The Batman 4K Review: Darkness on Darkness in High Resolution
Warning: this review of The Batman 4K contains some spoilers.
Christopher Nolan must surely appreciate the Inception of it all. A Batman film inspired by The Crow, which in turn was inspired by Tim Burton’s Batman. The empty cathedral-like interiors of Wayne Manor, the emo-anime haircut on Robert Pattinson’s Bruce Wayne, the popular 1994 alt-rock band on the soundtrack, that ever-dark city, those artistically circular windows, even the runny eye makeup. David Fincher’s Se7en, which came out the year after The Crow, clearly informed Paul Dano’s portrayal of the Riddler — particularly in the notion of getting himself caught before the final act. But Alex Proyas evidently informed Matt Reeves’ sensibility just as much. Batman, however, doesn’t get to lose or die. So the trick The Batman had to pull was finding not just the happy, but the triumphant ending in all of this grime.
And somehow it does, though the disdain some folks have for the final sequence makes it seem like they missed the point. The Batman, begun pre-COVID, couldn’t possibly have anticipated the despair so many of us feel on the daily basis at the headlines, or the trepidation of even being out of the house, around people who might accidentally breathe a lifelong medical condition upon us. It might be nice if the bad people felt the darkness, instead of the regular folks. And that’s certainly what Bruce Wayne thinks at the beginning of the movie. He’s almost more Rorschach than Batman, hiding in plain sight in thrift-store clothes while compiling a journal about how rotten the city is. That Alan Moore intended Rorschach to show how awful a guy like Batman might come off in real life is not lost on any serious comic book fan at this point.
But Bruce is wrong, and it takes the villain to make him see it. Fighting fear with fear just leaves everyone afraid. Rescuing people and giving them hope actually changes the tone. And the color palette. It’s a subtle shift, but towards the end, the brown-and-black rust colors of cinematographer Greig Fraser’s lights have morphed into a more blue-and-gray scheme. One appropriate to the classic character even if he and his directors still insist on his donning all-black onscreen.
Not everyone can be Batman, and it may occur to viewers that the way Batman polices his allies’ methods is a counterproductive tactic in the real world. But Batman is, as he always has been, an aspirational symbol. If you are, at least by movie’s end, the perfect hero, be more perfect in your methods. Catwoman isn’t written off for being an attempted murderer…but in Batman’s light, she does seem vaguely inspired to do better by the time it’s all done.
When watching at home on a screen that doesn’t fill an entire field of vision, the viewer can more easily realize Reeves’ emphasis on the eyes. While he doesn’t literally create a device to make them glow like Nolan in The Dark Knight, he frequently focuses on the whites of Batman or the Riddler’s eyes as the primary points of light in a scene. In turn, Reeves has gifted us with two actors who make the most of that. Most Batman actors give lip-service, at least, to the notion that Bruce Wayne is the mask, and Batman the true self. But nobody’s literalized it quite like Pattinson, who exhibits a Botox-level frozen face as Bruce, and relaxation into knowing his peak form as Batman.
Paul Dano likewise lets his eyes dart all over the place when masked, but in his uncostumed state, they only ever light up with puppy love when he sees Batman. Typically, it’s Joker who is depicted as the Batman’s counterpart. But in this case, Riddler is actually delusional enough to think that Batman is on his side, until they essentially “break up,” and he cracks up.
The Batman‘s heavily black, brown, and dark color scheme likely flummoxed viewers in non-premium theaters where changing projection bulbs and cleanly screening things to proper specifications doesn’t place high on the priority list. This is what the 4K is for. Underlit yet thoroughly visible can make for a tough balance, but when viewed properly, Reeves and Fraser’s imagery does exactly that. It’s not full HDR — some moments of high-contrast, like Pattinson’s pale white face at the funeral scene against a murkier background, lose resolution. In terms of levels of blacks — and only in those terms — it’s no Sicario: Day of the Soldado. The Batman runs at 2160p with Dolby Atmos, and while it may never duplicate the sound that Batmobile engine made in Imax theater, vibrating seats and rattling teeth, it does an impressive approximation.
Matt Reeves doesn’t give a director’s commentary, but he’s so involved in the two hours of bonus features that it feels like he had. It’s always obvious exactly what he was thinking with most of the major choices. Agree or disagree, Reeves makes his reasoning clear. Also nice: the extras get their own separate disc. More of this when the budget allows, please.
Reeves does offer commentary on the two included deleted scenes. There’s that one Joker bit that has already been seen, and a moment of friendliness between Selina and the Penguin. In both cases, Reeves justifies in great detail the ways in which they expand his world, only to follow up by saying the information in them comes across in other places, and thus they had to go.
A fifty-ish minute documentary covers the making of the movie, including the COVID break and sad death of Andrew Jack, dialect coach. Some of it gets repeated in the other featurettes about the characters, costumes, cars, and themes, but not a whole lot. Reeves says everything on his mind, and Pattinson is refreshingly candid and non-trolling. We even get a look at the chemistry read between Pattinson and Zoe Kravitz. And in a spotlight on Penguin, moments with Colin Farrell in the makeup chair show him finding the character and starting to get a feel for it. It’s a reminder of just how much the actor disappears into his role, something his usually distinctive handsome features don’t always allow for.
Two “Anatomy of…” featurettes break down the car chase and the wingsuit scene. Fair warning here: these are broken down so well that they may spoil future viewings by demonstrating exactly how they were done. Which is exactly the sort of Film School 101 we used to expect from DVD extras, and rarely get any more. But let’s just say the King Kong 360 3D ride at Universal Studios isn’t so different from how some things are done on set.
Zack Snyder gets a shout out, the costume designer reveals his Adam West tribute in the film, and everyone credits Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One with inspiration. Although Dano also, correctly, took Riddler inspiration from Hush. And a longtime rumor gets debunked — the chest Bat-symbol is not made from Joe Chill’s gun. As for that flood at the end that not every reviewer felt down with? It’s meant as a metaphorical baptism and rebirth.
If it’s not as intensive as special edition discs once were, it’s nonetheless far more than the puffy press kit so many are now. The Batman‘s extras might actually teach aspiring filmmakers things they will need to know. Like the Riddler, Reeves assumes he’s speaking to the smart people.
Last year’s best superhero movie was a four-hour feature with Batman. This year, so far, The Batman is still in the lead. But the home package is a whole lot better.
Blu-ray/4K grade: 4.5/5
The Batman, currently available on digital, debuts on Blu-ray and 4K May 24.
Recommended Reading: Batman: The Long Halloween
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