The Batman (2022)

It’s not just a call … It’s a warning.

Superhero burnout is a real thing. I honestly wasn’t looking forward to braving yet another Batman adaptation. Heck, I’ve lost count of how many Batman movies, television shows, and animations there have been; not to mention the plethora of other media, from comics (obviously) and graphic novels to video games and parodies like 2017’s The LEGO Batman Movie. With that said, I dug Ben Affleck’s take on the character in the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) and was kind of bummed when he dropped out of the standalone Batman project he was signed on to direct, produce, co-write, and star in.

Alas, when Matt Reeves, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014), took over to rework the story, removing all DCEU connections, I lost interest in the solo Batman venture. And the marketing has done squat to reignite my attention, presenting a gritty, edgy, self-serious take on what I consider to be a more camp and playful character; I grew up on the Adam West-starring 1960s Batman series and consider Tim Burton’s Batman Returns (1992) to be the definitive big-screen version — Michelle Pfeiffer’s Selina Kyle/Catwoman is such an iconic character from my childhood. On top of this, the Batman as an IP feels tired. I had a mental list of overused story beats and visuals that I was expecting to see in this Batman revamp, none of which I wanted nor needed to experience again. And let’s be real here, I could think of better things to do with my time than sit through a three-hour-long dirge about a caped vigilante hunting a serial killer.

Unmask the truth

For better or worse, however, Reeves’ The Batman is a different sort of film — it genuinely took me by surprise. Is it well made? Definitely, the movie looks fantastic on the big screen. Are there some odd creative choices? Sure, especially for a film that children might be clamoring to see. Did it need to be three hours long? Absolutely not. Most importantly, though, is it any good? Well, that depends on what you’re after. What I can say is that I, for one, won’t be revisiting the film again anytime soon.

The Batman is a strange mix between a noir detective story, action movie, and psychological thriller, taking the character of Batman back to his World’s Greatest Detective roots. In short, this is not your traditional superhero smashup, so readjust your expectations. Reeves cites comics Batman: Ego, Batman: Year One, and Batman: The Long Halloween as influences, stories that explore the psyche of Bruce Wayne. Reeves is far less concerned with caped crusaders clashing against the latest evildoer. Instead, he’s more interested in emotional exploration, delving into the twisted inner workings of the mind; the film goes darker and deeper than any other Hollywood comic-book movie or special-event blockbuster as of late (if you could even call The Batman a blockbuster — scenes that should’ve been epic standout set-pieces literally last seconds).

Haven’t a clue? Let’s play a game, just me and you …

Based on DC characters created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger, The Batman is written by director Reeves and Peter Craig, The Town (2010). The movie opens on Halloween night, where felons disguised as ghouls are tearing down and terrorizing the streets and citizens of Gotham. Bruce Wayne (Robert Pattinson) stalks the crime-riddled, drug-infested metropolis dressed as a masked vigilante. He thrives on fear, referring to himself as Vengeance, of which he considers himself to be the embodiment — it’s a self-appointed role, of course. Wayne, who mostly lives in the shadows and has given his life over to the night, is aided by a ‘bat’ signal that shines in the darkened sky, which strikes fear into the hearts of most.

Excluding lifelong sidearm Alfred Pennyworth (Reeves regular Andy Serkis), Wayne’s only real ally is GCPD Lieutenant James Gordon (Jeffrey Wright). The Batman and lawman assist one another off the books, attempting to cleanse a city that is so lawless and corrupt — it’s a place where mobsters and police are basically interchangeable. However, when a handful of crooked elite officials and prominent figures start to get picked off via a series of sadistic machinations, beginning with the vicious in-home murder of Mayor Don Mitchell Jr. (Rupert Penry-Jones), Batman is called in to help solve the grisly homicides. The perpetrator leaves a chain of word puzzles and pattern games at each crime scene, addressed to ‘The Batman.’ As the clues lead closer to home, connecting back to Bruce’s past, the scale of the deranged culprit’s plans becomes evident. Thus, Batman must forge new alliances if he intends to unmask the criminal known as The Riddler (Paul Dano) and, in turn, begin to heal the City of Gotham, a place that has been drowned and suffocated by exploitation and abuse of power.

