Zoë Kravitz and Robert Pattinson in The Batman (2022)
In the sprawling canon of superhero films, Batman and Gotham City have always stood out in terms of the characters and world-building. Among the peaks and plateaus of nocturnal interpretations over the years, writer-director Matt Reeves’ The Batman feels like the most invigorating in a very long time. It’s a fantastical gothic detective story that unscrambles characters and themes with great precision. A fantastic ensemble of actors compliment one another as clues to a bigger picture developing. With glimmers of hope, The Batman dusts off familiar pieces of Gotham’s bleak puzzle to start anew, as a riveting awakening story and a definitive film for its title character.
In this story, Batman uncovers corruption in Gotham City that connects to his own family while facing a serial killer known as the Riddler. Each chilling coded note left behind brings Batman closer to the bigger picture the Riddler has been envisioning. The unscrambling of messages, the lurking through evidence, Bruce Wayne going through dusty file folders and choppy surveillance videos…The Batman plays a little like a great 90s detective mystery. The film maintains that tone throughout, each new clue offering another reveal and shedding light on more characters entangled within the festering morals in Gotham City. With the Batman in particular, a director’s take on the character carries just as much weight as their take on Gotham, which is itself another character. The most striking element about Reeves’ depiction of Gotham, is the sense of unease in the veins of those who reside there. The level of mistrust in broken institutions, and that energy the characters give off, feeds into the visual decay and corruption of the city. It’s of course expectedly gloomy and dark, but the production design opens a portal of so much detail, creating something both fantastical and contemporary. The Batman’s production design carries occasional reminders of what Bo Welch was able to do with Tim Burton’s Batman Returns. Reeves’ film paints a gorgeously gothic picture of Gotham that feels real in the characters.
Speaking of characters, Robert Pattinson makes a fabulous Batman. He’s a fascinatingly conflicted Bruce Wayne who hasn’t yet reached the comfortability of presenting a suave, polished version to the public. Pattison is an equally interesting Batman; from voice to presence, wonderful work. He so convincingly treads the waters of an inner world split in two. Bruce Wayne’s discomfort with fame by association pushes him farther into nocturnal retreat, where the Batman steps into the shadows and commands the direction. What is interesting about this depiction of Batman is the character’s confrontation with his meaning; what does he symbolize in Gotham? Is vengeance the way to go? The film conveys Batman in a state of slumber; he’s on the brink of an awakening, the realization of just how damaged Gotham is and how deep that cut runs in his own spirit. The screenplay by Matt Reeves does a super job of following these threads like detective work; the more Batman uncovers from the Riddler, the more this search steers Batman to look inward and question why it seems to be that perhaps the Riddler would not exist without him. The psychology of Bruce Wayne/Batman takes a strong central role in Reeves’ film.
Robert Pattinson in The Batman (2022)
Zoë Kravitz in The Batman (2022)
The Batman has amassed a talented ensemble to fill orbiting characters in Gotham. Zoë Kravitz’s rendition of Selina Kyle is a magnetic force. From the moment she appears on screen, she exudes mystery and invites an excitement of learning more about her character, and ultimately her reveal as Catwoman. Selina’s intelligence and independence, plus the way she follows her intuition and stands in her own capabilities, gives Kravitz strong material to explore. She certainly makes the character her own, she’s the Catwoman of dreams. As well, Kravitz and Pattinson ooze chemistry. It is striking how devoid so many blockbusters have been of electric chemistry on screen, and these two absolutely deliver. The film draws an interesting relationship sparking between both characters; they have a push-pull magnetism where Selina’s search for justice and revenge takes her on a dangerous path; one that Batman can foresee leading to a point of no return if she acts on that revenge. The cat and the bat segment are among the strongest of the film.
The quadruple talents of Paul Dano as the Riddler, Jeffrey Wright as Lt. Gordon, John Turturro as Carmine Falcone, and Colin Farrell as Oz/Penguin is a treat to watch. Dano has been delivering consistently good work, and his interpretation of the Riddler is another gem in his career. A performance that builds on teases (each of which are so unsettling) reaches a climatic point in the third act, clinching everything Dano had been doing to get there. His Riddler is absolutely demented; he’s a chilling menace, and when finally face-to-face with Batman, Dano unleashes all hell. Among the supporting cast, Jeffrey Wright is a big standout. He’s been fantastic in everything for years, and gives a fab performance as Lt. Gordon. Just from watching his chemistry with Pattinson, the crux of the relationship between Gordon and Bruce is sensed right away. Another standout, and fine example of great casting, is John Turturro as mobster Falcone. Turturro’s magnetic presence as an actor is key for this character to jump out and elevate every scene.
Then there is Colin Farrell, whose talents are used in a much more cartoonish way. Not a trace of Farrell can be seen in Oz, known also as the Penguin. But as heavy as the makeup and styling clearly is, Farrell’s transformation shines just by the voice and cadence of this character alone. The makeup isn’t doing all the heavy lifting to the point where the performance gets lost. Farrell tailors the physicality instead, the clamminess and the lines on Oz’s face giving another dimension to a character consumed in corruption. Farrell gives a spirited performance that goes cartoon Italian mobster in an enjoyable way. Among the weaker elements of the ensemble are Bruce Wayne’s loyal confidante Alfred. While Andy Serkis is great, something is left missing in that dynamic between the two characters. As well, the buildup to Alfred in danger and the handling of the aftermath feels like a messy element in otherwise precise storytelling.
The characters of The Batman are complimented by Greig Fraser’s stunning cinematography and James Chinlund’s intricate production design. The film brings a strong depiction of Batman as a presence; the weight of his image in shadows, stepping into the light, is chilling. The use of lighting and play on shadows is strong throughout. There are plenty of memorable scenes, immaculately orchestrated moments that leave a giddiness behind. The cherry on top is Michael Giacchino’s outstanding melancholy score. It’s suspenseful and brooding, gothic and elevating, with fantastic horror elements sprinkled throughout. Batman's theme carries so much weight, a great mirroring to the character work being done in the film. Giacchino's suite is an incredible blend of mystery and suspense.
By the end of Matt Reeves’ The Batman brings a powerful sense of awakening in Bruce Wayne, in the history of his family lineage and in his relationship to Batman. At the core of this film is Batman in confrontation with the meaning of his place in Gotham, in contemplation with whether vengeance is the answer to the rot of this city. With compelling performances by Pattinson and Kravitz, plus an overall entertaining ensemble who bring their A game to Gotham, The Batman puts in the detective work to craft one of the most engaging and distinguishing comic book films.
The Batman is now playing in theatres.