REVIEW: The Batman [2022]

Rating: 8 out of 10.
  • Rating: PG-13 | Runtime: 176 minutes
    Release Date: March 4th, 2022 (USA)
    Studio: DC Comics / Warner Bros.
    Director(s): Matt Reeves
    Writer(s): Matt Reeves & Peter Craig / Bill Finger & Bob Kane (characters)

No more lies.


It’s been twenty years since the murder of his parents. Two since he put on the cowl. Gotham still doesn’t know what to think of the costume, but the fear it has placed inside the hearts of criminals cannot be overstated. Violence only seems to increase, though, and Bruce Wayne (Robert Pattinson) wonders if his presence as a vigilante seeking vengeance has done anything beyond giving offenders another figure of “justice” to run from. Saving a helpless man from a gang on Halloween, only for the victim to plead that he not hurt him too, may prove worse with citizens seeing Batman as another operator of unchecked brute force. Why should they trust that he won’t eventually turn on them? Why should they believe he’s not a killer?

So, despite Matt Reeves (and co-writer Peter Craig) avoiding another flashback to young Bruce watching his mother’s pearl necklace break in a darkened alley, his The Batman remains an origin story. Maybe not for the figure itself, but for the hope it has yet to inspire. He is merely vengeance now because it’s who he believes he must be to have an effect. Bruce verbalizes the fact that he’s spent these two decades numbing himself to the fear of dying and separating himself from his family’s legacy in order to relinquish any and all attachments that may hold him back. Besides Alfred (Andy Serkis as a hybrid butler/bodyguard with an emphasis on the latter insofar as training him to fight), Wayne is isolated. He’s a recluse. A ghost.

Batman, however, has a friend in Lt. James Gordon (Jeffrey Wright). Let’s call it a mutually beneficial partnership cemented by the implementation of a bat signal that isn’t quite government sanctioned. We know this because Gordon inviting Batman to the sensitive crime scene of Gotham’s slain mayor on the cusp of a new election against the upstart Bella Reál (Jayme Lawson) causes eyebrows to raise and mouths to drop. Gordon has some rope with the commissioner to get away with it, but it’s getting shorter and shorter with each new stunt. How could he not bring the caped crusader along, though, when the killer left behind an envelope addressed to him? In it is a riddle and cypher easily cracked to begin their descent into Gotham’s corrupt soul.

Reeves takes inspiration from numerous comic storylines, mixing and matching to concoct an elaborate tapestry that overflows with iconic characters in differing stages of repute. The main thread may be Batman’s quest to uncover The Riddler’s (Paul Dano) identity before he murders more of the city’s powerful elite, but the journey towards that end is meticulously drawn so that everyone plays his/her role regardless of whether their inclusion is as a distraction, target, foreshadowing, or some combination of the lot. A web of politicians and law enforcement is exposed just as one of mobsters and entrepreneurs provides a mirrored image inside their mutual ground zero: a nightclub owned by Carmine Falcone (John Turturro). By housing DAs (Peter Sarsgaard‘s Colson) and cronies (Colin Farrell‘s Penguin) alike, the secrets abound.

Is one of them The Riddler’s location? Perhaps the reason why he’s chosen his targets and why they deserve a public airing of their dirty laundry? Maybe. What we know for certain is that Batman has a role to play no matter how unwitting due to the perpetrator intentionally dragging his name into the investigation. Is The Riddler showing the GCPD how bad they are at their jobs by bringing the vigilante in to solve his cryptic messages? Perhaps it’s an ego stroke, daring Batman to alternatively prove that he isn’t up to the task either? Gordon and Wayne do always seem to be a step behind no matter how much closer they get each time. He’s baiting them and they’re complying at every turn. Until fate intervenes.

Cue Selina Kyle (Zoë Kravitz) working her own angle against some of the parties embroiled in Batman’s case. Is she friend or foe? A trusted collaborator or liability? The answer lies somewhere in the middle because it always does in Gotham. Beyond Gordon, no one here is truly adhering to the law. Whether they break it for good reasons or bad, they exist in this cesspool precisely because they know they can get away with it if their skill and luck allow. It’s why we can’t even look at Reál without questioning her motives. She may say the right things and promise change, but can she really bring it when those she’ll need to rely upon are in the pocket of those desperate to maintain the status quo?

And therein lies The Batman‘s core conceit: that Wayne is nothing more than a weapon indirectly wielded by both sides of the coin. He must therefore make a choice about whether his cold, calculating pragmatism is working despite it keeping him at arm’s length from those he protects. Where is the line for the Bat and Bruce alike since one cannot exist without the other and neither is beyond reproach? There are some great bits of dialogue wherein Batman is called out for being exactly who he is—see Selina clocking his rhetoric as that of a privileged product of wealth before he can even finish a sentence. His mission is fueled by more than grief. It’s why “Batwoman’s” Ryan Wilder is such a refreshing change of pace.

This version of Bruce is too, though. While not being the playboy as deflection makes people not putting two and two together less believable, the whole Bruce as Kurt Cobain (it’s one thing for Reeves to admit modeling him after the late singer, it’s another to have Michael Giacchino use the baseline from “Something in the Way” throughout the entire score) is intriguing if only because it ensures the parallel to Riddler as an outsider/loner type is driven home harder. It can be a bit overbearing considering the plot is simple and predictable when stripped of its many false starts and stops (Reeves and Craig get full use from every character on-screen), but that’s the bane of origin tales. The goal is evolution. The package is ultimately secondary.

That’s not to say this one’s superficial. I like the dark, Zodiac-killer makeover of Riddler (Dano is certainly having fun regardless). And the ultra-realistic underbelly of Gotham with Falcone and Penguin playing ruthless gangsters rather than cartoonish eccentrics. Add Batman experiencing the brunt of his activities in ways the property rarely allows (he’s knocked out twice, winded numerous times, and actually feels human) and Reeves is certainly making good on his promise for “real world” authenticity. Talk of Batman’s detective work and the film’s noir inspirations are grossly overblown (this is quite the rudimentary depiction of both), but there’s a distinct visual flair I can get behind. And while it’s not as emotive as Reeves’ Apes films, the blockbuster spectacle does remain. I look forward to what’s next.


photography:
[1] © 2021 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved. Photo Credit: Jonathan Olley/™ & © DC Comics Caption: (L-r) ROBERT PATTINSON as Batman and JEFFREY WRIGHT as Lt. James Gordon in Warner Bros. Pictures’ action adventure “THE BATMAN,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release.
[2] © 2021 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved. Photo Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures/™ & © DC Comics Caption: PAUL DANO as Edward Nashton/the Riddler in Warner Bros. Pictures’ action adventure “THE BATMAN,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release.
[3] © 2021 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved. Photo Credit: Jonathan Olley/™ & © DC Comics Caption: ZOË KRAVITZ as Selina Kyle in Warner Bros. Pictures’ action adventure “THE BATMAN,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release.
[4] © 2021 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved. Photo Credit: Jonathan Olley/™ & © DC Comics Caption: COLIN FARRELL as Oswald Cobblepot/the Penguin in Warner Bros. Pictures’ action adventure “THE BATMAN,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release.

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