Ian Thomas Malone

batman Archive



March 2022



The Batman honors The Dark Knight’s humble origins as The World’s Greatest Detective

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Batman has earned his fair share of nicknames since his 1939 debut. Film has made plenty of time for the parts of Bruce Wayne’s persona that fit monikers like “The Caped Crusader” or “The Dark Knight,” but cinematic depictions of Batman rarely center on the work that earned him the title of “The World’s Greatest Detective.” DC Comics itself owes its name to the impact of its flagship title, Detective Comics, where Gotham’s first son cut his teeth on procedural work rather than punching matches with superpowered villains.

Director Matt Reeves finally provides Batman with a noir mystery fit for the man’s reputation. A Halloween-themed series of murders by The Riddler (Paul Dano) leaves a trail of clues for Batman (Robert Pattinson) and James Gordon (Jeffrey Wright) to follow, hoping to foil the puzzle master’s grander ambitions.  The Riddler sets his sights on Gotham’s elite, hoping to snuff out of the corruption of Gotham’s political institutions and police department at the hands of organized crime, particularly Carmine Falcone (John Turturo) and his right-hand man Oswald Cobblepot (Colin Farrell), better known as The Penguin.

The world does not need another Batman origin story, but Reeves breathes so much life into the early days of the Detective’s early career. Set about two years into his mission, Pattinson’s Bruce Wayne is not the “billionaire playboy” often depicted on screen. Bruce is hardly much of a person at all, a shell of a man struggling to find his identity outside of the costume, much to the chagrin of his butler and confidant Alfred Pennyworth (Andy Serkis).

Reeves strikes closer to the core of Batman’s ethos than any other live-action depiction, a noir mystery ripe for Gotham’s murky confines. Bruce Wayne lives his life based on a vow he made in the wake of unimaginable horror, before he was even a teenager. There’s a certain absurdity to that reality that Batman films are reluctant to explore. Batman is not someone to idolize, forever doomed to his unwinnable war against crime. He is less a hero than an addict.

Pattinson puts forth an absolutely delicious performance. Carrying the weight of uncertainty that hangs over most thirty-somethings trying to find their places in the world, his Bruce chases the high of crime-fighting while slowly grappling with the reality that life cannot be sustained by mere thrills alone. While the film offers Selina Kyle (Zoe Kravitz) as a potential romantic interest, Batman’s true love in the film is James Gordon, the sole cop to buy into his vigilante mission, not yet the commissioner that Gotham needs him to be.

The film moves with a breezy pace through an overstuffed 176-minute runtime. While Farrell and Turturo make the most of limited screen time to establish their mob underworld, Kravitz barely gets a chance to make her mark as Catwoman, lacking Kyle’s signature suave sense of confidence. While Reeves is clearly saving some powder for future sequels, the third act is far too lackadaisical in its delivery, excessively circling the runway before the credits finally roll.

While all of the principals deliver top-notch performances, Dano’s Riddler begs for a larger piece of the pie than Reeves is ever willing to offer. The overstuffed cast of villains denies its meatiest player much of a role, an interesting take on the idea of less being more. Dano absolutely crushes every single second of his screen time. Batman villains are often defined by excess, but Dano delights in a minimalist take that finds genuine terror in his grounded reflection of reality.

The Batman is a triumph for comic book diehards. Reeves treats his source material with such obvious affection. His depiction of Gotham isn’t quite as cartoonish as Burton’s beautiful sets, nor overly reflective of the real world like Nolan’s. Reeves’ Gotham has a distinct sense of ugliness to its grit, the kind of careful consideration that colorists strive to maintain on each page. There is no “singular” take on Batman, whether on screen or in the comics, but Reeves is clearly striving to be counted among the many artists who have built up Detective Comics over its more than one thousand issues.

Bruce Wayne forever tries to hide his own vulnerability, while never really growing out of the child who watched his own parents’ murder in Crime Alley. Pattinson wears that anguish with every expression, a rare sensitivity sheathed from most leading men in blockbuster films. The world could use with more vulnerability from its costumed adventures. The Batman is a powerful show of force for the genre, displaying the artistic heights one can achieve when deviating from the cookie-cutter formula. You don’t need a shared universe, not when there’s a perfectly good story to soak up the runtime.



