Batman, The (United States, 2022)March 01, 2022
The Batman, a reboot of DC comics’ most popular character, brings the franchise back into the shadows successfully embraced by Christopher Nolan’s phenomenally popular take but without the fetishism of the Burton/Schumacher years or the excesses of Zack Snyder’s more recent indulgences. Although “grounded” might not be appropriate, this iteration is less gritty and focused more on the human component than superhero tropes, although the latter are certainly present. Essentially a serial killer movie with fantastical, comic book elements, The Batman’s aesthetic owes a debt to film noir with occasional visual nods to Westerns. Stylistically, the film is closest to Nolan’s Batman movies, although there are no overt acknowledgments.
Like any crime movie, The Batman deals in secrets, questions of identity, and unexpected reveals. The hero is a troubled, tortured individual. The antagonist is more of a force of nature – a twisted, malevolent one – than a human being. There are plenty of crime lords and crooked cops. No one, not even Batman, is imbued with any innate special abilities or magical powers. There are no gods or devils to be fought. The story focuses on a series of murders and the lengths to which Gotham City’s bat-costumed vigilante will go to uncover the culprit and stop his spree while at the same time battling his own personal demons. Reeves has adopted at least as much from ‘40s films and Fincher’s neo-noir efforts as from traditional superhero movies. Never has the chasm between the MCU and DC been more evident. Warner Brothers might be “lightening up” Wonder Woman and Aquaman, but Batman remains steeped in darkness.
The Batman is not an origin story. It opens at a time after recluse billionaire Bruce Wayne (Robert Pattinson) has first donned the costume and taken his one-man war against crime onto the streets. He is mostly distrusted by Gotham City’s police force with one notable exception: Lieutenant Jim Gordon (Jeffrey Wright), who has thrown in his lot with Batman, despite not knowing the latter’s true identity. No one, except the Wayne manor butler and Bruce’s mentor, Alfred (Andy Serkis), is privy to that. Gotham’s nest of crime lords and criminals, including the feared boss Carmine Falcone (John Turturro) and his underling, Oswald “The Penguin” Cobblepot (Colin Farrell), don’t yet perceive Batman to be sufficiently threatening to worry about him. After the events of this film, that will change.
Gordon uses the Bat-signal to call the Caped Crusader for help with the Halloween night murder of Gotham’s beloved (but crooked) mayor. The killer, who is dubbed The Riddler (Paul Dano) because of the clues he leaves behind, is no common assassin and it doesn’t take long before the trail of bodies lengthens, with each fresh killing being someone highly-placed in the government or police hierarchy. As Gordon works to uncover the assassin’s identity using traditional police procedures, Batman does the things that Gordon can’t. This brings him into contact with Falcone, The Penguin, and Selina Kyle (Zoe Kravitz), a young woman with a penchant for cat burglary and a score to settle.
The Batman is a long movie with a complex storyline that focuses on enough tangential subplots that there are times when the hunt for The Riddler fades into the background. While it’s fair to credit Reeves and co-writer Peter Craig for their ambition, the film occasionally suffers from uneven pacing and feels like it might have benefited from tighter editing. There are fewer high-octane action sequences here than in many superhero movies, but the two major ones (a ferocious car chase in which the Batmobile makes its debut and a one-on-many fight where Batman is the only one without a gun) are spectacular. Overall, however, The Batman concentrates on detecting, analyzing ciphers, answering riddles, and following a maze to the eventual resolution. The Riddler may not be quite as diabolical and demented as The Joker in The Dark Knight, but he’s a close second.
Ben Affleck’s departure from the role during preproduction required that Reeves (who replaced him in the director’s chair and completely rewrote the script) embark on a recasting project. This took the film out of the so-called DCEU and put it into its own pocket universe (much like Nolan’s version). Robert Pattinson, who coincidentally appeared in Nolan’s Tenet before donning the cape and cowl, was chosen to fill the main role. Although Pattinson is fine as Batman, I’m unsure about his interpretation of Bruce Wayne. As written, Wayne is supposed to be sullen and withdrawn – a man warped by his past and struggling to find meaning. But Pattinson’s performance is a little too one-note. He never finds the humanity underneath the character’s pain (contrast this with Bale, who struggled with some of the same issues) and that diminishes the character’s arc. It’s a weird dynamic because Pattinson is the first Batman who is more animated when wearing the costume than out of it.
For the supporting players, The Batman employs an out-of-the-box approach. Zoe Kravitz isn’t the first woman of color to play Catwoman – Eartha Kitt was one of several actresses to essay the character during the 1960s TV show and Halle Berry took over the role for a movie whose existence DC would like to ignore. Kravitz focuses more on the “Selina” aspect of her personality than the “Catwoman” one and the script treats her like a femme fatale. Colin Farrell is unrecognizable as The Penguin – the makeup job is impressive. The character is underused but that’s likely because Reeves has big future plans for him (including his own HBOMax series). Paul Dano looks nothing like any previous incarnation of the Riddler and is masked for most of the film. Once out of costume, however, he appears deceptively normal – likely one reason why the unimposing Dano was cast. Andy Serkis, who has now moved beyond merely doing motion capture work for WETA, provides a capable performance as Alfred. Jeffrey Wright, John Turturro, Peter Sarsgaard round out the cast. Although Wright and Turturro have previously appeared in big-budget franchises, this is Sarsgaard’s first such foray.
Greig Fraser’s cinematography and Michael Giacchino’s score contribute to the film’s unique identity. Fraser uses light and shadow to good effect, including crafting several memorable silhouette shots. Giacchino’s work here may be the best of his career. It’s soft when it needs to be, percussive during the fight and action scenes, and finds a way to incorporate “Ave Maria.”
The Batman is arguably the best superhero movie since Avengers: Infinity War and the best movie to feature the title character since the middle chapter of Nolan’s trilogy. Its strengths lie in its differences and the ways in which Reeves is able to deliver the money shots while avoiding the cookie-cutter feel that handicaps many superhero movies. At a time when many comic book franchises are seeking to go bigger, with cosmic beings and multiverses, The Batman’s down-to-earth approach offers a welcome reprieve.
Batman, The (United States, 2022)
Cast: Robert Pattinson, Zoe Kravitz, Paul Dano, Jeffrey Wright, John Turturro, Peter Sarsgaard, Andy Serkis, Colin Farrell
Home Release Date: 2022-05-24
Screenplay: Matt Reeves, Peter Craig
Cinematography: Greig Fraser
Music: Michael Giacchino
U.S. Distributor: Warner Brothers
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