Title: The Batman (2022) Director: Matt Reeves Writers: Matt Reeves, Peter Craig, Bob Kane (character) Stars: Robert Pattinson, Zoë Kravitz, Barry Keoghan, Colin Farrell, Jeffrey Wright, Peter Sarsgaard, Andy Serkis
You know the story. Young Bruce Wayne, son of a wealthy industrialist or philanthropist, depending on what version you are watching, inherits his family’s wealth and estate after his parents are brutally murdered in from of his eyes. Grief and rage drive Bruce to fight criminals and protect his city in the guise of the masked and black-caped Batman.
We’ve seen many big-screen adaptations of Bob Kane’s iconic comic-book superhero over the years. Tim Burton’s late-80s take on the character, starring Michael Keaton as Batman, got a sequel that was arguably better than the already great first. Sadly, Joel Schumacher’s clumsy attempt at a follow-up in the 90s, this time with George Clooney as Batman, was less successful with its mix of dazzling colors, a dash of homoeroticism and attempts at humor. But in 2005, Christopher Nolan gave us the first film in the Dark Knight trilogy, a more grounded, realistic and serious story, with Christian Bale as the caped crusader. And in recent years, Ben Affleck has donned the black cape and mask to a decidedly mixed reception from fans. Now a new Batman enters the stage.
I was very skeptical when I first heard that Robert Pattinson, whom I mostly still associated with the abysmal Twilight franchise, would be the new Batman. To be sure, Pattinson has done several great roles after his days as the sparkling, somewhat creepy vampire, but I have always been a fan of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight trilogy, and to me, Christian Bale was always the best Batman/Bruce Wayne. What new and different could director Matt Reeves and Robert Pattinson bring to the table?
The answer is: so very, very much! Yes, The Batman is different, yet it plays completely true to Bob Kane’s character. The film, which runs for just under three hours, is dark, bleak and violent, leaning heavily into the crime thriller and noir genres while at the same time borrowing elements from horror. Influences from classic noir thrillers like David Fincher’s Seven can be seen everywhere in this film, and in some ways, The Batman does for the protagonist what Todd Phillip did for his arch-nemesis in the 2019-film The Joker. Do they exist in the same cinematic universe? Should they?
Matt Reeves has gathered a fantastic cast for his version of the story; Andy Serkis plays Bruce Wayne’s butler and confidant Alfred a bit harder and more cynical than we have seen in earlier versions. Jeffrey Wright is excellent as police detective James Gordon, and Zoë Kravitz gives us a great take on the cat burglar and cocktail waitress Selina Kyle/Catwoman.
On the wrong side of the law and receiving the end of Batman’s wrath, we met Colin Farrell, almost unrecognizable as Oswald Cobblepot, aka The Penguin. And Paul Dano gives us his excellent version of The Riddler, as different from Jim Carrey’s green-clad 90s sprite as it is possible to come. Happily, the days of Joel Schumacher’s overly theatrical nonsense are far behind us.
In The Batman, we meet Bruce Wayne two years after first becoming Batman. Still unhinged by the trauma of the murder of his parents and the rage at the criminal underworld that caused it, he has been patrolling Gotham to fight crime. Robert Pattinson, who has time and time again shown himself as a terrific actor after his Twilight days, is perfectly suited (no pun intended) for this role, both in and out of the batsuit.
As a first in the big-screen Batman adaptations, The Batman is mostly a tense detective story through the murky streets of Gotham, although there is still plenty of action. It begins with the murder of a mayor candidate of Gothan City by a mysterious person known only as “The Riddler,” who leaves clues and riddles on the crime scene, tying it all to Batman. James Gordon, who has worked with the caped crusader before, calls him in to help in the case. As more bodies turn up, Batman and Gordon must investigate and unravel a sinister plot against the city and its inhabitants.
With his version of Batman, Matt Reeves invites us into the mind of the tormented superhero as no other director has done before. Again, Robert Pattinson is the perfect actor for this kind of role, portraying Batman as unhinged, obsessed and full of rage. There is a realism to the character that reminded me of Christopher Nolan’s version, but the world of Matt Reeves’ The Batman is still decidedly more comic book-inspired. In many ways, the aesthetics here reminded me of the excellent Arkham games by Rocksteady Studios, which is a good thing! This is all backed up by some amazing cinematography by Greig Fraiser (Dune, Rogue One, Zero Dark Thirty); It might not be subtle, but it is still some of the best I’ve seen in recent years.
The Batman is also the most mature version of the story we’ve seen so far on the big screen and is squarely aimed at an adult audience. I would never have believed it two years ago, but here it is: In my book, Matt Reeves has just dethroned Christopher Nolan with a Batman film starring Twilight-star Robert Pattinson as the caped crusader.
The Batman is superhero perfection. Dark, violent and grimy superhero perfection!