Basically: It’s a Batman movie—we all know what that is by now, right?
It’s winter 2022, the world is cold but the weather in DC is warm. Humanity is on the precipice of disaster. People are afraid and the city is quiet…yeah, sorry, I was in my Batman bag for a second. Here we go again with a new take on Batman in a cinematic space. Matt Reeves, my guy who directed the two fantastic Planet of the Apes films, teams up with Robert Pattinson as Bruce Wayne/Batman in another take on the character’s early Batman phase.
Gotham is in a bad state of affairs. Crime is up and the city is in bad shape financially. There’s an election for mayor approaching but before it can happen…there’s a murder. A new terror named The Riddler (Paul Dano) appears. He’s trying to unmask the city’s secrets and wants to play with Batman while he does it. From there, Bruce learns about the true Gotham he never knew about, showing him that his fight goes deeper than some muggers and gangs on the streets. Bruce does have a few allies, one being Lieutenant Jim Gordon, played wonderfully by Jeffrey Wright. Alfred is played by Andy Serkis and the other colossal star is Zoë Kravitz as Selina Kyle AKA the future Catwoman.
The central questions are:
Can Batman stop The Riddler from his killing spree?
Will he understand how the parts of the city connect through its criminal elements?
So, is The Batman good? I have to say yes, it works on a couple of different layers. Other than the DC Animated Universe (DCAU) with Batman: The Animated Series and Justice League Unlimited especially, The Batman might be the most well-rounded, comic-accurate take on the character I’ve seen to date. Pattinson plays Bruce; please note this is Bruce without the persona but as a very driven man, dealing with his emotions and trauma and trying to focus them into a mission to protect and save his city. He doesn’t care about himself, and he doesn’t have the two public personas yet. No one ever sees Bruce Wayne, and there is no billionaire playboy yet. He goes out at night, stalking the city in and out of costumes as ways to hide within it. The revelation of The Riddler is something both Gotham PD (GCPD) and Batman are unfamiliar with. Still, it allows the film to focus on one thing missing from previous films cinematically — being a detective. This movie owes some cinematic ideas to David Fincher, especially Zodiac. Yet it’s not all that, just like The Dark Knight isn’t just Michael Mann’s Heat. The film can travel along many character paths through its almost three-hour runtime. A runtime you never think about as you’re so into the story you don’t want it to end.
Pattinson also has amazing chemistry with Kravitz — woo wee, it is off the charts. Also, as a protagonist she adds another significant layer that this film does well, the romantic element. This is the first time I felt that Batman and his love interest were equal and actually crucial to the plot with their drive and challenge to overcome. While what she needs to do is connected with everything going on, she isn’t a sidekick to Batman and not even a Watson type (that’s Gordon). Here there are sparks between the two that are palpable on the screen and the fire in Selina’s eyes to payback those who wronged her and those she cares about is excellent to watch. If they were trying to make people want Catwoman as her own thing for a movie, they’ve got it, and I think we’re ready to see it.
The third thing for me is that this film is more focused on having an adult story than what you usually get from PG-13 superhero movies. The film isn’t starting out with an origin, and there’s not a lot of representative action or extensive CG. Here we have a serial killer mystery about corruption in US cities, how some have failed it, and how Batman can symbolize heroism versus justice. There is no falling on the sword here, no believing in Harvey Dent because he can’t symbolize the city’s needs. It’s more about Batman being a symbol in the day and for the people just as much using fear against the criminals.
Some last thoughts, Colin Farrell is gotdamn amazing as The Penguin in his Al Capone, Italian mobster version of the classic character. He disappears into the makeup in ways that Jared Leto wishes he could in House of Gucci. Also, you know all that talk on social media about how Batman can solve problems with his money, or he’s just a cop? They deal with those criticisms in film and not in a hamfisted way, but one that from the beginning and central to the character shows just how money doesn’t solve all the problems a city and community may face.
In the End: The Batman is the stellar start of a new era of the cinema character. Something that works for the most diehard DC comics fans and those who love the character in the movies. It’s an excellent time for film.