Matt Reeves’ The Batman is a brutal, uncompromising vision that leaves its indelible mark in comic book film history.
This review of the film The Batman (2022) does not contain spoilers.
There has always been the inherent darkness of The Batman. Rarely have the incarnations touched upon it. Sure, you are usually fed the same scene during each franchise’s reboot. You know the one where his parents die by the hand of some of Gotham’s lowlifes; who they are pledging money and time to provide a helping hand to (or protect). The Adam West television series never touched the subject. The Michael Keaton years offered brief flashbacks while the Caped Crusader ruminated over a stiff drink. Only did Christopher Nolan finally listen to Roger Ebert and refused to cast just for the chin. He allowed scribe David S. Goyer to give Christian Bale an excellent start to develop a glimpse of the tragic back story and cultivate this in future installments. Here, the Matt Reeves vision finds that psychological component that haunts as equally as it thrills.
Robert Pattinson plays the new Batman who distributes his brand of retributive justice. I’m not sure one of the biggest stars would have been ready to take on the Dark Knight during his Twilight years. While the talented actor still does the brooding Edward Cullen, he is now much more seasoned. With films such as The Lighthouse, Good Time, and Tenet under his belt, Pattinson’s performance here is much more nuanced. With a script from Reeves and The Town’s Peter Craig, the viewer is dropped in the middle of Wayne’s dark identity crisis.
After the Mayor dies at the hands of the supervillain, Wayne begins to hunt The Riddler (played by Wildlife‘s Paul Dano). The peculiar serial killer begins to target the wealthy, white elite of Gotham City. Here, Detective Gordon (Jeffrey Wright) brings in Batman to help investigate. After examining the clues left by the villain, Wayne tries to track down a anyone connected to the dead politician. There, he meets Selina Kyle (Zoe Kravitz), a woman with a talent for burglary, large and small. From there is a surprisingly well-developed story of political corruption that’s more timely than one would have expected. This includes an unrecognizable Colin Farrel as the Penguin and John Turturro as the Gotham city crime lord, Carmine Falcone.
Reeves, the man who put an indelible stamp when he took over the final two Planet of the Apes films, was the perfect choice to take over DC Comics’ most valuable franchise. He brings a rich and deeply detailed thematic vision to the series that many may find overwrought with its murky dexterity. However, there is much more going on beneath the surface. Wayne is now in his second year of crime-fighting. Yet he now has the discernible identity of who he is and who he’s fighting for. Besides being for the memory of his parents, his actions have consequences.
In contrast, many of them are the unintended, harmful kind. As the film progresses, you never actually see Wayne save anyone before its third act. It draws comparisons to The French Connection anti-hero of Jimmy “Popeye” Doyle. This is deeply rooted, even behavioral from the psychological damage and social stunted growth from the trauma and abandonment issues. Take Wayne’s relationship with Alfred Pennyworth (played by Reeves’ player Andy Serkis, underused here). Here there is a noticeable strain, even tumulous, as he has taken over the Wayne paternal duties. His job is to help young Bruce on the right path. Craig and Reeves are asking us to challenge the very notion of heroism, to explore his identity versus the confusing role in his life where his values, beliefs, and goals are muddled.
Sure, you may find Pattinson channeling his young stardom from Twilight, and even Dano looks like he pulled out his trusty glasses from the 2013 film Prisoners. Still, the overall experience is brutally slick and uncompromising, an ominous vision of today’s society that is closer to the fictionalized Gotham than it ever was before. Reeves brings psychological edge not seen in a Batman film. Not to mention it is folded into a world that has a tone that feels as if it was ripped from David Fincher’s Seven along with Greig Fraser’s (Zero Dark Thirty, Dune) ominous and evocative cinematography.
Matt Reeves leaves a cinematic mark in comic film history with patient, intelligent filmmaking. Even at an almost three-hour running time, The Batman does not feel too long. It’s tolerant, even darkly serene. Every scene has a thoughtful purpose. With a layered story about the nature of politics of greed that undermine the very people and the underlining effects, it’s an ominous look at the psychological blackhole where we always knew Bruce Wayne hibernated.
A prisoner in his mind.
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