To say that director Matt Reeves’s approach to the Batman character is scaled back would be an understatement, but this doesn’t come at the expense of audience expectations. The whole affair plays out across its walloping three-hour runtime like an acoustic cover of some of Batman’s greatest hits. The clever gadgets are present, but they’re not gimmicks; they are practical, accessible tools that make sense not only in the context of the narrative, but also in the context of the dirty, grimy version of Gotham City that Reeves has created, one rife with corruption and rotting from the inside. Even the iconic Batmobile makes an appearance in one of the movie’s most thrilling action sequences, but in Reeves’s capable hands it’s a rugged, applied, hand-built horsepower machine — when the engine thunders, the theater shakes. Part of what makes Reeves’s vision so compelling is the way he methodically reinvents these concepts that have become enmeshed in the popular imagination over the past century. This is undoubtedly and unashamedly a Batman film — for my money, the best adaptation yet — but it is Batman unlike we have ever seen him on the silver screen.
“I’m Vengeance” are the first words the Batman utters onscreen, and this is the best indicator for how this version of the character sees himself. In this film, those words become a brilliant starting point for his deconstruction of the character. And this is the character arc that Reeves gives Bruce Wayne here, the realization that violence, retribution, vengeance are all banal, are not enough to truly heal the putrid, festering heart of Gotham City. In fact, if the Batman does not come to stand for something more than vengeance, then he is only perpetuating the endless cycle of violence corroding Gotham’s soul. This is a noir, after all, the film genre that excels in making the whitest of whites look a little gray. There are no “good guys” in film noir, and everyone in some way, shape, or form is morally compromised. A film that begins with Batman stalking a gang of thugs and beating them to a bloody pulp ends with this same dark figure carrying an injured little girl to safety in the light of dawn. Bruce’s voiceover narration — a staple of the noir genre — explains that the Batman must become more than a symbol of vengeance and retribution if Gotham is to recover. He can no longer stand for revenge alone, but his true calling must instead be as a symbol of courage and hope. The unfortunate reality is that, by and large, this is a film that will be ignored by most Christians due less to its content than its tone. Because the modern American church has become ensnared by the quaint but sinister trappings of sentimentality, which promise goodness without context, atonement without sacrifice.
**Editor’s Note: This article contains spoilers for The Batman.**
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