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THE BATMAN (2022) review

March 6, 2022


written by: Matt Reeves and Peter Craig
produced by: Dylan Clark and Matt Reeves
directed by: Matt Reeves
rated: PG-13 (for strong violent and disturbing content, drug content, strong language, and some suggestive material)
runtime: 173 min.
U.S. release date: March 4, 2022 (theatrical) and April 19, 2022 (HBO Max)


Will adding “The” to a new Batman movie differentiate itself enough from all the ones that came before it? Is this to be THE Batman of all Batmans? For sure, there will be some who entertain such questions and some who wonder what could Warner Brothers and DC possibly explore with the iconic comic book character that they haven’t already covered. If you’re aware of the many iterations from the source material, the answer is: plenty. Well-read fans know the potential of Batman from the countless creative teams who have worked on the character for decades. There can indeed be many different takes on Batman. Director Matt Reeves knows this and when he set out to helm another big-screen adaptation of the Dark Knight, he decided to delve a little deeper than anyone has in the past, into the psyche of a man who dresses up as a bat and the lengths he’ll go to rid a city of its criminal element. The result is a moody and brutal detective story told with noir sensibilities and an immersive cinematic experience, focusing on what lies beneath complicated characters we think we’re familiar with.

Reeves opens “The Batman” with a look at the darkness of Gotham City when a high-profile political figure is murdered in his home on Halloween night. Anyone familiar with the city’s reputation shouldn’t be too surprised, but any Batman movie is bound to be someone’s first Batman movie and opening with such a cold-blooded act may be alarming for some. This is the first of a string of killings by The Riddler (Paul Dano), who’s targeting notable Gothamites for their unpunished crimes against society, who through an elaborate set of deliberate notes and clues (primarily addressed to The Batman, whom he sees as something of an equal) is determined to shine a bright light on those who have been hiding behind positions of power and wealth. The targets are those who took an oath to serve and protect Gotham, yet wound up allured by money and leaving those in need to squander. In his second year as Batman, an introverted Bruce Wayne (a spot-on Robert Pattinson) isn’t yet swooping in from the sky to strike fear into the cowardly and superstitious lot that preys on Gothamites. This Batman relies on the shadows of the night, acknowledging the Bat signal that Detective James Gordon (Jeffrey Wright) often lights up the dank night sky with, and announces his arrival with thundering footsteps as he approaches a gang of punks that are terrorizing a civilian who just exited an elevated train. He announces that he is “Vengeance”, but for whom is he dispensing such violence for and what gain has come from it?



Murder, theft, and vandalism are still commonplace in his city and we even hear Wayne admit (in narration) that he can’t be everywhere. So, when he’s not pummeling thugs, this Batman is working closely on crimes with Gordon, much to the chagrin of most of the other cops. We haven’t often seen the caped crusader alongside Gordon for all to see, walking into a taped off crime scene while forensics are still on the scene. It’s one of many different and intriguing aspects of this movie and certainly not what we’re used to in a Batman movie. We’re also not used to being able to understand the words that are coming out of Batman’s mouth after all the gravely warbling from the likes of Christian Bale and Ben Affleck. Pattinson delivery is easy to follow, bellied by a core intensity and a sharpened softness. It winds up being a surprisingly fascinating performance that goes beyond the expected brooding. In black eyeshadow with floppy hair, working over clues with loyal caretaker Alfred (Andy Serkis), the introvert can be seen as emo-Goth, but one can see how his singular focus on vengeance and justice has resulted in such a demeanor. At this point in Wayne’s life, in his second year as The Bat, it’s understandable we’re not getting the debonair playboy we’ve seen before.

Pieces of a disturbing puzzle start to come together, as Bruce uncovers how most of those sworn to law and order have also sworn allegiance to the likes of criminal figures such as Carmine Falcone (John Turturro) and Oswald “Oz” Cobblepot, aka Penguin (and utterly unrecognizable Colin Farrell, truly having fun). As more of Riddler’s victim’s attract Batman’s attention, illuminating certain secrets of Gotham’s past ties with the Wayne and Arkham families, he encounters Selina Kyle (Zoe Kravitz), a different type of crusader, who has found ways of navigating the criminal underworld while protecting those in need and seeking a personal vendetta of her own. She can assist Batman find a missing girl with links to Falcone, Penguin and maybe even Riddler, as one revelation leads to so many questions and hidden truths. Through it all, Batman will be forced to confront his own approach, faced with the idea that he’ll need to be more than just strike fear and exact vengeance, but evolve into something more beneficial to those around him and, inadvertently, himself.



While it may initially seem like Riddler and his agenda are the main focus of the dense narrative (which runs just shy of three hours), there’s never a point where it feels like Dano should get top billing like Nicholson did back in Tim Burton’s “Batman” back in 1989. This atmospheric endeavor is solely concerned with its title character, who’s not yet known as “The World’s Greatest Detective”, but he’s getting there. The screenplay that’s co-written by Reeves and Peter Craig (“Bad Boys for Life” and “The Unforgivable“) provides characters with much more introspection than we’re used to, making it seem less like typical cape-and-tights fare and more like a study in motivation and analysis. There’s an attempt to draw a connection between Batman and Riddler, showing how they may not be all that dissimilar. They both have a single-minded drive for vengeance, they both write in journals, and they both prefer to hide behind a mask (although this Batman doesn’t mind being seen by Gotham’s finest or the citizens he’s out to save), and are determine to spotlight the city’s corruption problem. Dano’s Riddler is far from any we’ve seem on screen. There’s no tights and no maniacal laughter or dancing around. He’s wrapped himself up in a DIY costume (adding noticeable spectacles is a nice touch) that all of his online followers can imitate. If he’s not whispering, he’s howling like a wounded animal in a padded cell. It’s all quite fascinating and unsettling and exactly what we’ve come to expect from Dano.

