Film Review - "The Batman" (2022)
Batman stands for vengeance.
Even to those who may not have followed the Caped Crusader’s 80-plus year career know the story. Bruce Wayne, son of billionaires Thomas and Martha Wayne, is witness to his parents’ murder at the hands of an armed street mugger. The young Bruce, fractured by the trauma, reinvents himself as a playboy by day and a masked vigilante by night, instilling fear in the criminal underworld of Gotham City as the Batman. Batman’s is fertile soil richly mined. From the camp classic Adam West television series and subsequent film; to the Gothic nightmares of Tim Burton; to the grounded revisionist take of Christopher Nolan, the superhero created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger has had staying power unmatched by few other fictional characters then or since. The breadth of approaches to the Batman mythos are evidence enough of the many diverse ways the character can be interpreted, but after a while, one is liable to feel there are only so many ways Batman can be portrayed before it becomes a little stale.
The Batman (2022), the latest motion picture take on the character has proved me wrong. Directed by Matt Reeves and starring Robert Pattinson in the title role, this is a Batman film which – though breaking little new ground – still feels distinct in the history of the character’s filmic exploits. Perhaps it is Pattinson’s performance that feels unique - his Bruce Wayne just as shadowy and enigmatic a figure as his Batman; the line differentiating the mask and the man beneath it more blurred than ever before. Perhaps it is the film’s narrative that is singular – this movie pushes the Batman’s detective prowess to the front and, for the first time on screen, we get to see the character properly investigate crimes alongside the Gotham police department; exemplified here by Jeffrey Wright’s Jim Gordon. Or, maybe it’s the film’s tone – poised somewhere between David Fincher’s revolutionary crime thriller Se7en (1995) and the heightened otherworld of the enormously successful Marvel Cinematic Universe, The Batman strikes an interesting balance.
I cannot begin to say which of these elements resonated with me strongest, for this is a film which feels like it must be judged as a whole and not simply the sum of its parts. Case in point: though the film’s monstrous three-hour runtime can be felt in its deliberate pace and complex conspiracy plotline, I cannot think of one scene that feels extraneous. Reading of the meticulous method by which director Matt Reeves and co-screenwriter Peter Craig crafted their story, I can say that their labors were rewarded in their finished product. And, even if that conspiracy plot does begin to drag somewhere around the film’s second hour, I cannot help but praise the creative team’s effort to deliver something different. Today’s media landscape is so often dominated by cookie-cutter blockbusters that differentiating the exploits of one masked hero from another becomes something of a chore. So, the fact that The Batman eschews much of the traditional comic book tropes in favor of a storyline that deliberately evokes hardboiled noir cinema like Chinatown (1974), should be applauded with the reverence of a standing ovation.
That is not to say that The Batman feels lacking in the action-adventure department. Indeed, some of the film’s very best moments comes when Reeves interrupts the mystery to deliver on the thrilling set-pieces. Days after seeing the film, I’m still thinking about the frenetic car chase and an equally exciting scene which finds the hero forced to leap from the roof of the Gotham police headquarters. These scenes are brilliantly underscored by Michael Giacchino’s propulsive, sweeping orchestral score which serves as a powerful complement to the high-octane action. I had my reservations about this score leading up the film’s release seeing how it seemed to exist in stark contrast to the film’s quiet brooding (chiefly exemplified by the use of Nirvana’s “Something in the Way” which bookends the film), but those qualms were shattered hearing it blast through the movie theatre sound system. This is unequivocally the music of Batman.
I see that I have gone on for more than 600 words about The Batman and failed to touch on a number of points including Zoë Kravitz’s Catwoman, Paul Dano’s Zodiac Killer-inspired Riddler, or Colin Ferrell’s unrecognizable turn as the Penguin. All are worthy of praise in a film that is deserving of all the critical lauding it has received thus far. The Batman is not perfect, but it is a rich and unique film which proves that new takes exist for this well-loved and time-honored character. Indeed, come the film’s conclusion, I was overjoyed to find that Reeves had derived the nucleus of a new approach to the character: As Batman stands amidst the resultant rubble of the villain's scheme, he recognizes that he must be something more than just fear. As an audience member in 2022 viewing The Batman in the wake of an unprecedented pandemic and with news of our geopolitical world rocked seeping in from all sides, I think we know how easy it is for our fear to be used against us. Whether it is with a simple tweet or the utterance of a single word, those who wish to do us harm can bring us to our knees with the fear of what we know is capable. But, Batman, as a character, works in direct opposition to that maleficence. This is the ultimate message of The Batman. A hero must be more than fear alone.
Batman stands for hope.