Hype is a funny feeling. It creeps up on you when the thing that you expect to see or experience is inching ever closer to your horizon. Furthermore, in today’s age of media anticipatory marketing heavy forms of content, hype can both blind a viewer to criticism while also tenfold increase their ability to enjoy. It also increases the chances of being disappointed far more because unchecked expectations can never match up to the real thing, except in very few cases. “The Batman” is one of those rare cases where expectations are met with the story Matt Reeves set out to tell.
As a character and an IP, Batman is one of the more famous and mutable fan-favorite properties. The character is responsible for having arguably one of the best movies ever made based on him—Christopher Nolan’s 2008 “The Dark Knight.” There is a high possibility that the movie will be unfavorably compared to “The Dark Knight,” and while there are some similarities, there are also very noticeable differences.
It is the second year of Batman, the vigilante who has entered Gotham and struck fear into the hearts of criminals. The fear is burrowed in by the presence of a skylight with a bat symbol flashing across the sky, heavy footsteps sounding as Batman steps out of the shadows and mercilessly beats criminals to an inch of their lives. It is the second year, and the Gotham City Police, as well as the city administration, are wary of his presence. His only ally within the force is Commissioner Jim Gordon, a man who treats him like an equal and a partner, but also as a necessary part of Gotham itself.
Gotham is a city with a personality and its quirks, but the situation slowly starts to boil when the mayor, Don Mitchell Jr., is murdered by a masked criminal known only as The Riddler. The Riddler wraps Mitchell’s face with cellophane, scrawls “No More Lies” on the covered face with red ink, and leaves a riddle for Batman. As Bruce Wayne, AKA Batman, investigates the case, secrets start to unravel regarding the criminal element of Gotham City as well as Wayne’s dark past.
Matt Reeves takes inspiration from many different and famous Batman stories and mixes them in a blender to craft an original story that also has shades of other movies dealing with procedural storylines, most notably David Fincher’s oeuvre. Fincher as an inspiration is one of the more overt of these, with his crafting of the Riddler as a masked and mysterious serial killer who leaves clues for the investigators to find. However, Reeves here definitely takes the approach of detective noir. There is a heavy focus on the crime-solving, puzzle decoding, and cipher unlocking aspects of the story. Batman, along with Gordon, investigating a convoluted plot with a conspiracy to shake Gotham’s upstanding citizenry is ably mixed by Bruce Wayne’s conflict within himself.
Bruce Wayne, as played by Robert Pattinson, is a brooding goth kid, a man driven by rage and vengeance, who records all his thoughts and ruminations in a diary. In short, he is a man suffering from post-traumatic stress triggered by an unfathomable loss, and he chooses to deal with it by dressing up as a vigilante and trying to better the city by taking on the criminal element one step at a time.
As the movie opens, the narration reveals both Wayne’s single-minded and consumed goal and his doubts about whether he is fighting a losing battle. Through the long but extremely compelling three-hour runtime, the story turns out to be a coming-of-age narrative, both in Wayne’s acceptance of his role in the larger tapestry of Gotham City as both Batman and, to some extent, Bruce Wayne. The acceptance of the part of himself as Bruce Wayne is emblematic of the relationship between him and Alfred, the trusty butler, who in this version is also an ex-British secret service agent. Their relationship is professional and very strained at times, but it slowly evolves into a far more cordial and caring one as the secrets of his family get exposed.
“The Batman” has a central villain in Paul Dano’s Riddler, as it was advertised. But that would diminish all the other aspects of the movie’s plot. As the movie states, the city is a powder keg, and the Riddler is the match. The true villain in the film is Gotham City itself, the corruption seeping through its tendrils, shown visually through rain-drenched evenings and roads filled with smoke, burning rubber, nightclubs drenched in hues of red, and the mob controlling every aspect of the city’s infrastructure. Led by Colin Farrell’s Penguin (a surprisingly unrecognizable and funny performance) and John Turturro’s Carmine Falcone, the mob angle also connects both Pattinson’s Batman and Zoe Kravitz’s Catwoman.
In her turn as Catwoman, Kravitz brings sensuality and a surprisingly tender and vulnerable portrayal of the feline vigilante. Her chemistry with Pattinson’s Batman is slow, awkward, and develops into something endearing and three-dimensional. But it’s Turturro as Falcone who surprised me. Unlike Tom Wilkinson’s portrayal in Batman Begins, Turturro brings a very New Yorker posh yet sleazy aspect to Falcone, a form of creeping menace. The entire mob plot runs the risk of evolving from a key subplot to overtaking the full main plot, but the pace of the script is controlled. Stakes rise to incremental yet terrifying levels, and by the time the movie reaches its final act, the very soul and building blocks of the city are at stake.
Matt Reeves and DOP Craig Fraisier know how to give the vibe and tonality of a dark noir thriller. Fraisier especially uses deep focus and the color red to ratchet up the tension and excitement during key moments of action. The action is brutal and, at times, sleek, though I would have liked a bit more consistency in the sleeker aspects of the action. The set-piece of the car chase involving a souped-up Mustang as the batmobile chasing the Penguin through the darkened streets of Gotham amidst explosions and burning rubber is a highlight. The action scenes of Batman wasting a bunch of goons through a pitch-black hallway, the only light source being flashes of semi-automatic gunfire, are another highlight in a string of short but adrenaline-inducing action set-pieces.
“The Batman” succeeds where “The Dark Knight” did as well—it is a crime story involving a serial killer, gruesome murders, and a conspiracy involving the mob, which just so happens to have an investigator dressing up as a bat-vigilante. It also succeeds at an exponential level because the score manages to tell its own unique story. Michael Giacchino’s score for Batman is both epic and emotional at the same time. Matt Reeves crafts a superhero story that is both the perfect mix of the comic book Batman and the realistic Batman, where consequences are contained and yet dire. But while the consequences force Gotham to be almost like a “No Man’s Land,” there is hope, an arc of completion, as Gotham city rises from the ashes and takes to rebuilding, both in its building blocks as well as its citizens. As a reboot of a property that has gone through so many iterations, this almost feels poetic.
“The Batman” is a 2022 action crime drama based on DC comic book characters. The film is directed by Matt Reeves.