The Batman, 2022.
Directed by Matt Reeves.
Starring Robert Pattinson, Zoë Kravitz, Paul Dano, Jeffrey Wright, John Turturro, Peter Sarsgaard, Andy Serkis, Colin Farrell, Barry Keoghan, Alex Ferns, Jayme Lawson, Rupert Penry-Jones, Con O’Neill, Vic Waghorn, Dave Simon, Luke Roberts, Stella Stocker, Oscar Novak, and Archie Barnes.
In his second year of fighting crime, Batman uncovers corruption in Gotham City that connects to his own family while facing a serial killer known as the Riddler.
Strip away all the synonymous nicknames for Batman and established descriptors. Directed by Matt Reeves (also co-writing alongside Peter Craig, based on characters created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger), The Batman chronicles a week in the life of the vigilante’s second year in crime-fighting, with Robert Pattinson portraying the universally celebrated character, this time resembling a disheveled insomniac rather than an orphaned billionaire playboy. When suited up, technically, he is a caped crusader, but with as little restraint as someone can possibly have in combat without killing someone. His gadgetry is also unrefined, tested out in the field with little practice (aside from beneficial contact lenses equipped to record his perspective). He’s also no world’s greatest detective, although this particular origin story refreshingly fixated on detective work above all else serves most to push him in the direction of achieving that moniker.
Instead, this is a cynical Batman driven to fight crime not for optimism of a better future but from unbridled rage as a self-anointed symbol of vengeance. Likewise, Reeves’ vision for Gotham is grimy, taking viewers on a twisty three-hour thriller encompassing politically motivated murders, police corruption, organized crime, and a serial killer on the loose who is stoking the flames between these factions with an endgame of dropping a bombshell of Gotham’s dirty secrets onto the public.
There is a trusted connection between Batman and Gotham Police Department Commissioner Jim Gordon (Jeffrey Wright, bringing a bit of levity to the role), complete with the trademark spotlight shining the bat symbol into the sky. It may not be on the friendliest collaborative terms for Batman and the rest of the force, but he and Gordon have a mutual understanding. And that’s good enough for this Batman, who is more concerned with striking fear into the hearts and minds of anyone even thinking about breaking the law. Still, as the early noirish narration from Batman tells us, crime keeps growing and has almost doubled since taking matters into his own hands.
A spellbinding Pattinson (immensely expressive with his eyes even when sporting the cowl) channels all of this into a Batman that frequently comes across as a hero with a death wish. That’s not to say Batman hasn’t practiced the art of defense in combat; the truth is he will still block a punch and counter with a flurry of punches harnessing the furious intensity of Pattinson masturbating on-screen in an indie movie. However, he is just as likely to simply not give a darn about bullets grazing or piercing his armor, as evident from his scarred and bruised body. There is still an element of stealth to his traversal and maneuvers (including a breathtaking diving and gliding sequence), but if one has ever played one of the Batman: Arkham games and thrown caution to the wind fighting gun-toting henchmen in them, well, there is something in common.
Most importantly, this marks a confident and precise starting point to mold the superhero into a hopeful, combat disciplined, technologically craftier, and intellectually sharper Dark Knight. Throughout The Batman, the eponymous vigilante struggles with accepting his inherited wealth and family legacy while butler Alfred (Andy Serkis) encourages Bruce to at least keep up public appearances and to do the bare minimum in terms of dressing the part, develops some thick sexual tension with Selina Kyle/Catwoman (a dynamite Zoë Kravitz) while teaming up inside a seedy criminal underworld of shady nightclubs run by Oswald Cobblepot/Penguin (Colin Farrell smothered in layer after layer of prosthetics and latex which begs the question why even cast him at that point, although it’s hard to deny his outstanding screen work), and solving riddles personally directed at him leftover at the scenes of various murderers pointing to a dark past that potentially implicates his family.
Speaking of those mind games, Paul Dano’s Riddler is a standout due to a voice and mannerisms so sinister it turns out to be frustrating that he is not given more to do unmasked. It’s still a skin-crawling, deranged performance that excellently hides him in the shadows before striking or torturing his next target (the photography here from Dune‘s Greig Fraser is consistently majestic), but also one that is kept on a leash until a killer third act. It also offsets some silly riddle resolutions (there’s an early one that involves a location I refuse to believe law enforcement wouldn’t have already checked in the first place). And while there are plenty of other minor gripes to have with The Batman, the only major issue holding it back from masterful territory is a prolonged second act that fails to give the appropriate amount of sleaze to the criminal underworld or make anything fascinating out of its numerous organized crime players that continuously pop up in the story similar to a revolving door.
There’s a temptation to say the PG-13 rating holds aspects of this nihilistic worldview back, but the final hour is tremendous at painting a psychologically disturbing portrait of the adverse effects Batman’s overly aggressive vigilante work can have on someone that’s probably already unhinged, while also believably and rousingly awakening Batman as to the kind of hero he should be. It also builds to a thrilling climax delivering urgent danger and exciting fights atop scaffoldings shot with wide-angle clarity. Like most of The Batman‘s action beats (especially a prolonged car chase between Batman and Penguin that gives new meaning to the phrase like a bat out of hell), it’s also backed by an ominous, adrenaline-fueling score from all-time great composer Michael Giacchino who delivers arguably the best work of his career.
Sometimes there is an emotional disconnect with what transpires. Perhaps that’s because this depiction of Batman is brooding and more mission-oriented (he even seems annoyed to be around Alfred). That changes as relations deepen with Gordon and Catwoman (the latter of which suggests a romance that can never be) and, like most issues, is gone by the third hour. Still, the sluggish middle portion takes an elongated route to its necessary realization, which is also predictable from characters talking about how its mere knowledge could get someone killed and tear Gotham apart. It’s nice having introductions for so many Batman universe characters, but the focus is justifiably on Bruce/Batman, so someone like Catwoman or Penguin doesn’t feel as fleshed out in comparison, even if they all light up the screen with a magnetic presence. However, Riddler is mostly unaffected by this, with motives that call out Bruce Wayne’s privilege and terrifying dedication to his goals, which involves Internet radicalization (another sequence demonstrating how much scarier the character is when coming across as a regular person)
In the minor spoiler way possible to say this, there is also an epilogue character reveal that, as frustratingly unnecessary as it is, is not enough to leave me craving more. Aside from that, there is curiosity about how Matt Reeves evolves this version of Batman. Pattinson and Kravitz make for a compelling Bat and Cat, Dano is a twisted scene-stealer, and this direction feels familiar in its grittiness and core concepts while new in its approach. The Batman‘s brand of vengeance stands on its own as an ambitious, scorching effort that brings the hero’s detective side into the light. Once the pieces fall into place, its third act blazes forward reaching staggering, stunning highs.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com