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Review: The Art of The Batman by James Field [Abrams Books]

If there was ever a filmmaker ready to dowse us in the darkest secrets and depths of Gotham City, I had an inkling that Matt Reeves and his version of Batman would thrive within the rain-soaked, crime-ridden streets, and even more faith grew when he brought together a stellar production team. Reeves’ knows a thing or two about gritty-action-realism, especially when you consider his work on the likes of War for the Planet of the Apes and Cloverfield, those two mentioned for their knack of delving into the mire and chaos of the worlds they concocted.

The Batman really was an enjoyable escape, with Robert Pattinson leading the way within a huge set of famous characters coming to life. While many Batman follow-ups have consequentially lacked the nuance to balance out that comic-book world, here we returned to that welcome touch of realism and something different in all the best ways.

For me, Batman like this isn’t a surprise but it’s a welcome take on the many sides we’ve seen of the Dark Knight in the comics. Sure, you can go all the way back to Adam West, but my personal generation is deeper than that, with Christopher Nolan’s trilogy really setting the scene and Batman Begins shifting the comic book world of movies and expectations, of course inspired by Tim Burton’s 1989 outing as well, in the film world anyway.

Written by James Field, The Art of The Batman breaks down so many intriguing moments and decisions of the film-making process. As you’d hope. With a forward from Director Matt Reeves, he mentions that although he started with the original Batman series, he was a kid and so you don’t really see the comic elements, it’s just about a caped crusader fighting for justice and I can definitely appreciate that, despite my preferred ‘Bat’ being the ones of my adulthood. He also offers an important reminder, Batman isn’t really a superhero, he’s really looking for meaning in his life, for balance, for progression and change.

The introduction also gives us an important reminder of narrative and if, by some odd chance, you haven’t seen the film yet, then probably don’t continue reading (or read our film review) because the story at the centre is Bruce Wayne/Batman unknowingly uncovering a story that refers to his origins and connects parts, for all his detective nature, that he just wasn’t expecting. This is cleverly played out, and it’s a testament to eighty years of a character who we can still breakdown and reinvent, but with strength. The intro also talks about all the influences on this film, and there’s been some stellar work to feed from, especially in the last 30 years.

James Field’s book is broken down into sections, giving us full access to both the process of the creation of character, through designs and onto concept art and real intricate details. Kicking off The Batman – or Vengeance in this story, we deep dive into Justice (The Riddler), Honor (James Gordon), Retribution (Selina Kyle), Power (Falcone and The Penguin), Despair (Gotham City) and then finally Hope – The Need for a Hero.

Absolutely packed to the dark-bat-riddled-rafters with concept art for the film, and more than a little influence from David Mazzucchelli’s Batman: Year One artwork (and Tim Sale’s Batman: The Long Halloween), we get to hear from the likes of Jamie Wilkinson, who was the Props & Weapons Master, on the Batgadgets that are part and parcel of our character – and how they work. Reeves and James Chinlund‘s (Production Designer) insight on the build of the Batmobile, all alongside original concept sketches, plus Glyn Dillon‘s costume work – which is particularly fascinating when discussing new ideas for getting the balance of the suit right, and how to implement the classic insignia, for just a couple of examples.

In truth, I’ll barely scratch the surface but offer you a little slice of the action! Just enjoy Laura Dishington‘s work with the Riddler, and her incredible graphic design throughout, there’s Jacqueline Durran‘s costume design, and the continual collaboration with all the actors including Paul Dano and Zoe Kravitz – and there has to be a mention for a transformative and unrecognisable Colin Farrell in the mix.

For me, this is pure filmmaking. Sure, it might have a great budget from Warner Bros and DC, but they’re doing it right. This remarkable production team are a huge part of what makes The Batman, as a spectacle and a piece of artwork, really come to life onscreen, and I haven’t even mentioned Greig Fraser‘s iconic cinematography until now, because he’s a personal favourite of mine – who’s also behind the visuals on the likes of Let Me In, Zero Dark Thirty and Dune. I mention these because film and the frame are very much my bag.

The Art of The Batman offers a wealth of proof over the epic amount of work that went into creating this film, and that’s why we’re all so satisfied with the outcome. So, it goes without saying, if you’re after behind-the-scenes goodness of every process, then this coffee table book from Abrams Books only adds to the escapism, with a fine exploration of Gotham and all the beautiful grime and hopeful protection that goes with it.

The Art of The Batman is out now from Abrams Books: https://amzn.to/3tD0Abz

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