September 2021



Film Retrospective: Birdman

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Few film narratives operate quite so symbiotically with their stars as Birdman (or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance). It’s pretty impossible to imagine Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s black comedy working at all without Michael Keaton in the lead role. Crafted in the early days of the modern box office takeover by the superhero genre, the film manages to examine the effect of capes and tights on its stars’ sense of ego without looking down on those who fuel their popularity.

Riggan Thomson (Keaton) is not a particularly good man, forever haunted by an internal voice that manifests itself in the form of his most famous character. The entirety of Riggan’s public legacy can be summarized in that one single word. Birdman. A life defined by three blockbuster popcorn flicks.

Riggan seeks to seize control of his own narrative through a stage production of a Raymon Carver short story, financing the project in addition to starring and directing. The theatre world has its own collection of neurotic egos, none more tedious than famed method actor Mike Shiner (Edward Norton), the boyfriend of lead actress Lesley (Naomi Watts) brought in as a replacement after an accident incapacitated the original actor.

Iñárritu and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki both won Academy Awards for their efforts in shaping Birdman’s unique aesthetic, which gives the appearance that the entire 119-minute feature was recorded in a single take. Iñárritu has a keen sense for the claustrophobia and loneliness of theatre life, small crews sequestered from the madness of downtown Manhattan all around them. While most of the narrative takes place indoors, the film uses the city wisely to capture its gravitational pull on the stars in its orbit.

While the film’s technical prowess gives the audience much to digest from scene to scene, Birdman largely succeeds on the strength of its cast. Keaton gives the best performance of his career, eliciting ample sympathy for the fairly odious Riggan. On the surface level, the two have a bit in common, both known by the public at large for their superhero franchise work. Keaton isn’t keen to coast off his well-deserved reputation, instead transporting the audience into the mind of a man grappling with his own crumbling ego.

Riggan is not Michael Keaton, but the character can’t exist outside the aura of a man who Hollywood never truly trusted as a lead talent, writing him off as a comedic actor when directors such as Tim Burton and John Hughes first saw the genius of his abilities. To some extent, it can be tedious to listen to a big name talent whine about their conflicted sense of perception, with 99% of actors never even coming near that level of fame. It is hard to listen to Riggan speak about being forgotten without feeling compassion for the man. No one wants to be forgotten.

Iñárritu does not spend much time talking about what the superhero genre has done to the industry, but his few bits of wisdom hold up in the years since 2014 even as the environment has evolved. Films like Birdman have a harder time breaking through well before the pandemic changed the way we engage with the medium. Riggan’s inner-Birdman voice isn’t inherently misguided in lobbying for him to return to the cape. The public wants the cape.

Keaton himself has returned to the superhero genre twice since Birdman’s release, first in 2017’s Spider-Man: Homecoming and next in 2022’s upcoming The Flash, where he’s set to reprise his role as Batman for the first time in thirty years. While Riggan resisted the allure to return to the role that put him on the map, Keaton demonstrates no such inhibitions.

The superhero genre has permeated into more of the public consciousness than even Birdman could have predicted in 2014. Black Panther was nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards just four years after the former took home the top prize. Joaquin Phoenix won Best Actor at the following year’s ceremonies for The Joker, further solidifying the comic book villain’s status as an awards show kingmaker. The 2021 Emmy Awards saw Wandavision competing for Best Drama, a far cry from the days when so-called prestige dramas ruled the world.

This reality has fundamentally changed the way we look at Birdman, particularly the relationship between Keaton and Norton. Within the film, Riggan envies Shiner’s ability to generate publicity, revered for his outlandish behavior operating under the guise of “method acting.” Shiner is everything Riggan wants to be, above all else, respected.

Like Keaton, Norton has a history in the superhero genre, starring in 2008’s The Incredible Hulk. Norton’s Bruce Banner remains the most high-profile recasting case in the history of the MCU. Even putting Keaton’s subsequent superhero work aside, it’s hard to line up their post-Birdman filmographies and not give him the upper hand over Norton in terms of career success. Just as audiences initially went into Birdman thinking of Keaton’s past with Batman, it’s hard to revisit the film without thinking of Norton and Keaton’s inverted fortunes as of late.

If there’s one primary flaw of Birdman, it’s that the film didn’t heed its own advice with regard to its ending. An early scene between Riggan and Shiner showed the latter urging some script revisions, arguing redundancies in the former’s prose. The same does hold true for Iñárritu, who crafts a climax that repeats itself multiple times through a few unnecessary closing scenes.

Iñárritu’s work is a rich film to revisit. Keaton’s scenes don’t carry the same sense of melancholy as they once possessed, a reality manifested to existence by the film itself. Birdman isn’t just a case of art imitating life, but art changing the realities of the industry. Hollywood’s obsession with sequels and nostalgia make it likely that we would have seen Keaton as Batman again, even without Birdman, but Iñárritu’s film makes the prospect all the more satisfying. Doctor Manhattan’s seminal lines in the closing pages of Watchmen come to mind. Nothing ever ends. 



August 2019



Balancing a Large Roster of Villains, Batman: Hush Offers an Entertaining Mystery

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Like its source material, Batman: Hush has a lot of characters to juggle, featuring many of the Caped Crusader’s most well-known foes. Adapting the popular story arc presents many challenges for a film with a run time of just under ninety minutes, throwing everything and the kitchen sink at its audience. Juggling its many pieces quite well, Batman: Hush is another strong showing for the DC Animated Movie Universe.

The basic plot follows Bruce Wayne’s relationships with Selina Kyle, aka Catwoman, and childhood friend Thomas Elliot as he attempts to take a night off from crime-fighting. A recent crime wave makes a vacation impossible, leading to a nasty fall for the Dark Knight. An effort to get to the bottom of the chaos leads Batman to a mysterious figure called Hush, who seems to know far too much about Bruce’s identity.

True to its hero’s roots, Hush has the feel of a detective story, with mystery lurking at every turn. The pacing is top-notch, introducing plenty of villains quickly without making anything feel rushed. The quick runtime leads to some plot points being cut, but the film covers quite a bit of ground. Perhaps most impressive was the way it manages to include Superman without making the whole sequence feel like sensory overload.

Much of the film, particularly the relationship between Wayne and Kyle, serves as a broader commentary on prevalent themes throughout Batman’s long and storied history. There is a certain challenge presented in even attempting to explore the idea of Wayne settling down, as the audience knows this won’t happen, but the film manages to explore this dynamic with grace. It’s easy to get lost in lore that’s been around for decades, but Hush never bites off more than it can chew.

As expected, the voice cast is spectacular. Jason O’Mara plays a nuanced Batman, working well off Jennifer Morrison’s Catwoman. There are perhaps points where you wonder how Kyle doesn’t recognize Bruce’s voice in the suit, but the suspension of disbelief has often asked this of superhero films.

While the film juggles its many villains quite well, Batman’s sidekicks look a bit superfluous throughout Hush. Batgirl is largely reduced to a cameo, but the film never seems quite sure what to do with Nightwing, who’s consistently present without being particularly important. Seeing the two on the sidelines isn’t a particularly big deal, but their presence is a bit distracting relative to their roles in the narrative.

Batman: Hush is a very fun film that explores the franchise without ever feeling like a “greatest hits” piece. The large cast of villains serves their purpose, aiding to the well-crafted detective story. The film possesses an introspective lens without relying on nostalgia for emotional resonance. As summer winds down, Hush is the perfect comfort food for fans of the franchise, full of warm feelings that remind you why people still care about Bruce Wayne.




December 2017



A Look at the State of the DCEU

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The DC Extended Universe is a mess. Four of the five films released have been critical bombs, and the relatively disappointing box office gross for the Justice League suggests that fans are beginning to sour on the idea of paying exorbitant ticket prices for a subpar product. While the dark and gloomy tones of the Snyder directed efforts seem to match the general mood toward this disaster of a franchise, there is plenty of reason for optimism. Believe it or not, things are not as dour as the tone of these movies might suggest.

This franchise can be fixed with two simple changes. Warner Bros. needs to send Ben Affleck away and cease all future collaborations with Zack Snyder. This should have been done last year after the utter disaster that was Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, yet for some reason, both appear to still be involved with the franchise. Affleck is set to reprise his role as the Caped Crusader in the upcoming Flash movie, possibly for the final time, even though he’s given up directing the solo Batman film and likely won’t even appear in it.

Ben Affleck has the rare superhuman ability to communicate his unhappiness for playing Batman wherever he goes. Rumors surrounding his departure from the role have generated substantially more publicity for the franchise than any positive feedback for his performance, though to be fair, there’s been very little praise for the somber crusader. Sadness is not a trait we tend to expect from actors playing superheroes. Playing Batman makes him sad. It appears to make the audience sad too. Life is too short to be sad during a Batman movie.

Recasting Batman mid-franchise is not as daunting as it seems. It has been done before. Batman Forever and Batman & Robin may have been terrible, but as good as Michael Keaton was in the Tim Burton films, Val Kilmer & George Clooney are hardly to blame for the failure of their movies. Mark Ruffalo replaced Edward Norton in the MCU without ruining The Avengers. Prior to Pierce Brosnan’s casting as James Bond, each changing of the guard occurred two years after the previous movie’s release. The notion of recasting roles like Wolverine and Iron Man is complicated by the fact that both characters rose in popularity in tandem with the actors who played them.

The solution is simple. Insert a new Batman before the new Flash movie, preferably without a mustache that needs to be removed via CGI, and carry on with the movie. It isn’t inconsistent to have a new Batman. It would be better because presumably, this Batman would enjoy playing Batman. The DCEU would be wise to rip the gross moldy band-aid that is Ben Affleck off its franchise as soon as possible. No one will miss him.

Zack Snyder constructed the DCEU as a solemn place without joy. Superhero movies don’t need to all be as funny as Guardians of the Galaxy or Thor: Ragnarok, but Man of Steel and Batman v. Superman were dark for the sake of being dark, unlike the Burton incarnations which offered a picturesque world where the aesthetics fit in line with the template offered by Batman writers such as Alan Moore and Frank Miller. I say that as someone who loved Snyder’s take on Moore’s Watchmen, though more for the stellar casting that the adaptations’ faithfulness to its source material, which was likely too tall an order for a single movie. I don’t wish to rag on Snyder, whose family has endured an unimaginable tragedy, but his style of filmmaking was not particularly conducive to world building for a major franchise.

We live in a world where superhero movies no longer solely serve their own interests. There’s always the next movie to start building toward, leaving the conclusion incomplete often at the expense of the narrative that the audience paid to watch. Wonder Woman’s largely self-contained story demonstrated the power that these films can have if they focus their attention on being movies. Being entertaining is often the best way to build excitement for future incarnations. Batman v. Superman and Suicide Squad spent far too much time spinning their wheels in the introductory phase that they forgot to deliver actual entertainment.

Despite its incoherence, Justice League had a few things going for it. Gal Gadot continued being the best thing that ever happened to the DCEU and Ezra Miller, Jason Mamoa, and Ray Fisher were all delightful to watch, even if the latter’s backstory was rather half-baked. The idea that Batman and Superman are the two weakest links on the team is actually good news. They can be fixed without missing a beat, as the audience is already familiar with them. Fortunately, the man of steel’s problems are much more narrowly confined to matters of digitally removed facial hair. Henry Cavill is actually a pretty decent Superman. If he’s a little stiff, well, that’s kind of the problem with a character that powerful.

The DCEU is off to a rough start, but the franchise has enough things going for it to right the ship. It does have more than a few compelling characters. A massive connected universe can be a fun asset, but the MCU never succeeds based on the ability of one of its films to relate to another. People don’t sit and watch Captain America: Winter Soldier wondering how the film set up Marvel’s Runaways. The Arrowverse has managed to navigate this web quite well, offering team-ups and crossovers that don’t require a person to sit and watch all four series each week. For some reason, the DCEU looked at that template, and decided to plot an alternative course. 

One of the best things that the Arrowverse has going for it is that its cast genuinely seems to like being there. Talent like Stephen Amell, Grant Gustin, and Melissa Benoist speak with enthusiasm about their work in a way that never forces one to question how much they enjoy this line of work. Sad Ben Affleck could use some pointers on that front, though after failing to play compelling superheroes twice now, maybe he should just hang up the tights. No part of this massively connected franchise will miss him.