The Batman | 2022
Another Batman: this must be the bleakest iteration yet, less an action movie than a grim mystery and owing a big debt to David Fincher’s Seven. And another Gotham City: a past-its-prime Gothic sore festering with corruption.
Studio sets, built in those huge hangers at Cardington in Bedfordshire, and at Leavesden Studios in Hertfordshire, are blended so seamlessly with state-of-the-art technology, replacing what used to be “back projection” that it’s a challenge picking out the real locations – in Liverpool and London, plus a little of Glasgow and, in a nod to the Christopher Nolan trilogy, Chicago.
We start out in London with the ostentatiously elaborate mansion of Mayor Mitchell, staked out by an unseen Riddler (Paul Dano). It's 2 Temple Place, Victoria Embankment, built in 1895, as Astor House, for William Waldorf Astor. He was the son of John Jacob Astor, patriarch of the mega-wealthy American Astor family, and unsurprisingly responsible for building New York’s Waldorf-Astoria Hotel.
Now hosting art exhibitions, the house is also as a filming location, particularly for TV productions, including Downton Abbey and Bodyguard, as well as big-screen outings such as Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason and Bridget Jones’s Baby.
We’re soon way to the northwest of England, in the major port of Liverpool on the River Mersey.
It’s a rainy Halloween night in Gotham and costumed crowds gather in what looks like the city’s answer to New York’s grubby, pre-clean-up Times Square. This is a loop of William Brown Street at Lime Street in Liverpool, right alongside Lime Street Station, the city’s major rail terminus.
A bit disappointingly, the towering display of illuminated ads is the digital replacement for a rather dull modern office building. That column you can see, though, is real. It's the Waterloo Monument, aka Wellington’s Column.
Immediately to the south, the ’Bank of Gotham’, disfigured by the graffiti of a facepainted street gang, is the south façade of St George's Hall overlooking St George's Place.
If you’re arriving by train, you can't miss this huge neo-Classical building, dating from 1854, housing law courts and concert halls.
When the gang goes on to intimidate a lone traveler aboard a very Chicago-esque elevated train, the view of the station they pull into is indeed Chicago's Adams/Wabash L station on South Wabash Avenue.
It’s on a studio reconstruction that The Batman (Robert Pattinson) makes his imposingly theatrical entrance with “I’m vengeance”.
To the amazement and the indignation of local cops, Police Lt James Gordon (Jeffrey Wright) summons the weird, masked stranger to inspect the site of the Mayor’s gruesome murder. His gamble proves justified when a cryptic message addressed to The Batman indicates the killing is unlikely to be a one-off event.
Now there’s a big leap. As The Batman speeds back to his lair, he’s suddenly whizzing past ‘Gotham Square Garden’ (destined to feature more importantly later), which is the James R Thompson Center, probably better known by its former name – the Illinois State Center, 100 West Randolph Street in Chicago’s central Loop district.
There’s no ‘Wayne Manor’ out in the countryside. Bruce Wayne is heading back to a gloomy Gothic tower in the heart of Gotham.
And once he gets to the secret underground entrance to ‘Wayne Tower’, we’re back in London.
It's accessed via a subterranean passage, which is the old Kingsway Tram Tunnel, disused since trams were discontinued in London in 1952, smack in the middle of busy Southampton Row just south of Theobald’s Road near Holborn tube station.
It’s not a terribly long tunnel, running the short distance from Holborn to the Thames Embankment, where you can see its exit beneath Waterloo Bridge.
The tunnel has screen history. In the 1998 film of Sixties TV series The Avengers, a bit of digital trickery saw it appearing to run under the Thames toward Greenwich, but its entrance in the middle of a busy road is a bit too public for a costumed vigilante.
So in The Batman, the tunnel is seen only from this inside looking out, its tramlines appearing to be the old tracks leading to ‘Wayne Terminus’.
The idea of ‘Wayne Tower’ having its own below-ground rail service was inspired by the station constructed beneath the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in Manhattan, intended for the discreet arrival and departure of high-ranking VIPs such as the President.
The ‘Batcave’ itself is entirely digital but the dismally gloomy interior of ‘Wayne Tower’ was a stage set, its look suggested by that of Hearst Castle in San Simeon.
This means that the magnificent folly was also the inspiration for 'Xanadu', the screen hideaway of another wealthy recluse, in Citizen Kane.
Clues from the Mayor’s murder lead the Batman to question crime lord Oz, aka Penguin (Colin Farrell), at his ‘Iceberg Lounge’ club.
The exterior of the vast techno rave club is yet another studio set but the interior was Printworks club, which stood at 235 Westferry Road, Millwall Dock, London E14.
Before being converted into a nightclub in 2017, this was the old Westferry Printers, where the London Evening Standard and the Daily Mail used to be printed.
During that former incarnation it was used as the print works of Jonathan Pryce’s Tomorrow newspaper in 1997 Bond movie Tomorrow Never Dies, and it also hosted the epic battle aboard a boat in 2015's Avengers: Age of Ultron.
But after five years, the club too has closed and Printworks is being redeveloped as office space. ▶
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