‘Batwoman’ review: Chicago shines as deadly Gotham

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batwoman-Chicago

Chicago with its mixture of art deco, metal and glass buildings is one of the most profoundly beautiful skylines not only in the country, but the world as well.

Whether it’s the backdrop to TV series such as Chicago Fire or period film pieces as The Untouchables, the city is a character all unto itself. It plays an unmistakable supporting role.

Which is why Christopher Nolan decided to use the city as Gotham in the Warner Bros/DC classic films Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. Why he switched to Pittsburgh for The Dark Knight Rises, I’ll never know.

But his use of Chicago as Gotham made it feel real and tangible. The gargoyles Batman stood on existed, not created by cgi. That was a real car chase under Wacker Drive. There’s The Chicago River.

It was what grounded Batman if you will. The city has also successfully doubled as Metropolis in the Nolan-produced Man of Steel.

After five years of New York posing as Gotham City in Fox’s Gotham, we now have Chicago back as Gotham in the new CW series (and the latest addition to The Arrowverse), Batwoman, which had its premiere Sunday night. The series stars Orange is the New Black’s Ruby Rose as Kate Kane, the cousin of Bruce Wayne.

Kate was first introduced in last year’s big Arrowverse, event, Elseworlds crossover, where Flash and Arrow visited Gotham. When we met her there, cousin Brucie was missing, but Kate was holding down the fort as Batwoman. In that version, Kate was already well into being Batwoman.

In the pilot episode, we go all the way back with Kate to the beginning of her journey.

Kate’s story is a little awkward out of the gate as we are with her at a young age, and like Bruce, loses a parent. After being expelled from military school for a relationship with fellow cadet Sophie (Meagan Tandy), Kate travels around the world (ala Bruce) training in a myriad of self-combat techniques and learning detective skills.

When Kate hears that Sophie has been kidnapped by villainous (Batwoman’s “Joker” quite frankly) Alice and her Wonderland Gang, she returns to the iconic city (never mentioned in the Arrowverse until last year) only to discover that Batman has been M.I.A for three years.

The Crows, a security force led by Kate’s Dad (Dougray Scott), has been established to protect Gotham in lieu of Batsy. While most of the Arrowverse shows are shot in Vancouver, leading to many warehouse and under the skytrain setups (Smallville,too).

However, with Chicago’s dark and foreboding exteriors, Batwoman immediately sets itself apart. Unlike The Flash’s Central City or Supergirl’s National City, Gotham feels dangerous and deadly.

Rose is far less wooden here than she was in Elseworlds and I believe she will eventually own Kate and Batwoman. She feels far more natural and confident in the role(s). Camrus Johnson’s Luke Fox, Scott’s Jacob Kane, and Tandy’s Sophie Moore are currently the highlights.

Much has been made that Batwoman is the first openly gay superhero to headline her own show. This is true, but as in many cases that support diversity, this could’ve been handled in a heavy-handed, hit-you-over-the head manner.

Batwoman handles the sexuality of both Kate and Sophie in a way that makes it pivotal to the storyline and brings immediate conflict for its characters. Kate embraces her sexuality, while Sophie hides it and marries. It’s an important aspect of who Batwoman is as a character so The CW definitely deserves credit for making it a natural part of the storyline.

ALSO READ: Woo Agency, DC redefine meaning of super girl

Ironically, Batwoman debuted in 1956, initially as Batman’s love interest according to The Chicago Tribune. She was a there, quite frankly, to disprove the notion that Batman and Robin were gay. A dozen years ago she was reintroduced by DC — now as Jewish and gay

As for the action, it’s good to great. Sometimes. Other times a little clumsy. I saw that fake punch. There is definitely room to improve and I suspect just like the other series, Batwoman will improve as it’s an essential part of the series.

The series feels closer in look and action to Fox’s Gotham, which used New York as Gotham. That’s not a bad thing as shows like Arrow and even Flash sometimes can feel claustrophobic as TV can do.

Alice (played by Rachel Skarsten) is teased as the female caped crusader’s big bad in the premiere and by the time it’s said and done, I’ll probably want to see more of her as she is the standout performer right now. She plays Alice as a cross between The Joker, Madhatter and Harley Quinn.

Showrunner, Greg Berlanti, a Northwestern graduate, could have probably chosen someone better from either Kate or Batsy’s respective rogues galleries but bigger names are probably being stockpiled like Joker’s laughing gas. By the way there is a nice Joker Easter Egg in the beginning.

The series will eventually have to answer not only where is Batman? But where’s Alfred? Batgirl? Nightwing? Robin(s)? They are all critical parts of the Batman lore and it just isn’t believable that they are all gone.

For instance, it was a bit weird for Alice to see Batwoman and not reference Batgirl.

But for now, I will enjoy the newest entry to the CW’s Arrowverse, and of course that skyline.

3 Ball Point Pens. So says The Geek.

Here’s the plotline for next week:

“The Rabbit Hole” – (8 PM/7 PM, central)

Back in Gotham, battling Alice (Rachel Skarsten) and the Wonderland Gang from the shadows, Kate Kane (Ruby Rose) continues to be haunted by the events surrounding her sister’s death 15 years earlier. While the city holds on to hope that Batman has returned, Jacob Kane (Dougray Scott) and the Crows up the stakes trying to take down the villainous crew. Kate continues to look to Bruce Wayne’s legacy for guidance as Luke Fox (Camrus Johnson) inadvertently gets pulled into Batwoman’s vigilante heroics. Sophie (Meagan Tandy) and Kate are forced to team up, while Mary (Nicole Kang) finds herself in Alice’s crosshairs. Elizabeth Anweis also stars. The episode was written by Caroline Dries and directed by Marcos Siega (#102). Original airdate 10/13/2019.

Contact Colin Costello at colin@reel360.com.

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