“This must be your favorite night of the year, huh, pal? Happy fuckin’ Halloween.” —Commissioner Pete Savage in The Batman
Batman was always built for Halloween. You really can’t get more Halloween-y than someone who dresses up like a bat and runs around in the streets, fighting a rogues’ gallery that includes a scary clown and a woman in a sexy cat costume. Tim Burton recognized that when he set the events of Batman Returns during Christmas, to contrast his hero against Gotham City’s distinctly gothic backdrop. And Matt Reeves recognized it in his moody superhero reboot The Batman, which is expressly set around the end of October. COVID-19 delayed Reeves’ film by nearly two years, and it finally hit theaters with an inauspicious early-March release date. But now that it’s available on streaming, we can finally watch The Batman in October — the time of year it was always designed and intended for.
Because of the congruence between Batman and Halloween, the holiday has been stylistically infused into quite a few Batman stories, including Batman: Arkham Knight, the supposed final installment of the hugely successful Arkham video games. One of the more visually satisfying mashups comes in Batman: Haunted Knight, a collection of Legends of the Dark Knight comics that all take place on or around the holiday, and see villains like Scarecrow getting into the spirit of things by defacing the Bat-Signal to project a giant jack-o’-lantern into the sky. The comics were written by Jeph Loeb (one of Reeves’ screenwriting teachers at the University of Southern California), who went on to create one of the most influential Batman graphic novels of all time: The Long Halloween. But until The Batman, the holiday was mostly absent from the major Batman films.
Films that incorporate holidays into their stories are typically meant to tap into a collective seasonal feeling, with the narrative’s biggest impact arriving while the real-life festivities are at their crest. People who enjoy films like National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation at Christmas may still find it funny in June, but it doesn’t hit the same way it does for people who are actively in the midst of stressing out about buying presents and spending time with extended family.
And that principle holds for The Batman, which unfolds its entire first act on Halloween. Reeves and co-writer Peter Craig use the holiday to reinforce the entire film’s eerie-but-exciting tone. The weather’s starting to chill. Folks are out late in masks and face paint, getting into all kinds of trouble. One jerk even murders the mayor. Everyone in Gotham is restless. In October, those same vibes are already in the air for the audience before they even start watching, adding a layer of fun and immersion that’s certainly less distracting than 3D glasses.
In late January 2019, when Warner Bros. announced that The Batman would come out in June 2021, no one had any idea what a Robert Pattinson Batman film might look like, so a summer release wasn’t surprising. Every solo Batman film — even the campy 1966 movie — had come out in June or July, when action-packed blockbusters were poised to make their biggest returns.
But then the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and production on The Batman went on hiatus. Star Wars actor Andrew Jack, The Batman’s veteran dialect coach, was among those who died of COVID. (The movie is dedicated to him.) It took half a year for the cameras to start rolling again — and then they were shut down again, after Pattinson reportedly also contracted the disease.
At that point, the film’s release date was pushed back to the first weekend of October 2021. Joker, another Warner Bros. film that had also benefited from an eerie autumnal vibe, had been released two years prior on the same weekend, and it collected a billion dollars and 11 Academy Award nominations, along with a pair of wins. The studio seemed to be attempting to repeat this success with The Batman by pushing its release to a month that wasn’t traditionally reserved for comic book properties of this stature, a weekend it had already dominated with an analogous release. The October release date took on another dimension of excitement when the first footage was screened at the 2020 DC FanDome, and a brief glimpse of a Halloween-themed greeting card teased the film’s setting.
The first Batman film to briefly incorporate Halloween into its story was Batman Forever, which features a scene where Two-Face (Tommy Lee Jones) and Riddler (Jim Carrey) disguise themselves as trick-or-treaters to break into Wayne Manor. But the film’s tone is well established before the holiday arrives in the movie’s final act, and it’s only there to give an unsuspecting Alfred (Michael Gough) an excuse to open the front door for the bad guys as he hands out candy.
The Batman goes much further, with Reeves maintaining a death grip on the holiday by infusing his opening sequences with imagery of pumpkins, creepy masks, Halloween greeting cards, a costumed child ready for trick-or-treating, and a TV newscaster describing the night as “dark and stormy.” But in this film, Halloween continues well after Oct. 31. The deaths of the city’s corrupt leaders at the Riddler’s hands have created a power vacuum that will intensify Gotham’s decay. Flamboyantly dressed troublemakers like Penguin, waiting in the shadows, will now come swooping in to cause further unrest. Barry Keoghan’s end-film cameo as Joker suggests that more costumed tricksters and killers like Riddler are on the way. For Batman, the vibes and traditions associated with Halloween are now perpetual. The Long Halloween has begun.
All this thematic underlining would have hit harder if the pandemic hadn’t delayed the movie until March. Now, we’ve finally circled back to The Batman’s appropriate season. We can finally watch the film the way Reeves always intended us to: while tapped into the Halloween spirit and the season’s dark and eerie vibes, with a much clearer idea of just how cold all that rain is supposed to be.
The Batman is streaming on HBO Max and is available for rental or purchase on Amazon, Vudu, and other digital platforms.