Wait, Is The Batman The Best Batman Movie?

You've read the title of this article, so you can probably guess what I'm going to say. I'm going to keep "The Batman" spoilers low for this story, but do be warned that you'll get a sense of some of what's happening in the film

I remember the first time I saw a poster for the Michael Keaton "Batman." It blew my mind! The bat symbol that the entire world recognizes on a black background. Simple and perfect. Keaton has always been my Batman, because, despite my enjoyment of the Adam West TV series, by the time that film came out, I really got Batman. I understood his darkness.

Nowadays, the Keaton Batman films aren't really considered "dark," but back then they were. We got our silly Batman movies with Val Kilmer and George Clooney, and while they were dreadful, they were fun. Then "The Dark Knight" trilogy gave us a new way to experience the Caped Crusader. I loved them. I love them still. I love every Batman show, animated series, and appearance. Yes, even the Snyderverse. I may not love the films (and I have no issue with anyone who did), but I got the world-weary Batfleck. 

Spoiler! We don't see his parents die

What I didn't realize in all that time though, was that I was craving a really, really dark knight. From the first images and trailers for "The Batman," it seemed like we were getting "emo Batman," and while that sounded fun, that isn't at all what we have here. Robert Pattinson isn't playing emo. He's dealing with intense PTSD, as so many of us do. He's struggling to make connections with people. It's something most adults can relate to. I think the decision to take this out of the Snyder continuity was an important one, and I don't mean this as a dig on those films. What I mean is that a dark avenger (sorry Marvel) is an archetype that we can find in any culture and it speaks to us on a very deep level. 

Here is a character who lost his parents (yes, Bruce Wayne's parents are dead — did you hear?) as a child, only to then deal with that loss in an unhealthy way that could actually help society ... this is a universal thing. It's a hero's journey. It's an archetype. We know this story. We see the bright side of it in video games and other media where the traumatized child becomes a hero and saves the world. There is a shadow side to that story though, and that's what we have here. We see someone who uses his money to create things that will help him right the wrongs of society.

An opportunity to vent our frustrations

Film and storytelling at its best is a vehicle for us to vent the anger, rage, frustration, and horror we feel right now. We're exhausted by the pandemic. We're afraid of war. We're all having a hard time, but we can't in good conscience go out and lose our minds, punching people in the street. When emotions are large and unwieldy, and they seem out of proportion, we turn to fiction to see a fictional character do what we wish we could.  

Matt Reeves' "The Batman" gives us a hero who needs to take down criminals. He doesn't have a choice. He can trap a gang in a subway and pummel the hell out of them with no remorse. On the flip side, he can find one person to care about and try to help them. He can help a whole city. He can do something powerful, which right now, most of us can't. That alone puts this Batman on the top of the list. That doesn't even take into consideration that this is a ripping good detective and noir yarn, with a cast that swings for the fences.

I'm afraid of Paul Dano now

This is a mild spoiler, but the Riddler, our darkest villain here (and there are several levels of villain in this film), is someone who had it rough as a child and let that destroy him in a very different way than Bruce Wayne. He's become a character who feels like an incel, though he doesn't quite fit the definition exactly. Still, the comparison is easy to make. I think that's another reason why this film stood out to me. 

This is no traditional comic book villain, spinning riddles and doing silly things. This is Joker-level villainy at its darkest. This man embodies the real terror of someone you might not have noticed, coming back from obscurity to destroy your world. This is the kid you never knew in class who so resents his lot in life that he can rip an entire city apart. This villain is someone who could absolutely appear in the real world, which is far more terrifying than anyone else in any of the earlier films, and that includes "Joker." It gives me chills, and it reminds me where my insomnia comes from. 

A Batman for our times

"The Batman" speaks to our times. It speaks to where we are as a society right now. It has twists and turns that feel true to our current world, just as earlier films spoke to their times. Keaton and the subsequent fun Batman films were simple and entertaining. The "Dark Knight" films were darker because the world was. The Batfleck films were a fantasy world where superheroes could come and save us. "The Batman" speaks to the terror we're all feeling right now, and also gives us a gritty crime drama that is both thought-provoking and cathartic. I guess what I'm saying is that "The Batman" is the best Batman for the times we're living in. It's not superpowers that we need right now. It's someone who is willing to step up and help.

Maybe with less punching, but still. Someone ready the bat signal, okay? 

"The Batman" is in theaters now.