First things first, Bruce Wayne doesn’t wear makeup, he wears eye black like the athletes do. It doesn’t make him emo; in fact, it accentuates the sulking sullenness of Bruce’s expressions as he stalks his prey, following their every move, picking the right moment to strike as his alter ego: The Batman. Slowly walking from the depths of the darkness like an executioner, the last person his victims will ever see. The world this Batman inhabits, brought to life by co-writer and director Matt Reeves is straight out of a horror movie – it will stick to your ribs and invade your mind with fear that will linger well beyond the credits rolling.
The opening moments set the tone for this near 3-hour non-comic book spectacle – playing out like David Fincher’s Se7en – the villain is a serial killer stylized as the Zodiac killer, terrifyingly stalking his victims like a shadow in his green homemade jumpsuit and striking when the opportunity calls for it. His name is Edward Nashton aka The Riddler (Paul Dano) who hunts the corrupt Gotham elite for sport while also having an online cult following who are ready and willing to carry out his twisted demands. His first victim is a mayoral candidate on Halloween night – one of Reeves’ inspirations comes from the graphic novel The Long Halloween, among others; how fitting for the occasion.
While Riddler is killing and creating a spider’s web of intricacies of a plan to stop corruption, the bat symbol is out, and Bruce Wayne’s (Robert Pattinson) narration brings us as the viewer up to speed on this version of Gotham. His Batman is brand new to the scene – in his second year fighting criminals who are gaining traction rather than disappearing slowly. “Gotham is a powder keg and Riddler is the match” Jim Gordon (Jeffrey Wright) tells Batman as they keep finding bodies and supplemental riddles and cyphers that create more problems than solutions.
Pattinson’s Bruce Wayne is a curveball from the familiar Bruce Wayne’s that has come before him. He’s a zombie, a tortured soul and a slave to the darkness and ridding crime from Gotham. Pattinson’s Wayne is far removed from society – he lives a top Wayne Tower where the Batcave resides underneath the streets with all the vermin. He wears clothes that look to be handed down from generations past, his hair is a mess and he looks sleep deprived. Bruce’s logic thinks him dressing up like a bat every night is the only way of protecting his family’s legacy. Everything he thought he knew about his father and mother is a lie – finding his way to the center of Riddler’s sights when he’s not prowling the streets. Finally, the detective side of Batman makes his grand debut – it only took a few tries to make this character whole.
Most of The Batman revolves around that side of the duality of the character. The Bruce Wayne “mask” is rarely seen and when he is, Bruce is disheveled and haunting, with the appearance of an addict in a detox period. Bruce is hyper focused on one goal; it takes control of his personality like a parasite even affecting his relationship with Alfred (Andy Serkis) which is a shell of the former actors who have come before them. While Alfred represents Bruce’s humanity, the two men are strangers to one another when they should be on the same page.
If Joe and Anthony Russo got one thing right with Avengers: Endgame, it’s the preparation for sitting through a three-hour movie. And though the two are polar opposites in the genre, getting through The Batman is relatively painless – unless the pain is getting dished out by the man who calls himself vengeance. It’s the beauty of Reeve’s visceral script – staying true to itself though intimacy but still feeling like an old Hollywood epic with its scope. Gotham is a character in itself – gothic and modernly blended, probably the most important to the story. Constantly downpouring (another nod to Fincher’s Se7en) Gotham juxtaposes the bleakness of Bruce’s unfamiliar personality.
Crime lords Oswald Cobblepot (Colin Farrell, who is completely unrecognizable -the man is a chameleon) and Carmine Falcone (John Turturro – giving off Howard Ratner vibes every time he speaks. This is how he wins) rule from the Iceberg Lounge while Selina Kyle (Zoë Kravitz) gets roped into the web of lies to seek answers for her roommate’s death. Jeffrey Wrights calming, soothing voice is the only one that can get through the thick skull of Batman’s protective cowl.
Pattinson and Kravitz’s chemistry is purely addictive – running through the veins like a drug. Every interaction from him watching her change into her leather jumpsuit to the raw sexual tension of fighting is hypnotizing. no actor/actress combo has come close to their level of intensity before. both suck you in, never once loosening their grip.
Dano’s Riddler is what nightmares are made of. He’s utterly terrifying yet strangely fascinating. His character mirrors real life – a soft spoken, intelligent forgotten underdog who has the power to influence hundreds by way of social media to carry out his sinister plots. All for his amusement. Dano is perfectly cast – look what he accomplishes in 12 Years a Slave or There Will Be Blood.
The choice of skipping the origin story that has been told over and over is perhaps the smartest move by Reeves. Even the MCU did the same with Spider-Man: Homecoming. Instead, the origin story of The Batman is told with a lingering shot by cinematographer Greig Fraser and look by Pattinson who’s effortlessly acting with just his eyes. It’s the moment in the beginning when Bruce looks to the son of a murder victim and sees himself as that same lost soul who has his entire life ripped to pieces. Its 1 of 2 moments that are on a continuous loop in my brain. The other – when the supped-up Mad Max style muscle car Batmobile is introduced and the entire theater shakes from the rumble of the engine. I’ve never had that experience in my life from an adrenaline rush. I could feel the heat as the turbo is boosted, and the gears start turning.
For 2 and a half hours The Batman is a symphony of un-comic book like genius, staying firmly in its self-contained world. Its only until the final 20 minutes that this dark corner becomes more comic book focused within the grand finale. But throughout the consistency of Reeves complexly written narrative is Michael Giacchino’s brilliant score that boasts the darkness of Bruce Wayne. It may not be as memorable as Hans Zimmer’s Dark Knight trilogy, but the sound of The Batman has never been more understood. I have never understood Batman this well before.
The Batman hands down is the best Batman centric film ever made. Grounded in grit and realism that has been merely touched upon by Christopher Nolan, Matt Reeves along with co-writer Peter Craig create a masterpiece bringing the brutality and broken spirit of Bruce Wayne and his true self The Batman to the center stage. For all those who groaned and complained about Robert Pattinson being cast as the Dark Knight because of his role in Twilight, the actor is at his most comfortable when his character is toeing the edge of insanity (Watch Good Time & High Life) – he is the best Batman to date, his expressive eyes say more than his dialogue does.
Written By: Matt Reeves & Peter Craig
Directed By: Matt Reeves
Music By: Michael Giacchino
Cinematography: Greig Fraser
Starring: Robert Pattinson, Zoë Kravitz, Paul Dano, Jeffrey Wright, John Turturro, Peter Sarsgaard, Andy Serkis, Colin Farrell
Release Date: March 4, 2022
Running Time: 2 Hours 56 Minutes
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 85%
My Score: 4.5 out of 5
Based On: Batman created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger