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How The Batman Will Change The Comic Book Movie Genre

If box office gross is anything to go by, Disney's Marvel Cinematic Universe has increasingly shaped the tone and aesthetic of superhero movies more and more since Iron Man came out in 2008. Most Marvel movies are fixated on big CGI spectacle, bright colors, and smart characters with biting wit and charm who appeal to an all-ages market.

There have been outliers, to be sure. Ryan Reynolds and Deadpool taught us that hard R-rated comedies could operate in the superhero space. Logan told a tight, low-budget story that grounded previous X-Men movies in a more real and desperate world.

Still, even the DCEU, whose Man of Steel started out with a Superman who kills, eventually adapted a more sunny, Disney-like disposition starting with Wonder Woman, Aquaman, and Shazam! Joker broke through that happy smile with a much more killer grin, but it was, at the time, treated as a stand-alone.

Enter The Batman, DC's latest effort to bring the Dark Knight to the big screen. Could the Matt Reeves-directed picture strike a new balance and craft an alternate bridge forward for comic book movies? Jeffrey Wright, who plays Jim Gordon in The Batman, seems to think so.

The Batman builds a more grounded Gotham

In an interview on Sirius XM's The Jess Cagle Show, Wright spoke with Cagle and co-host Julia Cunningham about why he was so excited to be part of The Batman and why he's even more excited for people to see it. "We have an opportunity," says Wright. "Comic book films have sucked a lot of oxygen from the cinematic room. But with Batman we have an opportunity to use all of the trappings of that genre to explore some things in an American city through a lens of crime, corruption that are really grounded and relevant and interesting. So, the detective work there is an exploration of Gotham but it also becomes an exploration of a city very much like New York City."

Wright is likely alluding to the cultural conversation Martin Scorsese reignited back in October 2019 when he spoke with The Guardian and declared that Marvel movies weren't "cinema," but rather more akin to "theme parks." The debate over the validity of Scorsese's statements and over the impact of superhero movies on cinema in general was a pretty big conversation back when we all still went to the movies regularly. One COVID-19 pandemic later, however, and the simple reality is that the cinematic landscape has, if not been wiped clean, then at least had the crumbs brushed off, meaning there's a potential opportunity for a shift.

Even the The Batman's Batmobile is more realistic

Wright is excited about more than just "opportunities" though — he's excited about getting to the root of good Batman storytelling.

"You go back to the original, it's DC, it's Detective Comics and the script is really beholden to that, beholden to this idea that Batman is the world's greatest detective," says Wright. "I think as Gary Oldman once described, Gordon has something of a Watson to him. The script honors that and it also set a tone that was very clear, and a tone that has been captured in that trailer."

One way Wright sees the grounding of The Batman story is in an unlikely place: The Batmobile. "I think one of the aspects of the script that I was really stoked about was the Batmobile," says Wright. "The way it was described, it was described as this kind of retro hyper, Hemi 5 muscle car that was just the craziest, coolest thing that you'd ever seen." That's more than fun for Wright, this take on Batman's wheels is about realism. "When I read that I said 'A-ha, yes' because what it was trying to achieve and what it does achieve, is to create an accessibility for our Gotham, a world that is tangible and grounded and very familiar reality but at the same time it's still fantastical, it's still tweaked, it's still arched but it's accessible," Wright explained.

Perhaps Wright's biggest statement regarding the trailer was about special effects, or the lack thereof. "I think if you look at the trailer, if I am not mistaken, there is not one CGI image in the entire thing. That's all photograph," Wright revealed. In a comic book landscape built around a digital landscape, The Batman's focus on the practical might make all the difference.