No more lies

What initially stands out about The Batman is its lack of origin story — Wayne has been The Batman for a little over a year when the movie begins. Sure, we get some backstory on Martha and Thomas Wayne, Bruce’s parents, but it’s primarily there to serve the narrative, not to fill any gaps. What’s also surprising is the lack of action or major set-pieces, for that matter. There’s a fantastic high-speed chase sequence featuring the latest Batmobile in action (it’s now a customized muscle car, but boy is it awesome), where Robert Pattinson’s Caped Crusader plays a chaotic on-road game of cat and mouse with The Penguin (Colin Farrell); but, aside from the odd beat ‘em up here and shoot out there, there’s not a lot of action. The film is more of a police procedural in the vein of David Fincher’s SE7EN (1995); it’s been noted that Reeves’ version of Riddler is partly inspired by the infamous serial killer Zodiac who operated in California in the late 1960s, hence the Fincher vibes.

Thematically, The Batman explores corruption — there’s spiritual, political, even environmental depravity plaguing Gotham. The movie also delves into the notion of justice: is the type of ‘justice’ Batman serves warranted or not? Reeves even attempts to answer the question ‘Who is Bruce Wayne?’ The Batman is obviously more interested in the man as opposed to the myth (or his alter ego) — Bruce is far from a philanthropist playboy here; he’s reclusive, broody, and slightly nihilistic, a man on the edge trying to save a city on the brink of collapse. We get to see what makes him tick. It helps that Robert Pattinson, Tenet (2020), is excellent in the lead role — ignore all the naysayers; Pattinson is suitably cast and gives a captivating turn. He also looks badass in the armored Batsuit and hits all of his physical and emotional beats.

The Bat and the Cat ~ it’s got a nice ring to it.

What makes the proceedings falter, however, is the film’s bloated running time; there is an over-abundance of characters (both villains and heroes), plot threads, and twists and turns — far too many. Did we really need to have The Penguin, Riddler, Catwoman, and Carmine Falcone in the same movie? Furthermore, the narrative is far too mature and dark for youngsters; coupled with the runtime, The Batman will surely test the patience of some audiences. Although marketed for having ‘high-octane action’ and ‘a massive visual scale,’ much of the film takes place in closed quarters, it’s very talky, and offers minimal action, which makes it difficult to recommend to anybody looking for an action-oriented superhero fix. I can’t see this cleaning up at the box office, but hey, I could be proven wrong.

Performances across the board are impressive. Zoë Kravitz, Mad Max: Fury Road (2015), makes the most of her nine lives as the steely, enigmatic femme fatale Selina Kyle aka Catwoman, a character who lives in a gray area, blurring the lines of black and white. Kravitz’s Catwoman veers more towards Nolan’s cat burglar iteration rather than Burton’s all-out, whip-lashing seductress; but for this world and story, she works. Fun Fact: Kravitz previously voiced the character of Catwoman in 2017’s The LEGO Batman Movie. Paul Dano, 12 Years a Slave (2013), is frightfully demented, and genuinely great, as the film’s chief antagonist, Edward Nashton/The Riddler, while John Turturro, Transformers (2007), does his gangster shtick as mob boss Carmine Falcone, a lesser-known character from the comics. Peter Sarsgaard, The Magnificent Seven (2016), also appears in a brief but critical role, playing unscrupulous Gotham District Attorney Gil Colson, whereas Jayme Lawson, Farewell Amor (2020), is good in her trickle of scenes as Bella Reál, a grassroots political candidate running for the mayoral office of Gotham City.

With vengeance comes trouble.

Aside from Pattinson, there are two other cast standouts. The first is Colin Farrell, who’s no stranger to playing bad guys in superhero flicks; remember 2003’s Daredevil? Farrell, who’s unrecognizable under multiple layers of facial prosthetics and a fat suit, is gleefully menacing as criminal kingpin Oswald Cobblepot (Oz), better known as The Penguin. Here, Oz is the proprietor of Gotham’s exclusive nightlife hotspot, The Iceberg Lounge, a meeting place for the city’s underworld. Colin’s maniacal performance manages to stand out even under the heavy face-scar prosthetics — it’s been reported that Farrell took inspiration for the Penguin from the ‘Fredo’ character in The Godfather (1972). Then there’s Jeffrey Wright, No Time to Die (2021), who’s truly commanding and brings gravitas to the role of Commissioner Gordon; he absolutely rocks!

The Batman should have knocked it out of the park; it sports top-notch visuals (production design by James Chinlund and cinematography by Greig Fraser are outstanding), a pounding and evocative score, and committed turns from the entire cast. It’s evident that a lot of money, energy, and effort has gone into this project; but ‘Holy Smokes, Batman,’ the film has left me conflicted. Maybe it needs time to grow on me, but, for now, what we have is a pretty good new standalone Batman flick, and I guess that’s okay.

3.5 / 5 – Great

Reviewed by Stu Cachia (S-Littner)

The Batman is released through Warner Bros. Australia