With director Matt Reeves’ version of Bruce Wayne returning as the world’s greatest detective in The Batman, fans are excited to see Robert Pattinson’s iteration of this iconic character engaging with his semi-forgotten detective roots.
Bruce Wayne is working through some growing pains, it’s his second year as Batman and his obsession with crime is getting borderline unhealthy. The Wayne that audiences are anticipating is more human than ever, having more in common with the downtrodden detectives of cinema than tights-wearing superheroes. Detective films as a genre offer a gritty outline to be stuffed with character and style by filmmakers, the films below practically burst, and there’s no doubt that Matt Reeves’ The Batman will do the same.
The Big Sleep (1946) – Rent From Apple TV
There’s a certain shell that casts over detectives in cinema, a generally cool, sometimes glancing shell that betrays little emotion except for a wry smile. This type of performance can be traced back to the first, and best adaptation of Raymond Chandler’s iconic detective Philip Marlowe in The Big Sleep.
The Big Sleep is in many ways one of the truest examples of the film noir genre, a genre that casts many shadows in the relationship of Batman and the femme-fatale figure of Catwoman – announced to be in the upcoming movie. The parallels between the detective of this film and Batman are not purely generic, however, with an equal sense of dutiful isolation and an obsession with justice, both characters at points are drawn out of these self-imposed exiles, oftentimes with devastating results.
Seven (1995) – Stream On Peacock
Showcasing a world as dark and corrupt as Gotham itself, Seven is regarded as one of the bleakest examples of detective-led cinema and one of David Fincher’s most successful movies at the box office. Starring Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman on a search for a serial killer that murders for each of Christianity’s seven deadly sins.
Symbolism, mania, and brutality hide behind the motivations of the antagonist of this film, reminiscent of multiple Batman villains. The detectives face a dark world in Seven, and Morgan Freeman’s final recounting of an Ernest Hemingway quote could have been ripped right from The Dark Knight itself: “’The world is a fine place, and worth fighting for’… I agree with the second part.”
Prisoners (2013) – Stream On Hulu
In Prisoners, audiences see the levels to which desperation can plague a character’s psyche, following a father willing to cross any line, legal or moral, to get his daughter back. Paralleling him is detective Loki, a passionate detective keeping his own frustration on a tether – one that’s beginning to fray.
The questionings of morality and the sense of bleakness within Prisoners is what makes it so reminiscent of the Batman universe, as well as portraying how quickly a good man can be pushed to madness by an unfair world – much like Two-Face in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight.
Blade Runner (1982) – Stream on HBO Max
Often questioning notions of identity, Blade Runner was a neo-noir detective thriller that placed a retired detective on a journey that threatened to either enlighten him or destroy him. With a Blade Runner TV show recently confirmed, it’s a good time to get familiarised with the franchise.
Deckard’s general clumsiness in this film is part of what grounds him as such a believable detective, often missing shots or getting injured, he’s not the flawless character audiences might expect from a science fiction film. Deckard’s haplessness will likely come to my mind upon seeing Robert Pattinson’s freshness to crime-fighting, with both detectives utilizing their creativity more so than their inherent aptitude.
Shutter Island (2010) – Stream On Hulu
Nothing is as it seems on Shutter Island, and the decaying mental state of its protagonist is equated well by the increasingly harrowing environments which Marshal Teddy Daniels moves through, from a mental hospital to a sinister lighthouse to a cliff-side cave.
At the heart of Shutter Island is an immense tragedy, one that Teddy will do anything to shroud, creating elaborate plots or motivations that allow him to ignore the reality of his history. Similarly, Bruce Wayne’s Batman is often thought of as a kind of shield for which he can protect himself from the truth of his own tragedy, creating a character that can face problems Bruce himself could not.
Red Dragon (2002) – Stream On Hulu
A prequel to The Silence of the Lambs, Red Dragon is more of a traditional detective film than the original film it’s derived from, adding a slew of additional twists and turns whilst shedding none of the horrors.
The emotional complexity of Red Dragon and the degrees to which psychology is employed as both a weapon and a vulnerability is what makes this film a standout. Many forget how well versed in criminology Bruce Wayne is, with some of the original comic books referencing his completion of the FBI academy program. In another life perhaps, Bruce Wayne could have been the FBI agent at the center of this film, tasked with entrapping a brutal serial killer using a badge, as opposed to his fists.
Mystic River (2003) – Stream On HBO Max
A compassionate look into the significance of community, Mystic River is a heart-breaking detective film that shows the potential horrors created when acting outside the law in pursuit of justice.
Detective work isn’t easy, sometimes there is a reason for procedure and papers, and sometimes there isn’t time. With Batman’s steadfastness, there’s rarely time for evidence, only time for exacting his vision of justice. Mystic River stops to ask the question of just how accurate that vision has to be.
Zodiac (2007) – Rent From Pluto TV
Demonstrating how addictive and all-consuming a mystery can become, discovering the identity of the Zodiac killer drives an unusual detective duo to frantic obsession. A cartoonist and a crime reporter may not seem like an investigative powerhouse, but that’s exactly what makes Zodiac great.
The real-life Zodiac case was infamous for how much it involved the community’s help in searching for the killer, even publishing the killer’s codes in national newspapers in the hope of solving them. The Zodiac killer, for better or worse, has become so recognizable that the upcoming Riddler will be inspired by him, a choice that has ironically led to the Riddler’s new costume being laughed at.
Sherlock Holmes (2009) – Rent From Tubi
The most famous detective in literature has had more than a few on-screen adaptations, with some borderline flamboyant and some deeply reserved. But the essence of Sherlock Holmes is truly in his mind, not his person, and that’s what Guy Ritchie’s spin on the Victorian detective presented so well.
Sherlock always thinks on his feet, adapting to overwhelming odds with either a gadget of his own design or simply, logical reasoning. A pioneer of forensic evidence specifically, a lot of what made Sherlock such a fantastic detective has bled into the character of Batman today. What’s still up for debate, however, is whether the pair match up in terms of financial backing, as fans are still not really sure whether or not Sherlock Holmes is rich.
No Country For Old Men (2007) – Stream On HBO Max, Hulu
A cat-and-mouse game with two cats and one mouse, this Coen Brothers classic has all the makings of a great detective movie – despite not being immediately recognizable as that genre of movie.
No Country for Old Men tackles themes of death, morality, and free will. It employs the concepts of chance and chaos as a counterpoint to all that is rational or ethical, a similar position to that which The Joker permanently occupies against Batman. A recently revived character that audiences are very much anticipating the appearance of in the upcoming film, it’s possible the tortured clown may be gracing cinema screens soon.
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