-the-top to the point where it seems completely fictional. He also isn't portrayed as a man who can literally get up from anything. He gets hit pretty hard, and only recovers after injecting himself with a mysterious liquid that seems to give him a huge burst of adrenaline. The film's antagonist, the Riddler, is heavily based on the very real Zodiac killer, and his motivations deal with denouncing and killing corrupt authoritative and political figures rather than the usual taking over or destroying the world. It goes against the usual "suspension of disbelief" that most superhero films require you to do because it is so grounded in realism.
"But, Ben," you may be asking, "isn't this 'suspension of disbelief' the superhero genre's biggest shtik?" Perhaps. But maybe that's why so many people claim it's getting old. Maybe the 5-7 (sometimes more) superhero movies released per year are making us suspend our disbelief a little too much. Maybe we just want better, more logical explanations for why things happen, rather than just the typical "it's magic, bro," or "it's science, bro," even though the science is basically magic because it's a science that we have not even come close to perfecting in the modern-day. I mean, as much as I loved Spider-Man: No Way Home, I have to admit that watching the multiverse be saved with one simple spell felt a little old.
The Batman doesn't do that. Batman doesn't have powers. Batman doesn't have magic. Batman has plausible weapons and plausible brainpower that he uses to defeat a plausible villain with very plausible motives. I'd even argue that this movie––as of right now––is the most grounded and realistic superhero movie filmgoers have received in years, if not ever. That's fresh. Movies like this are what will keep the superhero genre alive. Movies like this are what prove how fun the superhero genre can be and how superhero films don't always have to rely on the "suspend your disbelief" shtik. Make me believe heroes like Batman could exist in real life. I just wanna believe!
Do not get me wrong here, folks. I do not hate superhero movies that require me to suspend my disbelief. In fact, I love them a bit too much. But I completely understand why many filmgoers think the superhero genre will fizzle out, and I think it all has to do with the copy-and-paste quality superhero films have.
Filmmakers, don't stop making fun, action-packed, magic-filled superhero adventures that require us to let our brains go and just have a good time. All we need is just more grounded, realistic superhero movies like The Batman to keep the genre interesting and to help cleanse our pallet in between the big, fantastical superhero epics. Know when you need to give your audiences a break before you lose them entirely.
© 2022 Benjamin Wollmuth