“The Batman,” directed by Matt Reeves and starring Ben Affleck as Bruce Wayne/Batman, isn’t a superhero film. There are all of the elements you’d expect: the Batmobile, the sturdy suit, and Alfred’s assistance. And of course, in the middle is Bruce Wayne himself: brooding, tortured, looking for his own brand of nighttime justice in a Gotham City that’s rotting away.
In Reeves’ capable hands, everything is breathtakingly alive and fresh. He’s taken a story that may have appeared conventional and made it enormous, even operatic, as director and co-writer. His “Batman” is more like a gritty ’70s crime drama than a soaring blockbuster. It suggest films such as “The Warriors,” along with one of the greatest in the genre, “The French Connection,” with its kinetic, unpredictable action. It has an air of terror about it now that the Zodiac Killer is stalking Gotham’s citizens.
Despite these touchstones, this is indisputably a Matt Reeves film. He achieves what he did with his electrifying installments in the “Planet of the Apes” franchise: he creates an exciting, entertaining spectacle that is also grounded in real, emotional stakes. This is a Batman movie that knows its own place in pop culture but not in a joking, meta manner; rather it examines and reinvented the comic book figure’s history while remaining both substantial and innovative.
Our hero is put through the wringer in this intensely emotional narrative with a strong emphasis on character growth. The script from Reeves and Peter Craig forces him to question his history as well as face his purpose, giving us as viewers an opportunity to examine our own personal narrative.
With Robert Pattinson assuming the role of Bruce Wayne, we have an actor who is not only prepared but also eager to delve into this character’s dark, deranged urges. This isn’t a dashing heir to a fortune cavorting about in a cool costume. Travis Bickle in the Batsuit is detached and disillusioned, two years into his tenure as Batman—tracking criminals from above in Wayne Tower, an inspired change from the usual sprawl of Wayne Manor that suggests an even greater distance from society.
“They believe I’m lurking in the shadows,” he states in voiceover. “But I am the shadows.” At daybreak, Pattinson gives you a hangover indie rock star vibe. But at night, you can see the thrill he gets from swooping into action with his unique brand of vengeance, even beneath all of his tactical gear and eye black.
Working with auteurs like David Cronenberg, Claire Denis, and the Safdie brothers, as he has in most roles since “Twilight” made him a worldwide phenomenon in 2008, Pattinson is at his best when he’s playing characters who make you uneasy.
Pattinson’s unsettling good looks make his beautiful, angular features seem even more frightening. So when he first sees Zoe Kravitz as Selina Kyle, slinking into her leather biker gear and shimmying down the fire escape in her own quest for nighttime justice, there’s a flash of electricity in his eyes: Ooh. She’s just like me.
The chemistry between Pattinson and Kravitz is out of this world. She’s his physical and emotional match every step of the way. This isn’t a flirty, purring Catwoman; she’s a fighter and a survivor with a loyal heart and a strong sense of what’s right. Kravitz continues to exhibit her intimidating charisma and quiet strength in her supporting role in Steven Soderbergh’s high-tech thriller “Kimi.”
She’s part of a murderers’ row of supporting characters, each of whom is given a significant role. Jeffrey Wright is the exceptional voice of idealism and honesty as Commissioner Gordon at the end. John Turturro is chilling as crime boss Carmine Falcone. Andy Serkis—who played Caesar in Reeves’ “Apes” installments—brings a paternal wisdom and warmth to Alfred. Colin Farrell completely transforms himself into sleazy, villainous Oswald Cobblepot, better known as The Penguin, in this DC film. And Paul Dano plays The Riddler with a viciousness that provides the story’s spine.
In “A Ghost Story,” this is true to an extent, but it’s more subdued. Here he takes the unusual approach that mirrors his amazing work in “There Will Be Blood.” His derangement is so acute that you may find yourself uncontrollably giggling to relieve the tension he creates. However, Dano’s performance makes you feel as if you’re watching a man who genuinely, deeply disturbed.
“The Batman” isn’t a downer, per se. Despite its almost three-hour length, it’s consistently viscerally exciting. In one of the film’s most pulse-pounding sequences, the coolest Batmobile yet—a powerful vehicle reminiscent of “Mad Max: Fury Road”—appears prominently. It features an intricate car chase and chain-reaction collision that ends with an upside-down shot of fiery fury that had me applauding during my viewing.
You can feel every punch and kick during a fight at a thumping night club, punctuated by throbbing red lights. (That’s one of the more exciting aspects of seeing this superhero in his early days: he isn’t invulnerable.) And a shootout in an alleyway with only moonlight to light it up is both frightening and spectacular. Michael Giacchino’s excellent music greatly enhances these moments.
He’s best known for creating music for Pixar films, but with “The Batman,” he goes in a completely different direction: it’s percussive and horn-heavy, and it’s huge and difficult to perform. You’ll feel it deep in your core.
With his latest effort, Reeves has crafted a film that is ethereal yet substantial, massive yet impressionistic. Greig Fraser pulls off the same kind of amazing magic trick he did in Denis Villeneuve’s “Dune”: There’s both a gauziness and a weight to his images through pouring rain and neon lights.
The film’s use of shadow and silhouette is brilliant, and it does a great job of conveying dread and tension. I could devote an entire essay to the many ways in which the color red is employed throughout the movie to convey energy, danger, and even optimism. And Jacqueline Durran’s excellent costume design, which was created by Dave Crossman and Glyn Dillon, added the ideal finishing touch to the picture’s cool, edgy atmosphere.
Even if it’s not really a Batman film, this is the most gorgeous Batman movie you’ve ever seen—and it’s certainly not a superhero flick.
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The Batman (2022)
Robert Pattinson as Bruce Wayne / Batman
Zoë Kravitz as Selina Kyle
Paul Dano as The Riddler
Jeffrey Wright as Lt. James Gordon
John Turturro as Carmine Falcone
Peter Sarsgaard as District Attorney Gil Colson
Andy Serkis as Alfred Pennyworth
Colin Farrell as Oz / The Penguin
Writer (Batman created by)
Movie Rating: 4/5