2022, PG-13, 175 min. Directed by Matt Reeves. Starring Robert Pattinson, Paul Dano, Jeffrey Wright, Zoë Kravitz, John Turturro, Colin Farrell, Andy Serkis.
REVIEWED By Richard Whittaker, Fri., March 4, 2022
The world’s greatest detective. That’s who Batman is. Look at the front of the comic and that’s what it says. Yet none of his cinematic outings have ever captured that vital element of his character, instead homing in on the more superheroic side.
Deranged. That’s another aspect of Batman. That he was so broken by the murder of his parents that he dresses as a bat and beats up crooks. Again, that’s something that the films play with but never really embraced.
So for those who find the intersection of those two facets of Bruce Wayne’s alter ego fascinating, then Matt Reeves’ bold and enthralling The Batman marks a radical shift in direction, even from Christopher Nolan’s (comparatively) more grounded trilogy.
There are many recognizable and well-worn elements of the Batman mythos here: There’s the taciturn Batman/Bruce Wayne, his “it’s complicated” nemesis/love interest Catwoman/Selina Kyle, his loyal butler Alfred, and the ever-recognizable moustache of Lieutenant James Gordon. But Reeves isn’t interested in rehashing Burton’s glossy theatrics, or Nolan’s grandiose geopolitics, or Snyder’s overblown operatics. His Gotham is an almost recognizable mish-mash of the darkest corners of a dozen different cities, filled with poverty, desperation, violence, corruption. And his Batman is the perfect response to that crumbling mask of civility. As played by Pattinson, he’s a gaunt ghost who has already left a mark of fear (what was that about criminals being a cowardly, superstitious lot?) on the city that he has sworn to protect. Into this Reeves inserts one of the most challenging members of Batman’s rogue’s gallery: the Riddler.
It’s hard to take a punster in a green suit seriously without him seeming like a fifth-rate Joker, so Reeves and Paul Dano strip him of all humor. Like Pattinson’s self-destructive savior, Dano’s Riddler is unhinged and violent, with open nods to the Zodiac Killer and the Unabomber. At the same time, Batman has to keep an eye on mob boss Carmine Falcone (Turturro) and his chief enforcer, the Penguin (an utterly unrecognizable Farrell) while his path crosses with that of Selina (Kravitz), who works in one of Falcone’s drinking holes. Meanwhile Bruce’s only friends are Alfred (Serkis) and Gordon (Wright, superbly grizzled), both of whom he holds at arm’s length.
If that seems like a lot, it is: But Reeves gives himself a leisurely three-hour run time to execute his massive, grim narrative. Normally, this would seem like a sign of pretentious bloat, and Reeves has a history of failing to tame an unwieldy narrative (his War for the Planet of the Apes has whole acts that could be readily removed, and that was almost 40 minutes shorter). Instead, The Batman uses that time to fill out its seedy, rain-soaked, decrepit, and crumbling world, and Reeves binds it all together with a mordant tone, amplified by Michael Giacchino’s score and especially his doom-laden remix of Nirvana’s “Something in the Way” – possibly the first instance in modern cinema of an indie rock fave being given a contemporary, breathy revamp and it not seeming obnoxious.
Reeves also realizes that he doesn’t need to rehash the tired points of the Batman mythos that have been drilled into our brains, so no death of the Waynes. Instead, he uses them as a stepping stone, and adds new depths, new convolutions. This Batman barely believes that Gotham is worth saving; the Riddler’s plan increasingly suggests that his darkest fears are right. This is where Reeves highlights the detective side of ol’ Bats, as he finds himself cutting deeper into the fetid heart of Gotham. Comic fans may immediately see references to the more street-level epics of the caped crusader, with inspiration clearly drawn from landmark stories like the gangster grit of “The Long Halloween” or the Riddler-centric “Zero Year.” At the same time, Reeves has bigger, gnarlier, gritter literary aspirations, and it’s hard not to feel the influence of Don DeLillo or James Ellroy, David Simon or Ed McBain (Wright’s Gordon looks like he rolled straight of the 87th Precinct books).
Those authors specialize in morally conflicted men on the line between hero and antihero, and Reeves’ The Batman actually places Pattinson’s struggle front and center. By grounding the narrative, forcing Batman back onto the streets, Reeves creates some truly memorable moments: not just action set-pieces, or the crackling interactions between Bruce and Selina, but an insight into Batman’s tortured relationship with cops and civilians (he even gets away with his own riff on the unmasking sequence from Spider-Man 2). What Riddler is doing is nakedly political, and there’s a risk that the audience may fall for his persuasive, butcherous way. Yet in the rebuttal to the Riddler’s conundrum, Reeves give this Bruce Wayne something more meaningful than an origin story: He gives him redemption.
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Marc Savlov, July 14, 2017
Marjorie Baumgarten, July 11, 2014
March 24, 2023
March 24, 2023
The Batman, Matt Reeves, Robert Pattinson, Paul Dano, Jeffrey Wright, Zoë Kravitz, John Turturro, Colin Farrell, Andy Serkis