by C.J. Delaney, staff writer
Editorial Note: This review is spoiler-free
May 2022 — After 10 years since his last solo film, the Caped Crusader has returned to the spotlight in a reboot directed by Matt Reeves. Portrayed by Robert Pattinson, Bruce Wayne is two years into his career as the masked vigilante cleaning up the streets of Gotham City by striking fear into thugs and criminals. During his tenure protecting the city, he’s developed the persona of “The Batman,” calling himself “Vengeance.”
With the help of Lieutenant Jim Gordon (Jeffrey Wright) and Selina Kyle (Zoë Kravitz), he sets out to halt the killing spree of the masked criminal known as The Riddler (Paul Dano), who unveils the truth about Gotham City’s corrupted leaders. All of the moving pieces of this film culminate in what might be the best live-action Batman movie ever made.
Setting this two years into the start of Batman’s journey allows the viewers to jump directly into the action. Origin stories are often the standard for comic book movies, but it’s something we’ve seen with Batman many times before. It also would have been incredibly difficult to beat Christopher Nolan’s “Batman Begins” in that regard. By skipping the origin, a story risks missing out on a meaningful portion of the character’s personal journey, but seeing Batman at this stage presents the opportunity for a different type of character arc.
This version of Batman is young, reclusive, and vengeful. He’s so completely consumed by his life of crime fighting that he hasn’t developed the party animal playboy persona traditionally seen by Gotham’s public eye in other outings.
This lack of separation between Bruce and Batman has been the center of debate among fans as it can be considered an integral element of the character, but for this movie, in particular, there isn’t a need for it.
Part of what makes this movie so enjoyable is that Batman, suit and all, is in nearly every scene. One of the most significant drawbacks of other Batman films, such as “Batman Returns” and “The Dark Knight,” is that they opt to focus so heavily on the villains that the “main character” ends up being sidelined.
“The Batman,” however, is truly a Batman-focused film, and all the better for it.
Many moments would not have held up as well if it wasn’t for Robert Pattinson’s amazing performance in this gritty and violent role. Many remember Pattinson from films such as “Twilight” or “Harry Potter,” so seeing him put on such a drastically different performance to such high success is incredibly entertaining. The amount of subtlety conveyed through movements and expressions, even with a mask, completely sells Pattinson as a candidate for best live-action Batman.
A great hero must also be matched with a great villain, and Paul Dano’s Riddler is not only enjoyable to watch but also terrifying at the same time. This version of the character is a far cry from the goofy green spandex-clad menace from Joel Schumacher’s “Batman Forever.” Dano’s Riddler proves that it’s possible to reinvent a character to fit the style of a new piece of media while still retaining the core characteristics of what made them great.
Here, the Riddler is genuinely intimidating from his voice to his mannerisms, and especially in the way he disposes of his victims. The giddy confidence emanating from Dano is as infectious as it is frightening.
There are a few scenes where the Riddler loses his temper and begins to scream as he speaks, and when villains do this, they often come off as childish and unthreatening, (see General Hux from “Star Wars” for reference) but here it made him even more unnerving. That type of over-the-top is perfect for The Riddler.
The zodiac killer was a key inspiration for “The Batman’s” Riddler, and as such, he leaves clues and ciphers behind after every murder to direct Batman and the Gotham P.D. to move his plan forward.
The Batman sets itself apart in the vast sea of superhero movies by ditching the traditional formula in favor of a detective noir style of storytelling. Unlike its contemporaries, “The Batman” doesn’t have an overreliance on jokes, one-liners, or bombastic CGI action scenes every 15 minutes. Instead, the film is very content to have slower and more intimate scenes dissecting clues and discussing evidence.
Jim Gordon partners with Batman on the hunt for the criminals of Gotham, and the scenes of them together picking apart crime scenes are major highlights of the film. The friendship between these two characters feels so natural. The ease they feel and the way they speak when the two of them are alone make it very clear that they know and trust each other more than any of the corrupt officials around them.
While Gary Oldman left big shoes to fill after “The Dark Knight” trilogy, Jeffrey Wright’s take on Gordon feels very authentic and at home for this story. He also actively takes part in the narrative far more than Oldman’s Gordan did in the first two Nolan Batman films, which is a plus. It’s hard to imagine “The Batman” without him.
One of the issues with this film, however, is that Batman and Gordon are always playing by the Riddler’s rules. Batman is supposed to be “the world’s greatest detective” yet is always a few steps behind his enemies. For a character like The Riddler to work, this is understandable, but Batman should have also been looking beyond the intentional clues given to him and instead for unintentional ones to neutralize the threat. This way, he could trail the Riddler while still exploiting his mistakes, making the chase more exciting.
Instead, we have Batman following the path made for him by the Riddler and not stopping to think that he might be playing into his hands. While it doesn’t drag the film down, it would have made for a more engaging mystery if Batman kept getting closer using his own methods.
Selina Kyle, or Catwoman, plays a supporting role as opposed to an antagonistic one. Kravitz plays a much more down-to-earth version of this iconic character with a very convincing performance. What’s particularly notable is the dynamic between her and Bruce on their views of justice, making for standout character moments for each of them.
The romance subplot, however, is incredibly half-baked. It’s not that they don’t have chemistry, but they didn’t explore it from a romantic standpoint until it just happens out of nowhere. The direction they took is understandable, as it’s based on source material, but after it’s all said and done, the romance doesn’t feel authentic.
Whenever he appears on screen, Colin Farrell completely steals the show as The Penguin. In looks and voice, he’s unrecognizable. The crime boss’s carefree gangster attitude contrasts heavily with Batman’s serious demeanor.
Unfortunately, The Penguin does not have as much plot relevance as he should have. He still has a large presence in the film, but only impacts the overall narrative in a few key scenes. It works, but it could have been more.
There’s one action scene that includes The Penguin, which has been praised almost universally, but it’s hard to enjoy as it results in many civilian casualties that no character cares to acknowledge in any way. This is hard to believe as Batman has a strict no-killing rule and values human life. The fact that he would ignore and not try to prevent such collateral damage is out of character, dragging the otherwise great scene down.
The action overall is fantastic. The hand-to-hand combat choreography is a very noticeable upgrade from “The Dark Knight” trilogy. Instead of a close up camera quickly cutting between actors flailing their arms. giving the illusion of a fight, “The Batman” brings the camera back and shows everything.
Watching Batman pumble thugs with his fists and other objects around him is endlessly entertaining as the viewer can really feel the impact of each punch thrown. Even though most fights don’t last long, they feel like they do because of how much is going on during them. It’s fast paced, brutal, and riveting.
As expected, the score by Michael Giacchino ties everything together perfectly. The music elevates every scene with goosebump-inducing tracks making the already dark and imposing city even more immersive. The inclusion of Nirvana’s “Something In The Way” was a strangely good decision as it fits the mood of the hopeless city and has already become synonymous with the film.
While it has its flaws, “The Batman” excels at what it sets out to do. It proves that comic books and superhero films don’t need to follow the checklist created by its contemporaries. It proves that a slow paced character driven noir style can work to great success. It’s grounded while still retaining the feeling of a graphic novel. Thanks to the fantastic acting, writing, cinematography, and choreography, this is the best superhero movie in years and will send a loud and clear message to those in its genre.