Matt Reeves’ take on the caped crusader is a refreshingly engaging one
The mark of a good storyteller is the ability to find something new in a worn-out trope. Storytelling is not so much qualified in what you are telling, but in how. That is why a fascinating premise can fall flat, and the most simple and boring set-up can prove fascinating. This can happen with cinematic characters, Spider-Man has been getting some interesting new spins, and Batman is now the latest to get a new take.
The Batman (2022) is the latest iteration of the caped crusader. We follow the young vigilante/rich boy Bruce Wayne (Robert Pattinson), bent on curbing crime in the corrupt city of Gotham. Bruce faces a challenge when a serial killer named the Riddler (Paul Dano) seeks to murder dodgy high government officials, while leaving a trail of clues for the caped crusader.
This take on Batman comes from Matt Reeves who both wrote and directed the film. After bringing a surprising pathos to the Planet of the Apes prequels, Reeves has done it yet again with The Batman. Reeves chooses to liken his Gotham City and Batman on the noir detective style that heavily influenced the first comics and a 1970s arc of the character. As such, Reeves relishes the aesthetic feel that he imbues in his film, bringing forth a gorgeous production design, cinematography, and sound mixing. If one were to take out the superhero elements of the story, The Batman would work perfectly well as a neo-noir detective flick.
Reeves delivers some of the most spectacular Batman visuals in any film to date, relishing the use of color and playing with the shadows in ways that would make German expressionists proud. However, the action in The Batman is also impressive, focusing on hand-to-hand combat in ways that other iterations haven’t, and choosing more static and uncut takes during these sequences that bring about a thrill and overall comprehension to the affair.
Reeves is given a free reign with The Batman, clocking the runtime at nearly three hours. This allows the American director to take his time in exploring the many aspects of the duality of Bruce Wayne and his vigilante alter-ego, but also the complex relationships that he has with the likes of his butler Alfred (Andy Serkis), fellow detective Jim Gordon (Jeffrey Wright), and cat-burglar Selina Kyle (Zoë Kravitz). As such, Reeves helps personalize the traumatized man behind the mask, and divulge the tortured psychology driving him to his goal. This is nicely paired with the conflicting and seeming well-intentioned villain in the film, who shares a noble goal, but employs deplorable means. The Riddler is very much motivated by a sense of abandonment by the government and elites, that leads him to lash out in anger. It is a familiar symptom being felt throughout many populist movements of the West in the real world and echoed with dangerous realism in The Batman.
After having restructured his career in intriguing indies after his Twilight (2008) experience, I’m glad that Pattinson is able to be enjoyed by mainstream audiences again. His tortured and reclusive take on both Bruce Wayne and Batman is a winning one. The surrounding cast is likewise used to perfection. Kravitz strongly overcomes the femme fatale trope to gain autonomy for her character, Dano is as creepy as he was in Prisoners (2013), and an unrecognizable Colin Farrell as the Penguin is delicious standout.
The Batman may falter most in the threading of its ambitious tale. The narrative struggles to connect sequences together in an organic way, so that the jumps from subsequent Riddler mysteries feels slightly convenient and overwrought. The lengthy runtime need not have been so either, there is clearly some fat to trim that would not have detracted from the film. Nevertheless, I enjoy that for once a director was able to keep his vision largely intact instead of succumbing to studio edits (as poor Zack Snyder was).
The Batman is one of the best takes on the famed superhero. I don’t believe it reaches the heights of the tight and accelerated The Dark Knight (2008), but it certainly makes its way onto the podium of best Batman films. Reeves brings an immersive and beautiful noir look at Gotham, and the psychological thriller aspect of his plot works well to explore the characters in intriguing new ways. Pattinson has signed a supposed three film deal for this character and I’m incredibly excited with how this potential new trilogy will shape out.