The Batman (dir. Matt Reeves, 2022) – When a sadistic killer begins to murder key political figures in Gotham, the Batman steps in, only to uncover a larger ploy against the city.
It is a constant stagger back to square one for the DC Cinematic Universe as the studio introduces its 3rd major iteration of the caped crusader in just under two decades. There seems a reluctance to move past its tried and tested characters, even as Marvel races past and starts dipping into its backlog – to resounding success for the most part.
So we get The Batman. Again. Albeit this time, there is a promising director at helm. Matt Reeves’ take falls somewhere between his recent predecessors, grounded in its world-building and villainy, balanced with a tonality suited to its comic book origins. It fits Gotham well enough. His film noir influences hold merit, picking up where Darren Aronofsky’s Year One project fell through years ago.
Skipping past the Wayne family tragedy, Bruce (Robert Pattinson) marches right into the middle of an investigation in the corrupt city. He has clearly been at the job for some time. Lt. Jim Gordon (Jeffrey Wright) allows him into the violent crime scene, leveraging the vigilante to the quiet protests of his colleagues. Batman quickly homes in on the riddle that leads them down a dangerous rabbit hole.
The obvious echoes of Zodiac and Se7en work well to the advantage of the film’s realism and its villain’s introduction, building up the Riddler (Paul Dano) into something much more than what we have ever seen in the best possible way. This is no rehash of its former incarnations. The psychopath’s puzzles, darkly comic at first, become increasingly unsettling and convincingly so. There is a constant sense of dread as his instability heightens towards an inevitable boiling point.
He isn’t the only threat as other notorious figures lurk in the shadows. Oswald Cobblepot (Colin Farrell) makes his odd prosthetic-heavy appearance that is both impressive and admittedly unnecessary. Either way, he is quite a character. Farrell appears to have great fun with the Penguin as the audience would. His plot also serves to bolster the backstory of Selina Kyle (Zoe Kravitz), who is thankfully neither an afterthought nor perfunctory fan service. Instead, she gets to earn the suit and grow into her eventual moniker.
Here comes the problem when the sideshows largely outshine the mainstay. Bruce Wayne, seemingly impenetrable by bullets or bombs, feels contrary to the film’s grounded tone hitherto. He also loses much of his usual charm as he gains vulnerability in his emotions. So much for the playboy billionaire schtick, which has gone out the window in favour of a moody young man. While doubtlessly an interesting take that turns a few heads, the wallowing soon ends up a drag.
Even if Robert Pattinson does a serviceable job, he is definitely capable of more than drowning in misery, as we have seen in his recent filmography. If only the screenplay would allow him to quit taking his anger out on poor Alfred (Andy Serkis). With a runtime of nearly 3 hours, it is difficult not to lose patience with the sad knight. More swinging off buildings to dramatic rescues, less journalling to an overspun Nirvana record, please.
Besides, there is very little payoff in this personality rewrite. No matter the starting point, we end up with the same tale of his becoming – a tortured vigilante learning to overcome his trauma and use his fears to fight for the good of the city. Ultimately, it just feels like an odd decision to reboot the franchise only to end up at the same place, especially when other Justice League headliners get to move forward and expand on their respective universes.
What a shame to see DCCU held back by an aversion to risks. It must be time already to dig deeper into its vault of lesser-known heroes. And if we were to return to the Batman lore again, might I just beg to let someone else out of Arkham Asylum. Give Mad Hatter a shot, or bring Pyg into the murderous game. Gotham knows we hardly need another Joker in the midst, no matter how enticing the tease, when there are so many other stories to unfold.
The grim retelling of the Batman tale edges closer to dreary than inventive but remains gripping thanks to its rogues.
The Batman is now in theatres.