The Batman: A Detective with Compassion and Empathy
Updated: May 9, 2022
Spoiler warning--read at your own discretion.
While visiting my family in central New York this past spring, my husband organized a guy’s night out with the other men in my family. They went to see The Batman. Upon finishing the film he sent me a simple message: You’ll love it.
I’ve been an avid fan of anything Batman since my childhood (my parents currently have a photo of two-year-old me sitting in the 1960s Batmobile). With this in mind, I was both excited and wary of the newest film. Suffering from a figurative PTSD invoked by the 1990s Batman, and also questioning if this new adaptation would measure up to the beloved Dark Knight Trilogy.
Being one who's read the original comics, I can honestly say I’ve never been completely satisfied with any adaptation. Not to say I haven’t enjoyed them; I think some are very well done. But there is a certain tone to the comics as well as elements that either didn’t translate well to film or were completely absent. Elements such as Batman’s detective skills, or the seriousness balancing the over-the-top villains just right.
Within the first ten minutes of the film, I was hooked. This Batman, portrayed by Robert Pattinson, captured those missing elements from the original comics I so wanted to see. The film itself has its own style but remembered to include the things that make it a true adaptation of the comics. Batman is both detective and hero. The writers did well to embody those important aspects of Batman. He is not an anti-hero or a vigilante as portrayed in other adaptations.
One of the things that help reinforce this idea is that it introduces Batman as Batman, not as Bruce Wayne. This is his main identity though the film. The audience knows right away that his “Wayne” identity is his alter ego. Also in his introduction, the opening narration gives something to Batman that has lacked in certain adaptations: hope.
When working in law enforcement and other environments that deal with criminal behaviors, it can become toxic very quickly (I come from a long line of law enforcers and this is one thing they speak of often). What keeps these brave people going? Hope. Hope that they’re making a difference to somebody. This Batman frankly states that he knows he can’t be everywhere or save everyone. But that’s not what matters. In a montage of ne’er-do-wells, he saves one person from a violent gang, with the audience very well knowing that several other crimes are happening at the same time.
Instead of brooding for two-plus hours about how he can’t save everyone (but believe me, he is quite good at brooding about other things), he focuses on the things he can do. Radical acceptance of the things he can control and the things he can’t help the audience to feel his cause isn’t hopeless.
As a detective, Batman doesn’t use his power as Bruce Wayne to get other people to figure out things for him. He dives into the crime scene alongside the police and investigators. He acts as both a detective and a consultant. He and Lieutenant James Gordon (portrayed by Jeffrey Wright) work as partners.
Halfway through watching the film, I leaned over to my sister and whispered, “Hey, you realize this is a buddy cop film, right?” Batman analyzes crime scenes and evidence, and his intellect to track a serial killer, the Riddler (portrayed by Paul Dano). His main assistance comes not from fancy gadgetry, but from Alfred Pennyworth (portrayed by Andy Serkis), who acts as an expert decoder for the Riddler’s ciphers.
Although the idea of a man dressed as a bat solving the riddles of a crazy guy in a green suit is laughable at the least, this film makes it feel very real. Even my dad, a seasoned investigator with FBI training, said this wasn’t just any ole’ superhero movie. It was a serial killer movie that displayed some realistic aspects of an actual investigation.
I want to address Batman as a hero. Many times when we think of real-life heroes, we think of the firefighter rescuing victims, the paramedic saving a life, or the law enforcer putting their life on the line. This Batman gave a portrayal that pays homage to these kinds of heroes.
In the final act of the film, the Riddler performs a terrorist attack on Gotham and floods the city. A group of city officials and citizens become trapped under debris, and it almost looks certain they will drown.
I was pleasantly surprised how Batman rescued them. He didn’t use fancy tools or perform some kind of impossible stunt to save them. Instead, he creates a path to free them and offers his hand to assist them out. Then, flare in hand like a torch, he provides light to lead them to safety.
The most part impressive of this rescue, however, is the aftermath. When the audience expects Batman to fly off into the night before sunrise like a vampire afraid of the sun, he stays with the victims. As dawn approaches, he compassionately supports a victim as she is strapped to an airlift. He reassures her that she is safe and it’s alright to go with the paramedics. To me, this was the most real part of the film. At that moment, it showed a very human moment of compassion and empathy.
A real hero empathizes with those he or she rescues and has the strength to display much-needed kindness and compassion. Batman narrates through this scene, revealing the true theme of this film: “Our scars can destroy us, even after the physical wounds have healed. But if we survive them, they can transform us. They can give us the power to endure, and the strength to fight.”
“[P]ower to endure, and the strength to fight.” That is the true message of this film. This quote resonated well with me. And I hope it does for others as well.
As always, here are a few aspects unrelated to the main topic that stand out to me. One of them being Catwoman. I enjoyed this Catwoman. She had a deeper motive driving her decisions. She’s always been my favorite chaotic-neutral character. This portrayal by Zoe Kravitz was driven by her need to help her friend and eventually avenge her. But even deeper still, all her motives drive from the dysfunctional relationship with her biological father, the crime lord Carmine Falcone, portrayed by John Turturro. I am no expert in psychoanalysis, but in terms of creative writing, the daughter with a negative father complex is a typical trope. The way it is done in this film is a refreshing change for Catwoman.
And finally, the Batmobile.
This is my favorite Batmobile.
Pretty much a 1960s Dodge Charger with a jet engine, nothing was going to dent that thing during its car chase with the Penguin. The most epic part of this film was when the Penguin, portrayed by Colin Farrell, laughs, “I got you (Batman), you freakin’ psycho,” after causing a fiery pile-up of semi-trucks to kill Batman. Then, out of flames, the Batmobile flies out and rams the Penguin’s car, sending it off into a roll. Although writing this out sounds completely ridiculous, it is done in a way that looks visually amazing. And storywise, it’s satisfying to see the Penguin get pummeled after all the irritating roadblocks he put in Batman’s investigation.
Now, for some things that could’ve used improvement.
Riddler’s missing bowler hat.
Yes, I truly missed this.
Maybe that’s a silly thing to miss, but I did.
I was entertained by the modernization of the Riddler into a serial killer/terrorist, but I still missed his classic style. I don’t think the costume change to his canvas mask changed the essence of his character that much, but the inner-child Batman fan in me was looking forward to seeing his suit and hat on the big screen.
And I wholeheartedly wished the editors and director chose to keep the deleted scene of Batman’s confrontation with the Joker. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it. Here’s the link to Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TuUM73wnYl8 .
This scene feels like a homage to The Silence of the Lambs; the investigator consulting a former serial killer to catch the new serial killer. Although some may feel that this scene would’ve distracted from the Riddler’s arch, I take a different perspective.
During my college years, working on a creative piece involving a serial killer, my dad recommended published papers that documented FBI investigators interviewing convicted serial killers, one of them being the very interview that inspired The Silence of the Lambs. This deleted scene in The Batman is a condensed version of these kinds of interviews and was insightful. Since Batman is an investigator in this adaptation, to me it seemed pretty legitimate that he would go to a killer like the Joker to help understand the thinking behind the Riddler, further adding a realistic spin to a fictional universe.
Overall, what do I think? For Batman fans, give it a fair watch and as my husband told me, you’ll love it. I think this adaptation gives a truer reflection of what the original DC–Detective Comics–went for. Another film I’ll happily add to my Batman marathon nights.
Thanks for reading. As always--enjoy life!