Given the immense box office success, there's a really good chance you sat down and watched The Batman recently. Matt Reeves' cinematic tackling of the caped crusader is the first of a planned trilogy of movies starring Robert Pattinson as Bruce Wayne, whose night job is unlike other billionaires.
Right off the bat, I knew this movie would be different from its opening scene. Not feeling like Nolan or Snyder, but something wholly in its own universe, we follow Batman as a detective, trying to sort through clues to stop the Riddler's domestic terrorism and murder across Gotham.
There will be spoilers for this movie to follow, consider yourself warned.
One thing I wanted to talk about today is how The Batman uses lightness and darkness to amplify its theme. Check out this video from Wisecrack, and let's talk after.
How The Batman Focuses on Shadows and Light In Its Theme and Visuals
Let's go over what actually happens in The Batman.
Basically, the Riddler is terrorizing the city by murdering different officials. What's uncovered is that he wants to expose some behind-the-scenes plots that implicate dirty cops, the mayor, mobsters, and the Wayne family. The Riddler is a guy named Edward Nashton who was a kid living at a Wayne-sponsored orphanage. Unfortunately, after the Waynes were killed, the orphanage and the renewal project that sponsored it became corrupted and it made Nashton's life terrible.
Nashton becomes a forensic accountant and makes it his mission to get back at the people who harmed him. He exposes the truth of the city's renewal project and the corruption at the root of Gotham's problems. Of course, he also becomes a costumed serial killer with a puzzle fetish in the process.
Throughout the movie, Batman navigates the criminal underworld, one step behind the villain. This theme of the movie is taking what's in the shadows and exposing it. This couples nicely with Batman, a hero who works in the shadows, and is slowly getting more and more exposed to danger as his alter ego, Bruce Wayne, gets wrapped up in the Riddler's plans.
Reeves said his Batman is "still trying to figure out how to do this, how to be effective, and he's not necessarily succeeding. He's broken and driven."
The Batman explores the emotional cost of being a hero. Reeves stated Batman is "emotionally stunted at being 10 years old, because that's a trauma you don't get past."
Visually, director of photography Greig Fraser was able to play with this, showing us a hero who starts the film shrouded in blackness, sticking to shadows. But by the end, he's a Batman in the dawn, using a flare to lead people to safety. And even standing as the sun rises to work with Gotham during the day as well.
Still, we get most of the movie through a prism of the shadows. Using VFX and camera tricks to build a world. Fraser and Reeves were always talking about how they could bring naturalism to the forefront. How could they make this a Batman movie that lived in darkness and shadow? Batman has to sink into this underworld, operate at night, and get out his lowest points in the darkness before he can step forward into a lighter part.
Reeves said of the process on Sound + Image Lab:
"When we shot things, even like the Batmobile chase, even though there's a tremendous amount of visual effects in the movie, I didn't want you to be aware that we were doing them at all. And so we always used the parameters of how you would do it if you were doing it practically. And so [with] the Batmobile chase, we're putting cameras and we're locking them onto hard mounts, so you're watching a lot of hard mounts and that kind of stuff. And then, 'what's in focus?' And it's in the middle of rain. And 'what does that rain look like?' And there were times when Greig would take a filter and put a little bit of silicone on it... so that when you put it in front of the lens and when it got wet, you had the sense that it wasn't just that we were in rain that was perfectly photographed. The lens itself got wet. So you feel like you're in the middle of it. And so everything was about putting you squarely in that experience."
All this works in tandem with the theme, helping take a story about lights and dark, and putting them as colors on the screen. It seems so simple, and yet that's what elevates this movie and even plays into the detective aspects of it all. Batman is looking for clues, trying to shed light on the situation. Batman is out at night, eventually in the day. The film is dark, eventually getting to the dawn. These layers are what make the movie so enjoyable and engrossing.
Let us know what you think in the comments.