It's been hard to miss the phenomenon that is Matt Reeves' The Batman. At the time of writing, the caped crusader’s latest cinematic outing, with Robert Pattinson donning the cowl, is the second biggest box office opening of 2022. That success is no small part because of the brooding comic-book tone it strikes. Instead of necessarily leaning into action, The Batman is a crime noir but with the bat at the helm.
This is Batman reinvented, and it has struck a chord with audiences because of Pattinson’s tortured performance, the gritty realism of the setting and the gloomy, atmospheric cinematography. It’s also because of the film’s irresistible soundtrack which features club-friendly tracks by Baauer and Peggy Gou, and navel-gazing rock from Nirvana and Radiohead. It’s a musical departure from the Hans Zimmer-scored Dark Knight Trilogy because of its collection of sync tracks – certainly the most we’ve been presented in a Batman film since the 90s.
In this post, we’ll compare sync tracks from this year’s The Batman and 1995’s Batman Forever to see how they compare. We’ll then see what trends we can find among Batman movie original scores over the years. Can we map the darkness of the Batman movies across the various reboots using the music as a proxy? Fasten your utility belts, we’re going to find out.
Commercial track syncs
The Nolan-era Batman swept away the notion that superhero movies needed an accompanying pop-rock song, much to the chagrin of Nickleback. However, 1995 was a simpler time, and Batman Forever had two standout commercial tracks: U2’s ‘Hold Me Thrill Me Kiss Me Kill Me’ and Seal’s ‘Kiss From A Rose’ which was the #4 Year-End Hot 100 single in the Billboard charts.
Not only was Seal’s soul masterpiece a reflection of R&B’s dominance over the 1995 charts, but the inclusion of U2 was a nod to the continuing popularity of rock. This was, after all, a year that saw major releases by Alanis Morissette, No Doubt, Foo Fighters and The Smashing Pumpkins.
The Batman, meanwhile skews heavily electronic genres, with several tracks being diegetic sound (playing in an on-screen club, audible to characters). There’s also the ‘Ave Maria’ theme which returns and various other well-known classical pieces which push up The Batman’s classical genre rating.
Using Musiio Tag our listening AI that automatically tags music, we’re able to see that the moods for each film are drastically different. Batman Forever pairs its visually over-the-top pomp and cartoonish sheen (Jim Carey plays The Riddler) with tracks that lean towards powerful moods. Meanwhile, The Batman has an overwhelming majority of sad and energetic moods. These probably reflect the classical music choices and the large proportion of electronic dance music. Undoubtedly, this paints a very different sonic picture for the audience – and we can measure it.
Owing to the sync choices on The Batman, we can say with confidence, that the commercial tracks on the film make it the saddest soundtrack yet.
But what about the original scores for Batman? Do they also convey sadness, or something else?
Batman original score comparisons
The Batman franchise has attracted some of Hollywood’s biggest composers: Danny Elfman, Elliot Goldenthal (Heat, Interview With The Vampire) and Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard. The Batman is no different. Handling the original score was Michael Giacchino, a seasoned veteran with recent credits including Spider-Man: No Way Home and Jojo Rabbit.
“Michael brought soul, he brought dread, he brought all of the emotional and atmospheric undercurrents that a movie like this requires,” director Matt Reeves told Variety in a recent interview.
But what does that look like to our tagging AI? And is it any different to previous scores for Batman films?
Taking moods first, we can determine that there’s been a huge shift in the music accompanying Gotham’s most famous crime-fighter. Danny Elfman’s 1989 score for Batman generates a high number of dramatic mood tags – a reflection of the dark comic-book feel of the movie. By Batman Forever, this dramatic mood is at an all-time high, before dissipating with The Dark Knight, scored by Zimmer. The Batman continues this downward trend, triggering even fewer dramatic mood tags.
The other notable parts of this graph are the trajectory of the tense tag, which tops out for The Dark Knight, but subsides the new movie. The Batman also continues the upward trend for scary moods, mirroring the on-screen crime thriller themes. Then there’s the sad mood tag. Sad moods have always been a feature of Batman movie scores – Mr Wayne has a tragic past – but bucking all trends, the latest bat flick has a significantly high proportion of sad mood tags than any previous outing in our data set.
It’s also the lowest energy Batman score, on average, to date, following the trend set by Zimmer’s dark scores.
The other Zimmer-set trend that the Michael Giacchino score follows is in instrumentation and genre. Taking primary genres only – rather than our extensive genre classifiers – we can see the massive shift in musical genre used for Batman scores.
The 80s and 90s Batman movie scores were classical or used classical instruments, recorded live. For The Dark Knight onwards, orchestral is augmented with electronic layers, pulses and more which triggers our electronic (and ambient) genre tags.
Riddle me this
What does all this data tell us? It builds up a picture of a soundtrack that takes a different path to previous bat adventures. Matt Reeve’s Batman movie has a sadder, more contemplative sound that forms an elegant union with the film’s slow-burn plot.
But, instead of relying completely on sadness, the syncs combine sad moods with energetic club-focused electronic music to maintain forward movement.
It appears we can use music as a reliable proxy for on-screen action. Sad, energetic, scary and tense almost perfectly sum up the latest cinematic reboot of the caped crusader.