‘The Batman’s Nirvana Song Choice Immerses It Fully in the Moody Goth Aesthetic

In the early 90s when grunge hit, it was seen as a punk, roughed-up, authentic reaction against the bloated excess of hair metal. Gone were the spangled tights, huge hair, and hyperbolic sexual boasting; in were distressed jeans, flannel shirts, and angry cynical depression. Grunge, therefore, is the perfect soundtrack for a new, tough, authentic, grimdark Batman, stalking through Gotham’s street-level urban grit and grime. That’s why The Batman director Matt Reeves chose the early, heavy, throat-tearing, migraine-headache pounding Nirvana track “Dive” as a theme for his brutal, grimdark Batman movie.

Except, of course, Reeves didn’t do that. That’s because, despite some of the hype, and unlike say the MCU Daredevil series, the new The Batman isn’t that gritty. While it does include a bit of urban decay and some flashes of sexy sleaze, it tends to get distracted by a different kind of darkness—emo goth. Reeves passes over “Dive” and “Paper Cuts” and Nirvana’s more aggressive songs, choosing instead the acoustic, moody, thoroughly emo “Something in the Way.”

“Something in the Way” is an evocative, dreamlike narrative about someone living under a bridge; it’s generally thought to have been loosely inspired by Cobain’s own experiences as a homeless teen. Its mood is one of paralyzed melancholy.

Underneath the bridge
Tarp has sprung a leak
And the animals I've trapped
Have all become my pets
And I'm living off of grass
And the drippings from my ceiling
It's okay to eat fish
Cause they don't have any feelings

The song plays initially in the film early on, after Gotham’s mayor has been murdered. Batman/Bruce Wayne (Robert Pattinson) looks over and sees the mayor’s grieving son. Wayne’s parents were killed when he was a child, and he’s identifying with the boy. It is reprised at the end of the movie when Batman is helping flood victims and experiencing an epiphany about how he needs to be more of a figure of hope. Both scenes, as they say, have all the feelings.

Batman isn’t necessarily thought of as an all-the-feelings kind of superhero. In the classic Frank Miller Dark Knight, which has shaped the character since the 80s, Batman is a Dirty Harry figure, hard-boiled, brutal, angry, muttering about perp rights while grinding teeth and breaking bones.

Reeves’ The Batman is definitely thinking about Frank Miller in an opening montage that nods (uncomfortably) to subway vigilante Bernhard Goetz, as Batman beats the crap out of a bunch of youth gang members on a train platform.

Reeves’ use of Goetz 80s grim tough-guy Batman is a feint, though. It’s the equivalent of picking a Nirvana song and then revealing that you’ve chosen that Nirvana song.

Pattinson’s Bruce Wayne isn’t a bone-grinding teeth-breaker. He’s a broody overgrown adolescent, who takes off his cowl to reveal dark eye makeup while whining to his butler/father figure Alfred (Andy Serkis) because he’s got to wear a tie.

At one point, Pattinson’s volatile Batman with no chill responds to the Riddler baiting him from a cell by screaming impotently and banging on the glass. His courtship of Selina Kyle/Catwoman (Zoë Kravitz) is all hesitant trembling and confused yearning, less Clint Eastwood than…well, Robert Pattinson.

Similarly, there’s no equivalent to the exhausting, visceral Daredevil hallway fight scenes. Instead, the iconic effect in Reeves' film is Batman turning his wings into a hang-glider, and swooping dramatically amidst Gotham’s skyscrapers. It’s dramatic and dark-hued, but detached, as if all that grit and grime has disconnected from concrete alleyways to float overhead in an atmospheric grandeur of mope.

That’s not a criticism. On the contrary, I much prefer mopey, big-emotion Batman to the played-out, reactionary Frank Miller default that Christopher Nolan, Zack Snyder, and many others have been revisiting and revisiting for the past thirty years. In fact, I wish Reeves had embraced his Edward Cullen Batguy more wholeheartedly. None of these Nirvana half-measures; let’s put the Smiths and the Cure on the soundtrack. Forget Batman fighting in the subway. Let’s have Batman fighting in a pool full of lilies.

Alas, (and alack!), commercial considerations are what they are, and audiences only want to swoon to Batman if you can assure them that they are swooning in a grungey street-level Frank Miller-esque fashion. Nirvana helps to push us towards that fully emo Batman. But there’s still something in the way.

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This post was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.

Image Credit: Warner Bros. 

Noah Berlatsky is a freelance writer based in Chicago. His book, Wonder Woman: Bondage and Feminism in the Marston/Peter Comics was published by Rutgers University Press. He thinks the Adam West Batman is the best Batman, darn it.