Matt Reeves’ 2022 film The Batman received immense praise for its gritty realism. This grounded super hero story is decidedly dark, clad in something closer to true crime than spandex. And for many Batman fans, it’s a reminder of one of the first Batman films to accomplish such an impressive feat: The Dark Knight.
The second installment in Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, The Dark Knight (2008) is full of capes and clowns. And there’s certainly nothing wrong with the super hero genre’s camp and melodrama. The Dark Knight, however, pulls characters and ideas from eye-popping panels to instead set them in the shadows.
Thus with a similar approach to storytelling and style, it’s difficult not to draw comparisons between the two DC Comics projects. Plus, both The Batman and The Dark Knight rank right at the top of Batman lovers’ favorite Batman films. So below we are diving right into some of these awesome parallels — plus some of the smaller ones that you might have missed.
This is perhaps the clearest parallel to draw between The Dark Knight and The Batman. Both films make a spectacle of this symbol. It’s shining above the sky as a warning to evildoers in Gotham City. In The Batman, Bruce has a broody monologue in which he calls himself a “nocturnal animal”. In The Dark Knight, various criminals refuse to operate when the Bat-Signal is light up in the sky. Despite being called superstitious, they all flee the scene before Batman can emerge out of the alley.
That bat symbol is as legendary as the hero himself. Each film uses the Bat-Signal as a connection between Batman and the GCPD. It also shines above Gotham City in order to inspire fear and hope alike. What matters is the perspective of the person looking up.
The Joker & The Riddler
In a move that’s getting more and more popular in super hero film and television, The Batman and The Dark Knight each open with our antagonist instead of our protagonist. The Dark Knight gives us The Joker as he orchestrates a bank heist. The Batman forces us to watch Gotham City through The Riddler’s eyes. In either instance, we are forced to consider a different perspective.
This accomplishes a couple different things. First, it heightens the tension of the film to begin with something a little scarier. Then it introduces the problem that the protagonist must now solve. Thus we’re already transported to the detective’s world without ever having to leave our seats.
Green is the color of life and growth. Yet when darkened, when given to a villain, this harmonious hue is far more indicative of greed, envy, and judgement. How fitting, then, that The Joker and The Riddler are both clad heavily in green. They are judging Gotham City — and they find it wanting.
But that’s not the only similarity between their costumes. Both men wear long coats. While their clothes fit, they hide their bodies completely. Additionally, they wear masks. The Batman’s Riddler has his duct tape, army surplus mask, and glasses. The Dark Knight’s Joker has his makeup. Yet he also wears a mask in his introduction as a bank robber. And when these villains’ goons are sent to do their bidding, they wear costumes to match their bosses because it makes them feel just as powerful.
Motivation and Execution
Although The Joker insists he has no motivation beyond anarchy, his targets are all Gotham elite or political figures. The Riddler purposefully targets these people (mayor, commissioner, etc.). Both men broadcast the city’s corruption to the world. These are intelligent villains with real capabilities. Their actions appeal to fringe types. And their infamy as serial killers is eerily similar to the way many people adore true crime.
Speaking of true crime — those video tapes of victims that are sent to the press are based off historical serial killers such as The Zodiac. The bomb threats, the hostage situations involving the sea, and sinister cyphers are all based on actual killers. While The Joker is more of a terrorist, and The Riddler would end up on a podcast, it’s worth noting that both characters are inspired by real people and events.
Jeffrey Wright and Gary Oldman play Jim Gordon rather similarly. He’s gruff, with a strong moral compass and compassion. The writers and directors of The Dark Knight and The Batman also share love for Jim Gordon. He is Batman’s closest ally. When other officers and the public mistrust the vigilante, Jim Gordon is there to light up the Bat-Signal.
These two DC films illustrate Jim Gordon as one of the only incorruptible people in Gotham. Perhaps this is why he earns Batman’s trust. Jim is a good man with a good heart. Finally, Batman won’t admit it, but he probably sees Jim as a friend. That’s a rare and important title to hold in the lonely Bat’s life.
Unlike his friendly relationship with Jim Gordon, Batman’s relationship with Gotham’s police force is rocky at best. In both The Dark Knight and The Batman, the GCPD begrudgingly work with the World’s Greatest Detective because Jim Gordon is in charge. Still, “official policy is to arrest the Batman on sight.” And there’s certainly little love from the GCPD in The Batman, where all the boys in blue surround Batman and try to remove his mask.
Additionally, Batman is pursued by the police for crimes he doesn’t commit. This comes at the end of The Dark Knight after a final confrontation with Harvey Dent / Two-Face whereas in The Batman, this breaking of trust happens closer to the middle of the movie. Both are vital scenes in understanding Batman’s estrangement from the rest of the world — and how his idea of justice will always operate in shades of grey.
Christian Bale and Robert Pattinson’s Batsuits are pretty different. The former is stiff and grandiose, while the latter is rough and almost has a homemade quality about it. The integrated Batarangs, however, are noteworthy. In The Dark Knight, Lucius Fox builds Batarangs into the wrist/arm gauntlets on Batman’s suit. In The Batman, a Batarang is magnetized in the center of the suit, functioning as both weapon and the super hero’s symbol.
Because both directors were going for a more realistic story, they found practical executions of comic book stunts. Batman has to fly, of course, but only in a way that is realistically achievable. Thus The Dark Knight experiments with military technology for Batman’s leap back into a moving aircraft. Similarly, The Batman demonstrates Batman utilizing an inflatable suit that might look silly, but allows him to glide over the Gotham City rooftops.
“You’re just a freak like me,” The Joker tells Batman in The Dark Knight. Likewise in The Batman, GCPD officers call the vigilante a freak and mock him for his Halloween costume. Both films remind us that Batman is more himself as a costumed hero than as the billionaire playboy Bruce Wayne. They also emphasize the prejudice Batman still faces even as someone who constantly saves the day. He’s Other. And in both films, Batman’s allies turn on him when he steps too far out of line.
If there’s a Batman movie formula, it states there must be an interrogation scene — and that that scene will be one of the standout scenes in the entire movie. In The Dark Knight, Batman interrogates The Joker about the location of Harvey Dent and Rachel Dawes. In The Batman, Batman grills The Riddler for the location of various bombs placed throughout Gotham City. Both versions of Batman think they are intimidating, and yet it’s the villain who has the upper hand by the end.
The thing that makes these scenes so interesting is the shift in power dynamics. During the interrogation scene in The Dark Knight, Batman starts the conversation confident. Eventually The Joker unravels him. Conversely, The Batman’s interrogation scene begins with Batman consumed by fear. He’s certain The Riddler has discovered his civilian identity. By the end he’s more confident, though The Riddler has still crawled too far under his skin. The Riddler is still in control. That’s amazing to see in two different interrogation scenes where the hero is surely supposed to master a situation involving a prisoner.
Did you catch all these similarities between The Batman and The Dark Knight? Did we miss any? Let us know in the comments, and don’t forget to Let Your Geek Sideshow!