*Warning this review may contain spoilers*
One day the internet Batcave will learn to wait and see. Back when Michael Keaton was cast, people picked him apart, only for his Batman to lead in a new era of comic book cinema. Back when Heath Ledger was cast, people went crazy and his Joker was one of the greatest big screen performances of all time. And now, people mocked the prospect of Robert Pattinson donning the pointy-eared cowl, and wouldn’t you know, in his reliable hands, we have an early but strong contender for the film of 2022 in The Batman.
After years of the DCEU world building, and Ben Affleck’s caped crusader, director Matt Reeves’ (Let Me In, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, War for the Planet of the Apes) The Batman stands apart from the rest of the universe, in its own world and what a phenomenal world it is. Originally slated for release in 2021, the delays may have been unbearable but this film has been more than worth the wait.
Bruce Wayne (Pattinson) is now two years into his crime fighting reign as Batman, operating largely through fear to try and keep the increasingly lawless Gotham City from being overrun. However, when one high profile murder shakes the city, Batman must match wits with a sadistic killer known as The Riddler (Paul Dano), but in doing so he is taken down a path that leads to some shattering revelations.
Reeves’ rain-lashed film noir is a mesmeric take on DC’s iconic Dark Knight. Evoking Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner and even Denis Villeneuve’s seminal 2017 sequel 2049, in how it unleashes a visually artistic, layered and pitch black blockbuster. Clearly inspired by comic book stories, “Year One” and “The Long Halloween”, The Batman also proudly embraces some of the best of cinema. Many ‘70s motion picture milestones like Chinatown and William Friedkin’s The French Connection, run through this detective story framework akin to David Fincher’s Seven, that leans further than ever, on the big screen, into the “world’s greatest detective” element of the Batman character.
Taking in classic film noir, alongside some gothic sensibilities (Wayne Manor is practically Burtonesque), The Batman is an immaculately shot feature, with sometimes impressionistic sublime shadow-strewn cinematography by Greig Fraser. As well as some incredible sound design and editing, and a stirring score by Michael Giacchino, whose soundtrack here surpasses his own already lofty heights, as he delivers music with edge, passion, tragedy and constant intoxicating atmosphere. It’s his greatest work yet.
Though The Batman, for all its influences, has plenty of its own ideas, as Reeves crafts a film that is not just a homage but a dark, unique and sometimes cruel picture, but with a hopeful soul emanating from beneath, and sneaky snippets of subtle humour. Peter Craig and Reeves’ screenplay joyously plays off of your every expectation. Sometimes leaving easter eggs and misdirection to either guide you off point entirely or keep you on track, you are not sure which until later revelations. It also, thankfully, understands just how well Batman’s origin is ingrained in pop culture, so does not feel the need to rehash or restart, instead you arrive in the midst of things and ready for what’s next.
This story of institutional corruption, social media-nurtured radicalisation and sprawling human complexities (among many other engaging themes), allows for a Batman tale that has such grit and depth across its near three-hour running length. Depth that will undoubtedly open further upon repeat viewings. But again, the film’s soul, is perhaps most potent. The action-heavy third act especially, realises the essence of what makes Batman such a compelling creation, and why in the face of overwhelming madness, he must always remain on the right side. Even in a place like Gotham.
And this Gotham, especially, is one of the finest yet put to screen, feeling alive, deadly and at a perfect balance between grounded and open to the fantastical elements that so often bleed into Batman lore. This is a Gotham that could house both a realistic serial killer with a puzzle fixation and a crocodile man, and thus, nothing feels off limits. It’s unspeakably exciting. Likewise the design of the sets and especially the costumes have this effect. The Batsuit itself being battle ready and full of tricks, yet feeling unmistakably handmade and continually developed too, while Catwoman and Riddler’s gear, each feel designed and inspired by the hands and headspace of their respective characters, and with such a rich roster of characters, there are so many to shine.
To avoid too many spoilers (though that ship may have left Gotham harbour), I’ll give an overview, because there are no weak links here. Robert Pattinson’s Bat era could not have had a grander, more impressive start, and he is fantastic at the head of it. Admirably remaining behind the cape and cowl for a very long duration (in fact most) of the movie, his Bat is a tortured vengeful force, one veering close to oblivion occupied by those he combats, and his grim Bruce Wayne is almost lost without the work of the Batman to drive him. Pattinson burrows into the character’s concealed humanity and is perfectly on point for every step of his journey, as Bruce grows in and out of the cape.
The supporting cast are equally excellent, Zoë Kravitz’s Catwoman is impeccable, recalling Batman The Animated Series’ steamy romantic chemistry in how she inter-acts with Batman. While, like Michelle Pfeiffer’s iconic take on the character, Kravitz has her own story, which develops superbly in-between the central investigation narrative, in fact it adds so much to it, as she too is forced to the dangerous edges, from which there is no turning back. While Jeffrey Wright is fantastic as Commissioner Gordon who – as in Christopher Nolan’s films – feels vital instead of an addition, and the always reliably great Andy Serkis fits beautifully with his incarnation as Alfred, who has a particularly moving moment of his own. Then there is Colin Farrell’s unrecognisable turn as The Penguin, and he is an absolute delight, literally transforming into the part through both performance and some stunning make-up.
Though, for my money it is Paul Dano who shines in a villain of the year turn as a Zodiac-tinted take on The Riddler. He feels part John Kramer, part John Doe and all twisted beyond repair. Dano’s deranged character, largely concealed by gear akin to a slasher villain (with an introduction to match), is a frightening sight to behold. His Riddler is the scary answer to what happens when a world that puts people’s humanity through a meat grinder. An enigmatic monster born into an indifferent society, who alarmingly is a beacon to select members of it.
From the unexpected opening, to Gotham and Batman’s stylish introduction (which at times recalls Rorschach’s journal in Watchmen) to some innovatively shot action set pieces and character-filled scenes (even the raw muscle car Batmobile gets a hell of an entrance), The Batman starts impressive and never ceases. Even fitting in some teases for what is to come, and there is clearly a lot on the way.
The Batman is an auteur-driven superhero masterstroke, with the visible finger prints of real directorial vision and all around passion all over over it. Everyone here, on and offscreen, brings their best and it shows in this breathtaking, artistic and daring work of cinema. This’ll take some beating as the blockbuster of 2022 and it’s one I cannot wait to dive back in to.
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