Unlike Riddler, Batman’s not out there killing people, but his rage is apparent and it certainly feels like he could come close at any given night. Throughout most of the movie, this is a Batman that is simmering underneath, maybe even silently suffering – not just because of what happened to his parents, but likely feeling like he’s not doing enough. Pattinson is really great at communicating all of this, whether he’s in his armored suit or standing shirtless (with black eye make-up) over a floor of clues. He may be still figuring out this vigilante thing (which shows in a great action sequence where he jumps off the roof of the Gotham Police tower), but he seems even more unsure and uncomfortable as Bruce Wayne, the so-called “Prince of Gotham”, who rarely shows himself.



“The Batman” does a fine job at balancing the physical with the analytical, and never to the point of sacrificing the tone of the movie. Reeves is more interested in setting maintaining a mood, clearly influenced by cinema of the 1970s and David Fincher’s “Seven” and “Zodiac” (might as well pay homage to the best) and offering the grittiest and grimiest Gotham City yet. Nolan’s Gotham definitely showed a criminal underworld and an area where the lower-class were relegated to, but you can still kind of see yourself living there. There’s no way you’d accept an all-expenses paid trip to Reeves’ Gotham. That being said, it sure is cool to look at, thanks to the fantastic production design of the film (using glaring bright colors against the mostly earth-tone palette) and the way in which outstanding cinematographer Greig Fraser (last year’s “Dune”) shoots the story. He pulls viewers in close with the way he incorporates shadows and light, and manages to accentuate the palatable chemistry between Bruce and Selina from the moment they’re together to the last frame they share. Composer Michael Giacchino (who’s collaborated with Reeves before on the last two “Planet of the Apes” movies) also supports the film with a foreboding atmosphere, providing individual themes for Catwoman, Riddler, and Penguin, while weaving different (and fitting) variations of Nirvana’s “Something in the Way” throughout. All of this, along with a minimal use of Bat-gadgets and Batmobile that’s more muscle car than all-terrain battle ram, is proof that Reeves is taking elements the Batman movies are known for and providing a more immersive and practical approach to the drama here.

How did we get here with this particular Batman? Good question. The true answer is money never sleeps. WB and DC simply can’t let their lucrative Creature of the Night remain dormant for long. That’s understandable and having read the comics for decades, I understand that a different creative team can take a familiar character in a different look and direction, which readers have come to expect…moviegoers, not so much. There’s always going to be something for Batman movies fans to bemoan over even before they see the latest version. That’s as common and reliable as the Bat signal.



Since 2005’s “Batman Begins” there have now been three actors playing the caped crusader. Christopher Nolan got a trilogy out of Christian Bale’s Bruce Wayne/Batman, which showed how tortured rich orphan became the scourge of Gotham, and many are of the belief that the apex of that trilogy, 2008’s “The Dark Knight” was/still is THE best Batman movie ever, some claim the best superhero movie ever. It’s all subjective. Nolan’s Batman run was it’s own thing, set apart from what would be known as the DCEU (that’s Extended Universe, not European Union, although who wouldn’t want a German Expressionistic Batman?) once Zack Snyder’s “Man of Steel” came out in 2013 and everything that followed it. Ben Affleck played an older Wayne in Snyder’s “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” and his grizzled take on the character was an interesting, once that saw years of crime-fighting taking its toll, even though he found some super friends in whichever version of “Justice League” who prefer and made a Bat cameo in David Ayers’ “Suicide Squad”. Sadly, he never got his own movie after those appearances, despite talks that Affleck would write and direct or maybe Reeves would direct a Batman movie written (or co-written) and starring Affleck. When the actor hung up his cape and cowl, WB/DC continued forward, tapped Reeves and soon enough Pattinson signed on and the “fans” were in an uproar over the casting…you know, the same kind of uproar that was made when Michael Keaton was announced and look how that turned out.

Here’s the thing: it doesn’t matter who the BEST Batman is. The 83-year-old character can come in many incarnations. All that matters is what the writers are doing with the character. George Clooney could’ve been a damn good Batman, but between Akiva Goldsman’s kitchen sink screenplay and Joel Schumacher’s directorial tone, that movie became the sour not joke to a successful series (or maybe “Batman Forever” started that, depends on who you ask). It’s all in what you do with what you have.

That being said, it feels like there’s been just as many live-action versions of Catwoman as well. The feminine charms and allure of Selina Kyle are a great counter to Bruce/Batman’s tightly-wound portrayal. Like some other incarnations, Kravitz’s Selina is never called “Catwoman”, but it’s quite obvious and she winds up being a welcome emotional addition to the film, becoming the type of crusader for the helpless that Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli gave us in Batman: Year One (a highly influential work of art across multiple mediums) and finding us rooting for her probably more than anyone else in the story. Kravitz is great in the role and her scenes with Pattinson bring some needed heat to “The Batman”.

Some may not be used to the slow-build that “The Batman” offers, but I prefer it and compare it to the kind of in-depth exploration a six or eight-part limited series comic can offer. It’s a rare Batman movie in that it provides a character arc for its main character in just one shot. It’s also arguably the most fierce and troubling take on the character and that’s something that’s different and welcome as well. No doubt, you can enjoy the polar opposite with “The LEGO Batman Movie”, but thanks to Reeves you can also enjoy an unusual, hard-hitting animal here with this moody Bat.



RATING: ***1/2



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