The Batman (2022)
Written by Matt Reeves and Peter Craig
Directed by Matt Reeves
There are few comic book characters with as many iterations in popular media as Batman. From the 1943 movie serial to his appearances in Zack Snyder’s superhero films, if you’d like to see a version of Batman, you only have to take your pick. One of the aspects of Batman we haven’t seen too much of in cinemas is that of the Detective. Most films centered on the character focus on action and big set pieces but give little time for investigation. However, some of the best Batman stories from the animated series focus on the character following clues and uncovering the truth. Matt Reeves has delivered the first Batman feature film to really showcase that aspect and has also provided some of the best interpretations of the series villains we’ve ever had.
Bruce Wayne (Robert Pattinson) has spent the last two years developing a reputation of fear as Batman in the corrupt metropolis Gotham City. He’s formed a rapport with police detective Jim Gordon (Jeffrey Wright), which allows him access to crime scenes. Not everyone in Gotham is happy with this arrangement. Things take a darker turn when the mayor is found bludgeoned to death in his home. A greeting card is left behind addressed to Batman and containing a riddle. From there, Bruce falls down a rabbit hole of the city’s best-kept secrets, which will ultimately come back to his own family’s legacy in Gotham. He finds an ally in Selina Kyle (Zoe Kravitz), a waitress at The Iceberg Lounge who works for The Penguin (Colin Farrell). The enigmatic Riddler (Paul Dano) keeps killing essential people in the city government, all with a message that it is time for the guilty to pay after decades of corruption.
Batman manages to present the best version of Catwoman, The Penguin, and The Riddler we’ve seen in live-action so far. By best, I mean they are the most coherent and best-developed versions while also being true to their comic book portrayals. Selina is inspired by Frank Miller’s Year One and Jeph Loeb’s The Long Halloween. The Penguin leans into his portrayal as an organized crime figure over an umbrella-obsessed dandy. The Riddler goes against the grain, rather than being a smarmy intellectual who wants to one-up Batman; he’s a person who is obsessed with tormenting those he sees as abusing their power against the privileged. He’s basically Batman’s foil in the film in more ways than one.
This version of Batman is extremely mentally unwell. From the start of the film, he’s shown to have a profound social disconnect with others. Unlike the Nolan Batman, who used Wayne as a mask to pretend to be an airhead playboy, this Batman is utterly disinterested in his “real” identity. At one point, The Riddler lays it all out that the Batman mask is the man’s real face, and the man underneath is something he will eventually discard because it is hollow. Even our hero’s relationship with his trusted ally Alfred Pennyworth is not what we might be used to. He admonishes Alfred in an early scene, telling him he’s not his father and to butt out. Bruce’s interactions with Selina are socially awkward, and she does more of the talking than him.
The film also shifts away from Batman beating down low-level street criminals and pits him against the authority figures of Gotham. No one is to be trusted, aside from Jim Gordon, so we get a Batman that is becoming increasingly isolated. I really loved how the screenplay took elements from the older comics and found ways to reincorporate them into a modern context. For example, Carmine Falcone (John Turturro) reminds Bruce of when Thomas Wayne operated on the mobster when he couldn’t go to a hospital lest he is arrested. This recalls a similar flashback story told in the 1950s about Batman’s father, which is a little sillier in its original context. Anytime screenwriters can find a clever way to incorporate things like that, I’m always amused.
The film is very long, though, approaching the three-hour mark, and it has some sections that are clunkier than others. The second act is so bloated and crowded that some editing was a bit disorienting to me. That said, the third act is actually very strong, something superheroes movies have flubbed so often. The film eschews the need for a “final battle” between the hero and villain and opts for a more creative finale. It’s still Batman pitted against The Riddler’s machinations, but it’s the sort of indirect confrontation that works perfectly for the type of villain our hero is up against. Bruce Wayne has a very clear, strong narrative arc that makes the film a very complete piece. In fact, part of me would argue against making a sequel to this. It’s a perfect stand-alone Batman movie, and in an age of overdoing “cinematic universes,” it might be nice to just let this be. I don’t for a second believe Warner Brothers will shy away from its greed, though I am pleased with Pattinson as the Dark Knight, so I won’t mind it too badly if we get another The Batman flick.