Note: Spoilers for The Batman are discussed in this article.
Following the turbulent opening phase of the DCEU, director Matt Reeves was given the massive task of helming the third incarnation of DC’s Caped Crusader within the last 10 years. Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy set a high bar for how Batman could be shaped in live-action theatrical endeavors, but The Batman needed to be much more than going back to those fundamentals. For that, Reeves and co-writer Peter Craig needed to draw on several sources of inspiration to make Robert Pattinson’s hero resonate with a 2022 audience numbed from relentless reboots and sequels. Thankfully, they did just that and then some by looking toward the gritty crime-noir thrillers of director David Fincher and the comic book source materials that make Batman the “World’s Greatest Detective.”
The great critical reception and commercial success ($258 million worldwide in its first weekend, per Variety) are even more impressive due to The Batman‘s sprawling two-hour and 47-minute runtime when excluding the credits, and its firmly dark, detective-noir tone. The lucrative Marvel Cinematic Universe has been largely defined by more colorful adventures, so a Batman movie going against that grain with such a grim adaptation is not only a testament to the character’s staying power in pop culture but the level of care taken by the creative team in putting together a compelling crime epic as well.
When it comes to other movies, similarities can be seen across both Tim Burton’s stylishly gothic vision of the Dark Knight and his Gotham City and Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy in how it grounds Batman in a modern setting, and by focusing on Bruce Wayne’s psyche. Yet Reeves couldn’t afford to borrow too much from past Batman movies; otherwise, The Batman would have suffered from a noticeable retread that has plagued other franchise movies (The Amazing Spider-Man, Mortal Kombat). That’s why some of the most visible comparisons lean more so toward Martin Scorsese’s psychological character study Taxi Driver and David Fincher’s bleak detective thrillers Zodiac and Seven.
As one would expect, Taxi Driver looks to have played a key part in molding Pattinson’s take on Batman/Bruce Wayne. Though Robert DeNiro’s Travis Bickle is certainly more unhinged and teetering the line of an anti-hero, this Dark Knight is certainly another kind of recluse of his own making. Shades of Travis Bickle’s unstable drifter can be seen in The Batman, especially with Bruce’s narration in the beginning as he wanders the grimy streets of Gotham searching for trouble to beat down into submission. But the greater theme of his identity crisis is another inventive take on that archetype, as audiences are presented with an aggressive Batman that has zero interest in Bruce Wayne — until compelled by the help of Selina Kyle and Alfred Pennyworth to come back down to earth.
Meanwhile, aside from the comic books, the aforementioned Fincher movies were strong foundations to bring out the World’s Greatest Detective element for The Batman. The movie bears a resemblance to Zodiac as — on top of tone, premise, and atmosphere — Paul Dano’s Riddler was modeled after the real-life serial killer the movie based itself on. While The Batman was well complemented by exciting action sequences, the core component to the story and its titular superhero was sleuthing and poring meticulously over the bloody details left by a sadistic and elusive villain. Likewise, the movie took influence from the Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman-led Seven when formulating this darkly vindictive take on the Riddler’s motives for his killing spree, all while having Batman and Lieutenant Gordon desperately chase down leads on who he’ll punish next. The shadowy supervillain served as the movie’s crux of dissecting the corrosive anatomy of corruption in Gotham City.
As for comic book inspiration, both Matt Reeves and Robert Pattinson have made little secret of them being fans of the character’s mythos. The usual suspects of the Batman holy grail of comics have been references, including Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale’s The Long Halloween and Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli’s Year One, but deep cuts like Darwyn Cooke’s psychological Ego had a big impact on the movie. DC Comics has even started selling boxsets for prospective fans looking to read the three main books that inspire the movie.
The former comics are frequently lauded as some of the greatest Batman stories ever told, with Loeb’s limited series being a sprawling crime saga dripping with the noir aesthetic thanks to Sale’s unique brand of gloomily-stylized art. Meanwhile, Miller’s Year One is seen by many fans as the definitive origin tale for the Dark Knight (which, funnily enough, had a note written by Miller to Mazzucchelli to draw him like Taxi Driver‘s Travis Bickle) for its reimagining of Bruce’s beginnings back to his pulpy roots. The more underrated of the bunch, Ego, was a particularly interesting pick by Reeves as it signaled his intention to dig into Batman’s mind more than other directors and writers have before.
That comic’s core premise takes place in Bruce’s head, as he confronts his bloodthirsty superego (represented as a beastly Batman) and his more composed and rational id (represented by Bruce Wayne). That plot device lent itself well to The Batman, as Pattinson’s portrayal was that of a Batman who was progressively losing himself to his vengeful side. He spent his first two years on the job fighting a losing battle as nothing but a blunt weapon against the forces that took his parents, uncaring that he’s fighting a losing battle by doing so in addition to the effect this will have on him and the city. It’s perhaps the most fascinating live-action look into the hero’s complicated psyche and the addition of Zoë Kravitz’s exceptional Catwoman was a great way to complement that exploration.
Some other influences will catch longtime fans’ eyes, though they obviously weren’t used in marketing materials to avoid spoiling The Batman‘s plot revelations. The Long Halloween‘s influence on the movie extended to its sequel, Dark Victory, for how it used Selina’s ties to the mob boss Carmine “The Roman” Falcone. It was a major plot thread in the movie that did well in tying all the players in Riddler’s game together, intentionally or not.
Posing the Riddler as one of Batman’s earliest big threats also echoes Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s Zero Year arc, with a young Dark Knight against a villain who’s effectively sectioned Gotham City off from the rest of the country under his brand of martial law. Villains like the Joker present Batman with a more philosophical challenge on his moral code, but the Riddler challenges his wit and detective prowess. The most apparent visual similarity is the Riddler using a flood and blackout to cause the city’s instability.
Finding the right balance of source material and external inspiration was key in putting together The Batman, as it needed to accomplish being a new version of the same character worth caring about and also keeping the essence of what makes Batman such an enduring figure. Should potential sequels and the spin-off projects in the works handle future influences with the level of care that Reeves and Craig have here, veteran fans and general audiences should be in store for a welcome dose of inventiveness with this 80-plus-year-old property.
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