The Batman (Movie Review)

People thought the trilogy of Christopher Nolan Batman films would be hard to top, especially 2008’s The Dark Knight. For a while they would have been right, as 2016’s Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice fell short of expectations, and 2018’s Justice League was enough of a mess to make people miss Zack Snyder (Dawn of the Dead 2005, Watchmen 2009), let alone Nolan & Co.

Despite Justice League getting a new cut, Ben Affleck (Good Will Hunting 1998, Sum of All Fears 2003) is out of the Batsuit. In his place is Robert Pattinson (Twilight 2008, Tenet 2020), the British pretty boy famous for being the undead hunk of teen girls’ dreams in the late 2000s/early 2010s. Who does he think he is? The guy from 1983’s Mr. Mom?

Regardless, The Batman finally got made, with Matt Reeves (Let Me In 2010, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes 2014) handling direction and production. Not to mention writing the screenplay too alongside Peter Craig (The Town 2010, Bad Boys for Life 2020). Once the film was in the can, it was released to cinemas on March 4, 2022 via DC Comics’ overseers Warner Bros.

The Batman still. © Warner Bros.

In it, billionaire Bruce Wayne aka Batman (Pattinson) has been working with police lieutenant Jim Gordon (Jeffrey Wright: Shaft 2000, Casino Royale 2006) to combat crime in Gotham City for the past two years. Their latest case sees them investigate the deaths of key city figures. The only clues left hint towards a mysterious perpetrator known as the Riddler (Paul Dano: There Will Be Blood 2007, 12 Years A Slave 2013), and an even bigger conspiracy involving his victims.

In order to figure it out, Batman will have to confront mobsters like the Penguin (Colin Farrell: Daredevil 2003, In Bruges 2008), their boss Carmine Falcone (John Turturro: The Big Lebowski 1997, Transformers 2007), and a woman cat-burglar (Zoë Kravitz: X-Men: First Class 2011, High Fidelity series) with her own agenda.

Sounds quite Batman-esque. Fans had speculated in the past that the Dark Knight would face off against a Jigsaw-esque, dark Riddler back in the Nolan days. Now it is here, 10 years later with a different cast and crew. Is it everything fans wished for?

Being yet another darker, grittier take on Batman, it could leave audiences tired. If it gets any grimmer, Warner Bros. will run out of good stuff from the dark comics and will be left with the iffy stuff. However, The Batman does manage to back up its tone for the most part.

The aforementioned murder-mystery elements work out the strongest, with the film playing out more like a detective story than a superhero one. The way the murders connect to the larger conspiracy, and how Batman, Gordon et al piece it together is quite interesting. Especially when it turns up new details about the characters. Some which keener Bat-fans might recognize from the comics.

The Batman still. © Warner Bros.

The look of the film is also grungier than prior films, harkening back to the likes of 1995’s Seven with certain motifs (rain = corruption). The streets are wet and grotty, the clubs bathed in sickly light. The film convinces the audience there is something wrong with Gotham beyond the Riddler and the mobsters through this design. Even Batman’s hi-tech equipment can look more like it came from 1979’s Alien or 1982’s Blade Runner– futuristic but clapped-out- than from a billionaire’s cheque book.

The direction also makes good use of the lighting or lack thereof, with its figures creeping out of the darkness for suspense, surprise, and shock. With the mystery focus, the action is limited to bursts of quick fights, with the odd vehicle chase and explosion. The film maintains this consistently until the final act, where the stakes rise rather suddenly. Like it needed that Nolan-esque, catastrophic finale than something quiet.

Then there is the acting. Wright makes for a solid Jim Gordon, acting as a strait-laced Watson to Pattinson’s creepy Holmes. Turturro’s Falcone is also commendable in how he can turn on the charm when need be, while being a cold-blooded killer at heart. Farrell’s Penguin is a particular standout, providing levity in an otherwise dour film.

Kravitz’s Catwoman is also a highlight in that, while the romantic tension between her character and Batman has been a staple for the past 80 years, it feels more organic here. Their connection is less flirting, more business, with the two bonding from there. It is perhaps more sedate, though it does help Catwoman feel more like her own character than a device for Batman to show his soft side.

Then there is Pattinson himself as said Batman, and he is quite good at it. He manages to look intimidating just through his steady pacing in and around crime scenes. It makes his Batman look quiet and calculating, with an air of menace. As opposed to his Bruce Wayne, who seems weaker by comparison. Like the issues that the Batsuit hides come up to the surface through his expressions and posture.

Except maybe they went a touch too far here. Pattinson’s Wayne feels rather too weak. To the point where it can feel a little forced- a shroud of drama than an actual trauma. Rather like his home decor, unfortunately. Gotham may be convincingly grim, yet Wayne Tower feels like a ramshackle callback to Burton’s gothic designs in 1989’s Batman. An actual gothic manor might have worked better as here, it feels more like Batman really, really wanted to live in Edward Scissorhands’ house.

The Batman still. © Warner Bros.

Likewise, the Riddler is somewhat derivative of the Nolan films. Especially The Dark Knight. For example, that film’s interrogation scene is regarded as a classic example of Joker’s brain taking on Batman’s brawn. The Batman’s version goes for the same deal, and it does not work as well. The audience gets the message and sees the puzzle pieces coming together. Except it also exposes and deflates the Riddler as a threat. Beforehand he can be genuinely creepy. By the last act, he is just weird and kind of annoying.

Therefore, The Batman is an engaging detective story with bursts of superheroics, with a sudden spike in crusader capers in its last act. The acting is solid all around, with special kudos to Kravitz and Farrell. It is mostly consistent with its character and set designs too, bar Bruce Wayne and the low point the Riddler ends on. As such it cannot top the Nolan films, but it is still an alright Bat-film in its own right. Thus, for these reasons, Cryptic Rock gives The Batman 4 out of 5 stars.

Warner Bros.

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