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.
As the camera glides through the gloomy Gotham streets and a Bruce Wayne voice over details the grim hive of villainy and scum which inhabit the darker recesses of this DC dystopia, the only detective work the viewer needs to do is figure out how different this latest flight of the Dark Knight is to all the other iterations we’ve seen throughout the years, especially the high bar set by Christopher Nolan’s vision.
It’s not much of a riddle; Reeves can do layered blockbuster action, the superb War for the Planet of the Apes was testament to that. Pattinson can handle inner turmoil masked by stoicism – Tenet, High Life. And Paul Dano has his own unique brand of terrifying – Prisoners, There Will be Blood.
So what potentially makes The Batman, THE Batman? Well, you’ll just have to find out for yourself, because the most gripping aspect of the screenplay is the murder mystery element. For years we’ve heard about how filmmakers wanted to tap into the Batman Detective iteration of Bob Kane’s creation, and Reeves has finally committed to that vision, and then some. This isn’t just Batman as Sam Spade, this is more like the Caped Crusader as Mills, and James Gordon (the excellent Jeffrey Wright) as Somerset from David Fincher’s Se7en.
That 1995 crime masterpiece is an obvious influence on The Batman, as is Zodiac, with cipher solving an integral part of the story. There are also parallels between Paul Dano’s genuinely unsettling villain and John Doe, with the Riddler’s harrowing introduction and subsequent actions the stuff of nightmares.
That doesn’t mean that this is striving to be anything other than a comic book movie though. Nolan had already achieved that with The Dark Knight‘s ‘crime-opus’ reading. The Batman is everything you’d want from a Batman comic-book adaptation. There are heightened villains – Colin Farrell is having Dick Tracy levels of fun with his Oswald Cobblepot – while some shots are so beautifully composed by Cinematographer Greig Fraser, that they feel lifted from a comic book frame. The scenes of Bats and Cats against the orange hued Gotham skyline were the trailer standouts, but wait until you get a load of the overhead shot of Batman being heroic whilst guiding people to safety using a flare. It’s stunning.
As for the cape and cowl, it fits perfectly on Pattinson, especially when he’s being the bat, which for a large portion of the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it three-hour runtime is the case. In fact, the film barely bothers to draw a distinction between the two, with both Wayne and his suit already scarred by the time the narrative kicks off. So as well as unravelling the mystery of The Riddler, we also get to pick at the scabs of Wayne’s past to find out what has driven him to become this introverted recluse. He’s very much the antithesis of the playboy billionaire we’ve seen on the big-screen before, and that works perfectly with Pattinson’s quiet execution of the role.
His stillness as Batman not only helps to accentuate the impact of the moments of extreme violence he doles out to Gotham’s lowlifes, but it also compliments Zoe Kravitz. Her Selina Kyle is an emotionally strong character afforded her own agency and drive, while also acting as a catalyst to a lot of Wayne’s own narrative arc. Her moral ambiguity and backstory provide almost as much complexity as our titular hero, so if there are to be further adventures in Reeves’ Gotham, and it’s certainly hinted at, then put in a cat flap for Kravitz.
Ultimately, what prevents The Batman from being THE Batman is that it strays too close to formula. We’ve seen Gotham being threatened with citywide destruction by a masked maniac in everything from Begins to Rises, and throw in danger to the life of a politician hoping to bring about change (TDK’s Harvey Dent), and it ticks too many seen-it-all-before boxes. It’s just a bit jarring when everything that has led to the finale has been so surprisingly intimate and downright serial-killer level scary.
However, the fact remains that The Batman is brilliant. A coming-of-rage detective story with a pitch-perfect Pattinson, an already iconic Zoë Kravitz, and a terrifying turn from Paul Dano. Here’s hoping that this is where Batman begins…….again.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie ★ ★ ★ ★
Matt Rodgers – Follow me on Twitter