After significant delays and much anticipation, “The Batman,” has been released to theaters, much to the enjoyment of both moviegoers, and movie critics. Matt Reeves’ gritty and dark take on DC’s most famous superhero seems destined for plenty of 2022’s best movies of the year lists. One of the big questions that has been on every critic’s lips, aside from the normal, “is this movie good or bad” is the question: “is The Batman better than The Dark Knight?”
The Quad’s own Julian Frick brought this up in the end of their review of The Batman, where the author claimed that “The Batman” was much better than Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight.” With that same question that Frick touched on at the end of their review, I will try to objectively compare and contrast the two movies to answer the question of: “is ‘The Batman’ better than, or not as good as, ‘The Dark Knight’?”
Let’s start by looking at the performances
Both Nolan’s and Reeves’ films have pretty great all around performances from actors such as Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Garry Oldman, Aaron Eckhart and Michael Caine in “The Dark Knight,” and Robbert Pattison, Zoe Kravitz, Andy Serkis, Jeffrey Wright, Colin Farrell and Paul Dano in “The Batman.” While Bale’s performance as Bruce Wayne holds up to this day, I believe that Robbert Pattison’s performance as Batman feels more grounded in his personal journey in learning how to go beyond beating up thugs, becoming a symbol of hope for a better tomorrow that the Batman is supposed to be, becoming a better detective and becoming more disciplined instead of emotional.
In addition, any great story needs a good antagonist, and Paul Dano’s performance as The Riddler feels slightly more memorable than Heath Ledger’s performance as The Joker. For one, Dano’s performance is unique in that it doesn’t have to be compared to a slew of other performances as the famous riddle loving villain of DC’s comic franchise (sorry Jim Carrey).
Dano takes what was, up until this movie, a mostly goofy villain, and makes him into a dark and twisted force of violence and despair. “The Batman”’s take on the Riddler is something out of a crime thriller movie (Se7en, Zodiac, The Silence of the Lambs) where he is portrayed as a vilolent serial murder with a twisted vision and a warped sense of narcissism. Similar to Heath Ledger’s Joker, he is more like a terrorist by the end, but prior to that he is arguably more threatening because of his brutality and his perversion and exploitation of social media and livestreaming to communicate with Batman. In the end, I argue that The Batman ekes out with better displays of acting than The Dark Knight.
Aside from performances, what about the score? Narrative? Mise-en-scene? To elaborate, “The Batman”’s display of Gotham City feels much more dirty and gritty than Nolan’s film, and also feels reminiscent of Tim Burton’s Batman in its use of darkly-beautiful, towering, gothic architecture. Gotham feels cramped and dangerous, imposing in its chaotic mix of monolithic squalor, with even the more bougie neighborhoods feeling at least gloomy with the same gothic spires as seen in the funeral scene.
On the narrative, “The Batman” does a good job of showing Bruce Wayne still struggling with his new nocturnal life as the caped crusader. Throughout the film he is questioning why his tenure as the person that Gotham’s underworld has come to fear has only caused the city to become more violent and crime infested. He doesn’t have the same level of fiesse, as demonstrated in many fight scenes and also when he tries to “fly,” in an escape from the cops.
As he tries to uncover the mystery behind the Riddler, he is forced to reconcile that being “vengeance,” as he called in the movie by Selina Kyle, is hurting his ability to live as Bruce Wayne and grow beyond his self-loathing and honor his family’s legacy, as pointed out by Alfred time and time again. In contrast, “The Dark Knight” shows Bruce dealing with the consequences of his dogged war against the Gotham mob in the form of The Joker, a terrorist for hire that wants to destroy not just Batman, but also the faith Batman has in Gotham’s citizens as well as its major figures such as Jim Gorden and especially Harvey Dent.
As for which movie has the better narrative, I believe this also goes to “The Batman.” While “The Dark Night” is compelling for its narrative about the consequences of Batman’s actions in the escalation of his fight against the mob in the form of the Joker, and its ruminating on “dying a hero or living to see yourself become the villain,” The Batman has the better narrative as it directly deals with a question that critics have pointed out for years, which is how beating up thugs, a staple of what makes Batman Batman, is not enough to fix the corruption and strife that is systemic in Gotham, and showing Bruce struggling with his double-life, makes for a more compelling watch.
As for the two films scores: while composer Michael Giacchino direction of the score of “The Batman” makes great use of an intense and grundy soundtrack and booming crescendos, at the same time “The Dark Knight” feels epic and pulse-pounding thanks to the work of Hans Zimmer which draws you in both during fight scenes and slow dialogue segments. This aspect of comparing the two films could fairly be called a draw, as both are incredible to listen to.
For the final verdict, I argue that Matt Reeves’ “The Batman” just barely manages to top Nolan’s “The Dark Knight.” For years, “The Dark Knight” was the best superhero movie that was made, but the level of expert direction in terms of mise-en-scene, narrative, and performances broke that mold and has set a new standard for the superhero film genre.
Kelly Baker is an alumnus of West Chester University of Pennsylvania.