REVIEW: 'The Batman' (2022), directed by Matt Reeves
I normally wouldn't post "mainstream" movie reviews here but I'm making an exception on this occasion.
“I am the shadows” Batman says before he emerges with such presence that you can’t help but feel as if something truly special is unfolding before your very eyes. Robert Pattinson has been steadily emerging as one of the most promising actors of this generation and anybody who still has the audacity to refer to him as “that sparkly dude from Twilight” is at this point just being purposely ignorant. From an outlaw bank robber in the Safdie Bros Good Time to a slow descent into madness in Robert Eggers The Lighthouse, Pattinson has now gone full-blown psycho in The Batman.
Batman- the most done-over superhero in history. Just when you thought that there couldn’t possibly be anything new left to do with the character’s silver screen presence, along comes Dawn and War of Planet of the Apes director Matt Reeves. 'The Batman' takes clear inspiration from detective thriller outings such as Se7en and Zodiac whilst showing hints of Tim Burton visuals and architecture but grounding itself in a certain reality as Christopher Nolan did before him. Yet with all that, The Batman manages to stand firmly on its own; masterfully blending the best of its inspirations and existing somewhere outside of any box.
The noir influence is prevalent immediately through a voice-over narration by Bruce Wayne explaining the state of the city, its inhabitants and its crime. This not only aids its intended atmosphere but also made it feel more comic book-esque à la Zack Snyder’s Watchmen. Easily overdone, this element only appears in the opening and closing of the picture.
The film is much more focused on the detective element of the character which is something that has felt pushed a little into the background in the past in favour of huge-scale set pieces and lots of adrenaline-fuelled adventure. The lack of blockbuster action will undoubtedly disappoint some viewers but when it is time for Batman to be that ass-kicker, it certainly delivers. Having said that, the most memorable action sequence of the affair is a lengthy car chase that deserves nothing less than the big-screen and high-quality surround sound. The Batman feels somewhat smaller in scale compared to Nolan’s trilogy or Zack Snyder’s films but is much more a focused and clear narrative, at times rather claustrophobic but maybe that’s because much of the film and key scenes are spent indoors as opposed to outdoors in contrast to much of the character’s previous outings.
As for Bruce Wayne himself, this is still the very early stages of his crusade and he is full of rage and hate, seeking vengeance and justice interchangeably. Pattinson is as intense as ever and completely humanises Bruce Wayne as a tortured orphan soul who is withdrawn, emotionally unavailable and struggles with human interaction. He doubts himself, makes mistakes and is a Batman who is ultimately able to fail. He is presented not as a hero but as a symbol of hope, solidified by the closing minutes in stunning visual fashion.
As good as Pattinson is and as interesting as this version of Bruce Wayne/Batman is, this film belongs to the supporting characters, particularly Paul Dano’s Riddler. The only other filmic Riddler we have as a comparison is Jim Carrey, however unlike the Joker where they are all constantly pitted against one-another, there really is no comparison here. Carrey was campy and cartoony, Dano is a horror movie villain and in terms of filmic bat-rogues, he is right up there with Heath Ledger. The opening sequence of the film feels as if it has been ripped straight from a classic ‘monster’ movie and created a tone that told viewers to prepare themselves. Paul Dano is another incredible talent with a particular niche in off-beat characters, and this may just be his best yet. Not only is he frightening but also sympathetic- a balance that can be difficult to find. The Riddler also provides some interesting metaphorical commentary on Batman, holding up a mirror and ultimately asking the question “Are we really so different?” This may not be a new idea for Batman, as pretty much every villain attempts to expose him in this way- it's literally the whole ideology behind his relationship with the Joker, but it’s handled here in such a way that it feels far more sinister, especially with how this version of Bruce Wayne is much more about the pain surrounding his need to be the Batman. There are countless foes in Batman’s near hundred-year history and this movie proved that not every great incarnation of Batman needs a Joker.
Colin Farrell is unrecognisable as Oswald Cobblepot, better known as the Penguin in one of the more stereotypical performances of the film- a New York mobster as if ripped straight from the pages of an old school comic book. Zoe Kravitz’s cat provides a nice counterpart to Pattinson’s bat. The sultry, flirtatious side of the character ever-present but toned down in favour of a more vulnerable orphan also seeking vengeance, making this Selina Kyle an equal not only physically but also emotionally.
Jeffery Wright stands on a much more moral ground as the eventual Commissioner Gordan, unafraid to take a stand against Batman’s more extreme methods. Bruce’s relationship with Andy Serkis’ Alfred Pennyworth is as are a lot of things in this effort, rather different to what we’re used to seeing on the big screen. Unlike previous iterations, the two barely speak and Bruce is somewhat dismissive of him- as a tortured, reclusive and recovering young soul would be. John Turturro as Mob boss Carmine Falcone round out an exceptional cast of supporting characters.
There have been some interesting alterations to the backstories of some of the familiar characters which may deter die-hard comic book fans but for those who like to be a little surprised and not have the same story rehashed over again, the changes are very welcome and a great introduction to a new universe.
The presentation was gorgeous with cinematography by Greig Fraser, known for his work on Rogue One, Dune and Zero Dark Thirty Gotham City never looked so seedy yet so picturesque. Paired with the score of Michael Giacchino, who previously worked with director Matt Reeves on his Planet of the Apes ventures, The Batman is both beautiful and epic. The music is familiar yet unique, blending the classic horn-heavy movie music with classical compositions, even going as far as using horror movie sounds during various sequences and it was that much better for it- presenting Batman as just that- a demonic presence emerging from the shadows. Wrapped up in a musical package along with of course Nirvana’s Something in the Way, coming together to create an atmosphere of fear, dread, terror and solitude.
DC may be having limited albeit emerging success building their shared universe. Unlike Marvel however, these continuing standalone projects free from the constraints of large-scale continuity gives filmmakers the freedom to realise their individual visions. Even if the groundwork laid by the Snyderverse and its characters do take off, I sincerely hope that DC don’t stop producing these more artistic projects. With Todd Phillips’ Joker and now this, we are moving towards a movement in which superhero movies don’t need to be “superhero movies.” The great Martin Scorsese famously said in 2019 that he doesn’t view Marvel’s movies as real cinema, comparing them rather to theme parks. Regardless of how much one agrees or disagrees with those comments, I challenge anybody to say that DC's recent indie style ventures aren’t “real cinema.” This is as close to a “true filmmaker’s Batman” as we’re going to get, unless of course Scorsese decides to makes one himself. I hope that superhero cinema continues in this direction because after over a decade of formulaic action blockbusters, this could be what it desperately needs.