Reeves delivers an incredible reimagining of this iconic superhero with Pattinson sensational as the Caped Crusader.
The Batman had a bit of a journey before coming to the big screen. Originally meant to star Ben Affleck, who would also produce, write and direct, he left the project in early 2017. Then director Matt Reeves (War for the Planet of the Apes, Cloverfield) took over as director and would co-write a new script with Peter Craig (The Town), disentangling it from being part of the DCEU to more of a standalone detective story. Robert Pattinson was then cast as The Bat, and the film would be set in its own universe where a younger Batman is just two years into his crime fighting career, the Dark Knight must track down and stop a serial killer who calls himself the Riddler.
I admit I was disappointed when Affleck left the project as I’m a fan of his version of Batman, but was excited to see The Dark Knight in a more grounded noir-style detective adventure, as we’ve only ever really seen him as an action hero. I was also disappointed to hear that Affleck’s replacement would be Robert Pattinson, but I’m happy to report Pattinson proved my initial reservations wrong – he’s awesome.
With a multi-layered story that follows The Batman (Pattinson) as he assists Lieutenant. James Gordon (Jeffrey Wright) of the GCPD track down the questioned-marked serial killer known as the Riddler (Paul Dano), Pattinson is able to give a tortured, reserved and explosive portrayal of the Caped Crusader that we haven’t seen before.
As Batman (the detective) he’s subtle, nuanced, observant – cold even – as he takes in his surroundings, searching for clues. Whether he’s surrounded by the police at a crime scene or doing his own poking around where he eventually runs into Selina Kyle (Zoë Kravitz), i.e. Catwoman, Pattinson perfectly embodies an intimidating presence whose sole focus is to gather the info required to solve the riddles presented by the Riddler. He doesn’t care that the police hate him. He doesn’t care that they think he’s a freak. He doesn’t care about your excuses for breaking the law.
As Batman (the crimefighter) he’s not subtle or reserved but an explosive, blunt force of rage. He uses fear and the darkness as a tool to gain advantage over his enemies as he pummels them into submission. At times it feels there’s more to it than just giving out justice; it’s vengeance, pure and simple. Vengeance for the death of his parents and the violence gives Bruce Wayne a way of dealing with his inner rage. Pattinson is able to easily flip the switch and becomes the bringer of pain.
Finally we have Batman as Bruce Wayne, clearly inspired by Kurt Cobain. We’re not presented with a billionaire playboy who goes out of his way to be in the public eye, but instead a reclusive character who doesn’t want and resents the fame his money brings him. He’s brooding in a different way to when he dons the cowl. He carries the weight of the family name but fortunately doesn’t carry it alone. His loyal butler, Alfred (Andy Serkis), hasn’t only been there as a father figure, but also as a teacher doing his best to make sure the Wayne legacy lives on.
Pattinson does an outstanding job encapsulating all the facets that make up a far more complex version of Batman ever put to screen. I feel silly now that I ever doubted him. However, the former Twilight star hasn’t done it alone. His performance is complimented by a stellar cast.
Zoë Kravitz gives an alluring yet dangerous portrayal as Selina Kyle. She’s the wild card who you’re not sure whether she’s a good person or a bad person. Able to take care of herself, she has her own agenda but can’t help getting involved with the guy dressed as a bat. The chemistry between Kravitz and Pattinson works really well and you’re really rooting for something to happen between them.
Jeffrey Wright also gives a lot of onscreen clout as Lieutenant. James Gordon who could possibly be the only good cop in Gotham. Wright brings moral, grounded strength to a character who’s really putting his ass on the line by allowing a caped vigilante onto crime scenes.
While you won’t recognize him under all the prosthetics, Colin Farrell is fantastic playing the underworld criminal, Penguin. A far change from Danny DeVito’s grotesque version from Tim Burton’s Batman Returns, Farrell’s Penguin is far less comic-esque and more like something from the Godfather or Goodfellas. His onscreen time is fairly minimal, however his gritty, gangster performance is memorable.
Finally, we come to Paul Dano who plays a terrifying new version of the Riddler. Forget the campy Jim Carrey version from Batman Forever. Inspired by the Zodiac killer from the 1960s in California, this new Riddler is a maniac serial killer mastermind in a similar vein to John Doe from Se7en, famously played by Kevin Spacey.
While we don’t get to see much of his face as he’s behind a disturbing mask for most of the film, Dano expertly exudes evil and mental illness by the cadence of his dialogue and his maniacal eyes visible through his thick glasses. While there’s already a dark tone set by the story and lighting of the film, Dano’s scenes elevate that dark, uncomfortable tone to a level that is more disturbing or even horrific. This maniacal performance has made him one of the most enjoyable Batman villains I’ve ever enjoyed in a live-action Batman film (however Heath Ledger’s Joker is still number one for me).
Director Matt Reeves has made an incredible superhero movie. It may not even be accurate to call it a “superhero” movie at all, actually. It’s a crime thriller that just happens to involve people hiding behind masks and costumes, yet still feels grounded in ways that make this iteration stand out from all the others.
With a runtime a little under three hours, I would normally be complaining that it needed to be trimmed however there is so much going on I never found myself bored or fidgety. Reeves and his co-writer Peter Craig have written a genuinely interesting, complex and engaging crime story that is able to hold an audience’s attention for that long runtime. You could theoretically replace Batman with a different type of detective and still tell the same compelling story.
Complimenting the strong story and incredible cast is the tone of the film. I always thought the Christopher Nolan Batman Trilogy did a great job of reinventing the character in a more grounded universe when compared to previous iterations put to screen. Reeves has shown you can ground it even more by shifting the genre ever so slightly, resulting in an amazing cinematic experience.
While there are some moments that are clearly unrealistic – it is still a Batman movie after all – most of what you see is set in a world we can relate to. The fight choreography, the car chase (as well as the type of car used for the Batmobile), the use of the batsuit as body armor (cause he gets shot a lot) are all done in such a way that it could be real, more so than Nolan’s trilogy.
But even though there’s a grounded realism throughout the film, it still has the dark, noir tone to the world that makes you feel like you’re in Se7en with elements of horror thrown into it. That’s right – horror. The way Batman makes an entrance from the shadows and even the introduction of the Batmobile as a demonic vehicle from Stephen King’s “Christine” all add an extra layer of horror to the already gritty story and terrible crimes being committed by the Riddler.
The Batman is an amazing cinematic reimagining of this iconic character that breaks away from superhero norms and I absolutely loved it. For action-adventure junkies or Marvel CGI lovers, there might be too much story and character exploration for their liking, and at nearly three hours they may have a point. Pattinson proves he was the right actor for the part, as does everyone, and Matt Reeves delivers a compelling story about a memorable, messed up villain. This is 2022’s must see movie so far.
- MPAA Rating: PG-13
- Release Date: March 4, 2022
- Distributor: Warner Bros.
Originally published on March 07, 2022 at https://www.popzara.com/movies/movie-reviews/the-batman-2022/