Bruce Wayne is at the center of every Batman story. After all, the guy is the Caped Crusader. Batman also has some of the most iconic rogues in comic book history, including the ever-popular Joker, Catwoman, and Riddler. One of Batman's most crucial characters, however, is often forgotten, especially when the Dark Knight journeys to the big screen. That character may not have a literal heartbeat, but it's the backbone and lifeblood of Batman. It's his biggest motivator, most difficult challenge, and is at the very heart of who he is from his very origin. We're talking about Gotham City, potentially the second-most important character in Batman lore, and one that is poised to finally get a real chance to shine in The Batman.
Every movie centered around Batman takes place in Gotham City. Despite this, the town that set Bruce Wayne on the path to become the vengeance-seeking vigilante keeping watch in the shadows and one of the most unique and interesting locations in all of comics in its own right, has seemed like a footnote for most filmmakers tackling Batman over the last couple of decades. Matt Reeves and The Batman are changing the narrative, bringing the pain, darkness, beauty, and existential suffering back to the place that Bruce Wayne calls home.
Gotham City is a town unlike any other. It's a city filled with futuristic ideals and technology, but at the same time finds itself stuck in the past. It's dark and moody, filled to the brim with gothic architecture, slimy docks, and mysterious alleyways. Gotham City is equal parts grimy and beautiful. Honestly, it's a bit terrifying looking a lot of the time. Every adjective used to describe Batman should also apply to Gotham City itself, which begs the question: Why does it always feel like an afterthought?
Tim Burton got it. The criminally underrated Gotham TV series got it, though it wasn't necessarily as established in the public eye as a live-action Batman movie. As far as the big screen goes, Gotham City hasn't felt like Gotham City for the last 30 years. Joel Schumacher filled Burton's dreary Gotham streets with color and campy pizazz. Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy used modern American cities like New York, Chicago, and Pittsburgh as stand-ins for his Gotham City. Zack Snyder largely followed suit.
None of that is to take away from the quality of Batman movie those filmmakers delivered, it's just that their focus was never on Gotham City as a character in its own right. That doesn't seem to be the case for The Batman. Reeves and his team clearly have their eyes set on a darker, more painful, more frighteningly accurate take on Gotham.
From the opening shot of The Batman's main trailer, it's easy to see that the entire city is being viewed through a different lens than we're used to seeing on the big screen. Reeves' focus on the film being a genuine detective story, rather than an action blockbuster, has allowed noir to take center stage. And this noir isn't just a genre or story structure. For The Batman, noir is a vibe, an entire way of existing. Take the first frame from the trailer. It's just a diner on the corner, nothing special. But it looks like it exists in some strange combination of Blade Runner and Chinatown. It's both ancient and futuristic, allowing you to feel like you've been there before but wonder if such a place could even exist.
That shot, like so many others throughout these trailers, shows The Batman's mastery of lighting and how the film uses it to create a more authentic Gotham City. There are several other shots from The Batman's various trailers that have already become iconic in the eyes of fans. Think about Batman and Catwoman standing over the Gotham skyline. Or machine gun fire showing a chilling Batman marching closer to his enemies. Or, my personal favorite, Batman lighting a flare in the sewer, showing off the horde following eerily behind him. In The Batman, light isn't used to illuminate or eliminate the shadows. It's instead used to highlight them, to bring them to life. The shadows, after all, are the real inhabitants of Gotham City.
Gotham is a town that wears its suffering on its sleeve. The city has seen so much over the years and it carries the weight of every violent crime committed in its streets. It has seen things that few could comprehend. No matter when or where or how you look at Gotham City, that pain should be transparent, dripping from every wall and crying out from every rooftop.
Again, Gotham a lot like Batman. Whether Bat or Bruce, the man is consistently suffering and stuck between who he wants to be and who he believes himself to be. Previous takes on the material have treated Gotham City more like Two-Face, depicting a city of crime and violence and night, making way for a bustling metropolis as soon as the sun rises. We know the evil is beneath the surface, but the city puts on an entirely different mask in the daylight. That's not who or what Gotham City is, and The Batman knows it.
Undoubtedly the most brightest, most "daytime" shot in all of the trailers for The Batman takes place at a memorial service, as Bruce Wayne gets out of his car. The sky is cloudy but still bright compared to the rest of the footage. There is no Bat and there are innocent citizens all around. There's a reason the one true day scene in the trailer takes place at a funeral. Gotham City is incapable of hiding its pain. The shadows can't be seen in the shot, but they can be felt in every pixel.
Gargoyles and cathedrals have always been staples of Gotham City because they're often associated with grief, suffering, and a place in desperate need of protection. There's not shortage of that imagery in any trailer, teaser, TV spot, or photo from The Batman we've seen to this point.0comments
Gotham City, like Batman, is built on trauma. Hiding that trauma goes against who the character is. That's the goal of their collective story. Both the city and the man are fighting back against that trauma and that pain, knowing that at any moment it could swallow them whole. We should see that when we look at Gotham, just as we do when we look at Bruce Wayne. In The Batman, it appears that Gotham City is finally getting the spotlight. And that light is going to show off every scar and terrible memory those brick walls and cobblestone streets have been trying so desperately to keep in the dark.
The Batman opens in theaters March 4th.