The Batman: what Michael Giacchino's musical themes tell us about the movie

The Batman is the first time that Robert Pattinson has donned the cowl of the Dark Knight. However, it's the fourth collaboration between director Matt Reeves and composer Michael Giacchino, following Cloverfield (2008), Let Me In (2010), Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014) and War for the Planet of the Apes (2017).

Each of their collaborations has hit on a distinct tone, from Cloverfield's Godzilla-aping 'Roar Overture' to the cathartic emotion of Caesar's farewell in War for the Planet of the Apes. That said, there is also a consistent undertow of darkness and torment in the aforementioned scores, and that is set to be carried into The Batman.

Giacchino has, so far, revealed three of his primary character themes via Watertower Music, for Batman, The Riddler (Paul Dano) and Catwoman (Zoe Kravitz). The fact that Giacchino has conjured memorable, character-specific themes for several of the main players makes us hugely excited for the eventual soundtrack, and it also points towards the treatment of the characters in the movie. Here's what we've gleaned from the audio samples so far.


1. Batman's theme

The main theme, for Robert Pattinson's Bruce Wayne, is bookended by broiling, repetitive, piano, cymbal and bell-led turbulence, and sandwiched in the middle is a genuinely heart-rending string elegy. Giacchino, in fact, composed this main Batman theme in advance of principal photography, which is a clear indication of how engaged he is with the character. (It's also heard in the trailers.)

The structure of the Batman theme tells us that while Pattinson's Caped Crusader positions himself as a figure of terror (as per the trailer), there is genuine tragedy lurking beneath the cowl. While at first glance, his Batman may appear terrifying, get beneath the surface and we discover a lonely billionaire orphan crying out for his late parents. The use of wavering strings, often compared to the register of the human voice, is an effective device in communicating this, and the use of the brass attains the kind of heroic grandeur we commonly associate with the character.

Wayne is part of the Gotham City elite and yet is accused of not extending his philanthropic efforts to help those in need. Of course, he is extending a helping hand towards the citizens of Gotham by helping to rid the city of its criminals. But such is the duality of Batman as a character that he must suppress his true identity in order to reach his goals.

Giacchino appears to understand the fundamental tragedy and conflict that exists within Bruce Wayne's heart. We've already got a glimpse of this from the funeral scene, in which Wayne visibly gravitates towards a young orphan prior to The Riddler's attack on the service.

That we transition from the moving strings back to the Batman motif at the end of the track signals a 'down to business' philosophy. Wayne is defined by tragedy but he won't allow it to interrupt his crime-fighting duties as Batman. Instead, this is the cross that he must bear. Giacchino's use of structure, tone and instrumentation has already informed us about Wayne's pragmatism, haunted nature and mission of vengeance.



2. The Riddler's theme

If Batman's theme starts and ends on a note of threat, with overtones of compassion in the middle, then The Riddler's theme inverts the approach. Giacchino deploys a disturbingly child-like mix of glockenspiel and soprano vocals at the start and end of the track, maybe pointing towards some kind of trauma in the villain's past, which could contextualise his actions. It may also be a subliminal way of pointing towards the effectiveness of Paul Dano's casting: via his interpretation of The Riddler, we're forced to question how a relatively baby-faced, ordinary-looking guy is capable of such horrendous crimes.

However, the deceptively placid intro and outro mask the real horror beneath. Giacchino shatters the illusion in the mid-section by building towards a discordant orchestral flourish, indicating how this Riddler is a deeply disturbed individual. The composer seems to be implying: underestimate this character at one's parallel. And by inverting the structure of the main Batman theme, Giacchino reiterates the differing philosophies and attitudes of these warring characters.

The Batman adopts a ferocious, animalistic aesthetic to strike fear into criminals, but underneath is fundamentally a good person, albeit isolated and rage-filled. The Riddler may not appear to pose much of a threat on the surface, but his propensity towards fiendish, Zodiac-esque mind games shows how he is truly dangerous. It's a fine example of how musical structure can inform our understanding of the film's characters.

That both themes share tonal similarities, albeit structurally inverted, also points towards the fact that both characters are fundamentally the same. Damaged by trauma, and left to fashion their own alter-egos, both Batman and The Riddler have learned to operate in the shadows. One suspects that The Riddler sees a lot of himself in Batman, and takes great pleasure in tormenting him from behind prison glass, as per the scene in the trailer. This philosophy of duality was already put to excellent use in The Dark Knight as Christian Bale's Batman realised he shared essential principles with Heath Ledger's anarchistic Joker. We can't wait to see if Reeves' movie picks up the thematic baton.



3. Catwoman's theme

With distinct overtones of John Barry's sultry scores for Body Heat and The Specialist, Giacchino's Catwoman theme slinks into earshot. If the Batman and Riddler themes place emphasis on strings and percussion to conjure an essence of violent conflict, then Catwoman's theme is altogether more seductive and alluring.

It's a bold and intriguing contrast, utilising jazzy piano to conjure a sly, appropriately cat-like sense of movement. The overtones of the theme point towards the resourcefulness and deviousness of Zoe Kravitz's portrayal of Catwoman. The romantic air may also point towards the possibility of a redemptive relationship between Wayne and Catwoman. Is she about to help Wayne rediscover his dormant humanity?



Click here to book your tickets for The Batman, opening in Cineworld cinemas on 4th March.