March 2, 2022

“The Batman” Brings the Bat Back to the Basics (Review)

The Batman. Now there’s a powerful title if I’ve ever seen one. Just like its story, it brings the Caped Crusader back to his detective roots, with a clean slate that doesn’t have to live up to the standards of an already-established cinematic universe. Directed by the impeccable Matt Reeves, The Batman reinvents the DC film universe once again, bringing in an entirely new cast and managing to differentiate itself by telling a story completely its own.

Bruce Wayne (Robert Pattinson) isn’t doing much for Gotham City, but his alter ego The Batman is, fighting crime by night and day alongside police officer Jim Gordon (Jeffrey Wright). A web of political conspiracy, reaching from the lowest depths to the highest offices of Gotham, comes to light when the Riddler (Paul Dano) begins to cause chaos by targeting government officials.

What separates The Batman from the rest is the fact that it doesn’t feel the need to be a straight action movie all through its nearly three-hour runtime. Batman stands still and untangles the mystery more than he beats up bad guys (though there’s plenty of that), but The Batman isn’t afraid of taking its time establishing tension and hinting at future twists, which is, honestly, why it’s three hours long. But that’s less of a problem and more of an attribute — I absolutely loved its commitment to setting the tone and making sure all of the puzzle pieces are put into place before the story really gets going.

This isn’t to say that The Batman is devoid of excitement; even the scenes of quiet contemplation manage to be epic, and that is in no little part due to Michael Giacchino’s utterly stellar score. There are musical through-lines, but the soundtrack of each scene feels completely unique, and they add so perfectly to the atmosphere and aesthetic. In fact, I’m listening to it as I write this review, and I’m being reminded over and over that it’s the best score of the year so far.

I knew going in, purely from the trailer, that I would be in love with the performances, and most of them did not disappoint. Zoë Kravitz is doing great work as Catwoman, though the character’s actual effect on the main story is dubious at best. Paul Dano is absolutely perfectly cast as the Riddler, and The Batman gives him a chance to flex those “crazy” muscles, as every serious actor has to do at least once. Jeffrey Wright and Andy Serkis are good, if unremarkable, as Jim Gordon and Alfred Pennyworth respectively.

My two standouts are John Turturro (who you would not know was in this movie if you only saw the trailers), who plays crime boss Carmine Falcone, and Colin Farrell as the Penguin. Farrell completely vanishes into the role under heavy make-up, and he’s absolutely hilarious as an over-the-top, yet still grounded, version of the character. Turturro is a picture-perfect crime boss, nailing the obvious Godfather-ish mannerisms while also putting his own spin on a character that I was delighted was one of the main villains.

But let’s talk about Robert Pattinson, minus all the completely unwarranted Twilight stigma — the man can act! Let’s all get past it. In The Batman, he is perhaps the best iteration of the Caped Crusader we’ve seen thus far. Yes, he’s playing a darker version of the character, one that is more prone to extreme violence, but he still sticks to the moral code that has become integral to faithful interpretations of the character. He’s not as believable as Bruce Wayne — then again, this is not a Bruce Wayne movie, and there’s far less focus on his wealthy alter ego than we’ve had in previous films. I could watch several more movies of Pattinson’s Batman, and with early reactions being as good as they are, I think we might just get them.

The Batman also earns major points for its originality. Gone are the days of seeing Thomas and Martha Wayne shot in an alleyway while young Bruce watches on — though the Wayne parents’ influence is still felt, we’re watching a version of Batman that is less connected to his past and is more focused on the present and making it through the task at hand. It’s unlike any superhero movie I’ve ever seen because it’s a bona fide mystery, not necessarily relying on a CGI-heavy third act set piece to provide an emotional resolution to the story. There are some of the typical superhero conventions here, but there’s also brief, intriguing moments of genuine horror (whether through surprises or straight brutality), and I’m confident in saying that there has never been a superhero film like The Batman, with a recipe not easily replicated.

The Batman is everything we needed it to be and so much more. It creates a brand-new path amongst other Caped Crusader adaptations by not only delivering an interesting detective story, but focusing on the intensity and consequences of the situations at hand. Matt Reeves, as he is wont to do, pushes the limits of the PG-13 rating, giving us a brutal (if overlong) film that has some of the best cinematography and comprehensive action sequences of any DC movies thus far. Pattinson is a fantastic entrant into the hall of Batmen, and I definitely wouldn’t mind if he was here to stay. As this year’s DC movie slate shows, why can’t we have multiple Batmen at the same time? Hell, The Flash is doing that on its own!

The Batman is playing in theaters from March 4.

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