For nearly twenty years, the Hollywood industry has been at the height of its persistence in wanting to franchise with all its might, with a recipe and a visual universe reproduced ad infinitum. In this context, seeing a blockbuster trying to think outside the box can reassure creative health on the other side of the Atlantic. Denis Villeneuve’s recent Dune, so imposing and so cold, was disconcerting. On the side of the comics, Joker seemed to trace a new road, that of DC continuing to differentiate itself from the colorful films of Marvel, almost ten years after a trilogy by Christopher Nolan which will have marked the spirits but, above all, intimidated his heirs. It was then that Matt Reeves’ fundamentally puzzling project landed, that of a film apart, like that of Todd Phillips, very anchored in reality, not deigning to tell the genesis of the character, with a new actor. After a dozen films, and almost as many cult authors and performers, was it still possible to tell a new Batman? Spoiler: Matt Reeves proves yes, in a masterful gesture. Batman is the character who, along with Spider-Man, has the most stories on paper, the most comic book titles, with different authors, different universes, different biases. A Darwyn Cooke will not have the same approach as a Frank Miller, an Alan Moore or even a Scott Snyder at all. If Burton and Nolan were inspired by certain titles, The Batman dives into them, whether with the intrigues or with the tone. We thus find a prince of Gotham having to learn everything from Year One, a real police investigation for the World’s Greatest Detective (an aspect which has, for once, always been set aside in the cinema), as in A Long Halloween, with an angry Batman always ready to give the blow too much like in Ego, and a Catwoman who is forced to infiltrate the underworld of Gotham like in The Last Heist. An inspiration that also has an eye on graphics. The photo of Greig Fraser, who had already raged on the sublime Dune (for which he even won an Oscar nomination), is the antithesis of Denis Villeneuve’s film: very dark, with relatively few variations of tones and colors. The director of photography has worked on his object as if it were black and white, playing with shadows, using diegetic lights to get closer to a naturalistic photograph. From the first minutes, we understand, thanks to the voiceover from Bruce Wayne’s diary, that his mere presence scares criminals. That knowing that Batman is on the prowl is enough to prevent crimes, even if he’s not in a corner. Because maybe he is, in the shadows. A brilliant idea, which illustrates the vagueness that surrounds this character. The fact that Batman has been acting for a short time, and especially in a hidden way, prevents anyone from fully understanding his role or his place. The police cannot bear to see him arrive at a crime scene. A man he has just protected from a gang will have as his first sentence: “Please don’t hit me”, not understanding that Bruce has just saved him. Only Commissioner Gordon has really grasped his intentions. The relationship between the two, perfectly summed up by the Penguin in the film in “good cop, bat shit”, constitutes a real duo of policemen as the seventh art loves them so much, central to so many comics. Only, does Batman really want the good? Not telling the genesis of the character avoids talking about what we all know – the death of the parents, the pearl necklace of Martha, the lonely childhood, the fall into the cellar full of bats, and so on – to get to the heart of the matter: what drove this “vigilante” from the start, who had been working for only two years? The first time we hear him speak, his very first line in the film is “I am revenge”. He is driven only by anger, is there to kick ass, and take revenge on life. The whole narrative arc around the character will be based on this reflection and the evolution of the path of his thought towards a form of abandonment of his deadly individualism.”Something in the Wayne”The intelligence of the scenario is to mix this heroic introspection at the heart of a police investigation. Detective work that will lead him to question his role, his place, but also his history, his heritage, and the past actions of his family, Thomas Wayne in mind. The Batman mythology cracks here for the first time, in front of Matt Reeves’ camera. show in public, an introvert who does not necessarily know how to discuss with others when he is not masked, and with a frankly naive vision of the world. His batcave consists of a garage and two computers on a table at the back attic of the house, where he is recluse. The playboy is dead, long live Kurt Cobain, which we hear through the sublime “Something in the Way”, a title written by the American singer while he was living under a bridge, fleeing family disputes. Even more than his way to see things about the place of the Batman in Gotham society, it is even his vulnerability that is highlighted throughout. Never have we seen Batman take so many beatings – except in a fight against Superman, which seems logical. Even if he is devilishly effective in combat, he eats slippers, gunshots. He bites. When he tries on his costume for the first time to fly away and flee from the roof of a building, we see him hesitant, realizing that it’s the first time he’s trying. This Batman means being human, like the aging Batman that we could see in The Dark Knight Rises, cane in hand. All the secondary characters serve to accentuate the flaws of the character. The Riddler comes to highlight the class difference between him and Bruce Wayne, where Selina Kyle comes to question his privileges, going so far as to question this idea that the trauma of Batman can justify his behavior as a vigilante passing above the law. This theme of overcoming mourning and its demons is dear to Reeves, and exploiting it here while casting doubts on the legitimacy of Batman’s fight is one of the great ideas of the film. Especially since all this is part of a broader, greater social and political critique. The investigation is therefore on a corruption case, but talks about so much more. It’s hard not to think of the takeover of the Capitol in early 2021 by Trump supporters in the last gesture of the film, incels with the figure of the Riddler, real disasters like Katrina… To accentuate his point, Reeves will draw on the thriller paranoid. The foreground is a true homage to the start of Secret Conversation – an assumed Reeves reference. The moral dilemmas, the notion of surveillance and this stressed mise-en-scène are typical of 1970s film noir (Pakula, Pollack, and more). The chases are reminiscent of The French Connection or Bullit. The atmosphere of the city and its dampness, the creepiness and its disturbingly staged murders, seem straight out of Seven. And his Riddler seems straight out of Zodiac. A referenced film, therefore, whose imagery will also draw on the side of horror, and erotic thriller. The Batman is not just a superhero film, it’s a film noir, assumed as such. However, it cannot be reduced to its references as it manages to find its own identity and to stand out from the weight of these. Thanks to sublime imagery, sharp staging, clever writing (despite a certain length), but also a cast where no one is short and disconcerting music – one of Giacchino’s most beautiful scores. A film of dizzying mastery, which will mark the history of superhero films with a red iron.
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