If there is one unequivocally good thing about 2020, it’s that 1990 is now exactly 30 years ago. Because mass media nostalgia famously operates in 30 year cycles – roughly, it’s more complicated than that – that means it’s ‘90s time, baby!
Trendsetters of the ‘10s took a few years to come around to explicitly packaging the ‘80s as a product to be sold, Warner Bros. and director Matt Reeves seem to be very aware that the ‘90s are going to be where it’s at in their new trailer for The Batman–
God, you can almost smell it.
The key signifier of The Batman’s ‘90s aesthetic is, of course, its use of Nirvana, that unmistakable sound of smoke-filled basements, swiftly emptying malls and jeans that are designed to look like they need to be replaced right off the rack. But between the color grading, apparent plot, permanent rainfall and even some of the particular shots, it looks like the movie as a whole is heavily inspired by David Fincher’s Seven, that classic distillation of ‘90s despair.
Batman himself is an icon of the ‘90s, at this point – the 1992-95 run of Batman: The Animated Series single-handedly turned comic books and children’s cartoons on their heads with its anachronistic Gotham City, harsh gothic imagery and mature storylines. The reds in The Batman’s marketing material evoke the crimson night sky of The Animated Series, and I can only assume Batman’s hokey declaration “I’m vengeance” is a deliberate callback to an even hokier but instantly iconic moment early in the series’ run. That series is also anchored in 30-year nostalgia, with heavy inspiration from Alfred Hitchcock, who was at the height of his popularity 30 years earlier in 1960, and a heavy art deco influence from the early 1910s.
With a character who is reinterpreted as often as Batman is, every new version is going to be a negotiation, a compromise between old and new elements, and the only thing you can really hope for is they strike that balance. Relative to the Christopher Nolan movies, in the shadow of which all DC movies still exist, they seem to have struck it here.
Where Nolan’s movies were set outside five years in the future, The Batman looks like it will be set indoors five years in the past. Batman himself looks much lower tech than he might – we get a good look at his boots at the 0:35 mark, and they look just as worn out as a decent pair of ‘90s jeans. The Batmobile has devolved from a military surplus tank to a Dodge Challenger with an engine strapped onto where the trunk should be. If Nolan’s Batman was gritty but still high-tech, this Batman is grimy and decidedly low-tech.
Nolan’s villains were armed with top-level military equipment, but Paul Dano’s Riddler appears to be armed only with duct tape. He’s straight out of Seven as well, the master criminal leaving notes to the police ostensibly to teach them a lesson, but he evokes more recent trends at the same time, particularly the Jigsaw Killer who haunted the ‘00s theaters, and his assertion of public lies and police corruption tie in to both the modern Black Lives Matter movement and Qanon conspiracies.
The choice of the Riddler and the Penguin – Collin Farrell in heavy prosthetics, appearing in a blink-and-you’ll-miss it shot at the 1:17 mark – is tied to recent history as well, as they were strongly rumored to be the villains of the third Nolan movie until Bane was announced. Serving underneath those rumors is the interpretation that minor characters Coleman Reese, the lawyer who deduces Batman’s secret identity, and John Daggett, the business rival who hires Bane, are that series’ representations of those two characters. Now, they look to be getting an earnest day in the Dark and Gritty sun of a post-Dark Knight Batman movie.
This is a well-cut teaser, and that’s much less exciting than it feels – even the worst movies can have well-cut teasers. But the more I watch this new animal, the more excited I am for more sound reasons, that the core ideas seem to be in place for a meaningfully different interpretation that is woven tightly into its moment in history.
The Batman is still in production, but is anticipated for Oct. 1, 2021.
Leopold Knopp is a UNT graduate. If you liked this post, you can donate to Reel Entropy here. Like Reel Entropy on Facebook and reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.