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Review: 'The Batman' (2022) Dir. Matt Reeves

Updated: Mar 13

Robert Pattinson, Zoë Kravitz, Paul Dano, Jeffrey Wright, John Turturro, Andy Serkis, Colin Farrell, Peter Sarsgaard, Alex Ferns and Barry Keoghan

 

As the Dark Knight prepares for new interpretations in 2022, first up is a new Batman for a new stand-alone adventure that takes us to a more volatile, violent and nightmarish Gotham City...


Two years since billionaire recluse Bruce Wayne (Pattinson) donned the cowl to become the vigilante known as the Batman, he dispenses a unique brand of justice to criminals who stalk Gotham City, at times working alongside long-time ally; GCPD Lieutenant Jim Gordon (Wright)


When a psychotic serial killer known as The Riddler (Dano) begins to weave a nightmarish web across Gotham targeting high-profile victims, Batman finds help in the guise of cat-burglar Selina Kyle (Kravitz) who has her own personal vendetta against the criminal empire.


Batman also must battle the criminal underground including Penguin (Farrell) and Carmine Falcone (Turturro), who hold the key to Riddler's deadly plan. This pushes Bruce to his limit, but allows him to question all Batman stands for as he fights to save his city...

With a brief, bold flurry of black and red studio logos and a title card that takes up the whole screen, all over in seconds,, it's clear this is a Batman film with no superhero flair, triumph or majestic fanfare. Director Matt Reeves knows we know who Batman is, the world he lives in and the mood his character represents, so dispenses with yet another in-your-face introduction, immediately setting an unsettling but exciting tone.


Reeves has followed the path laid down by Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight Trilogy in a genre where comic book heroes and villains exist in the real world more than ever, but this is no carbon copy of what has come before. With evident passion and understanding of the character that has been laid down over the years, Reeves has given us the best Batman film in over a decade, proving that Bats works best on his own and away from any Extended Universe or swaddled with other fantastical superheroes.

It's a spiritual sequel to 'The Dark Knight Rises' in terms of grounded dark realism, but excels with how Batman truly acts as a vigilante-cum-detective for the first time on the silver screen in what can be seen as a crime/thriller.

Robert Pattinson thankfully (and as expected) eclipses expectations as Batman / Bruce Wayne. In actual fact, while his Bruce Wayne is hard to connect with, thanks to his new introverted style of billionaire we've again never seen before, his Batman is up there as one of the best in any cinematic outing. This Bruce Wayne doesn't want to be stuck in an office carrying out a legacy he has no interest in; he's a young man with demons and a life that has shifted to accommodate his turn as the night-time vigilante and fascination / obsession with cleaning up Gotham City. And he's also a young man who values being said vigilante to do more good than he can with his cash. Pattinson has grown as a respected actor, and it shows here.


Batman is where Pattinson shines. Bruce Wayne enjoys being Batman, and this Batman sees the purpose of what he does and why. The only question he tries to answer is just what sort of beacon he is to Gotham City; one of hope, or fear, of justice, of redemption? One or all of them? This is explored during the hefty 2hrs 45min runtime to a conclusion that is wholly satisfying and opens many more possibilities. Pattinson has the figure to be both imposing in the suit, but to be believable as a man who uses his brains more than brawn. It's the first time we really buy into Batman being a detective; looking for clues, solving puzzles, evaluating psychological profiles, delving into complex city history to save the present - it's a crime thriller with one of the most popular, exciting and brutal heroes solving the case. And his Batman is just as brutal with his fists, never afraid to let rip on those who think crime pays.

Paul Dano as our Riddler is a very unsettling criminal, up there with the violent and volatile glee of Heath Ledger's Joker. Dano makes this a very physical and vocal performance, with his screentime mostly hidden behind the mask, making his appearances in viral videos and cryptic messages a thing of murder mystery gold. Going up against the brutality of Batman, Riddler uses his brain which is an equally powerful weapon, and what's more is that you're always forced to question the morality of what Riddler does and why, unfurling each more with each victim and each riddle to make this a very deep villain who is felt over the entire film even when not on screen.


We also have stellar support in the guise of Zoë Kravitz as Selina Kyle (we never hear the alias Catwoman) who has a refreshing sense of real street-smart and awareness, a cat thief raised through the criminal underworld who knows how to survive and probably one of the most accurate depictions of the comic character, not afraid to tangle with Batman. Jeffery Wright as Lieutenant Jim Gordon is one of the biggest surprises, giving us a Gordon who both features in so much more screentime than previous incarnations, but one who also openly works with Batman (much to colleague disapproval) to help solve high profile crime. Their relationship is already there when we meet them, and it's one that is allowed to be shared with the audience and explored with some great chemistry and partnership, again unlike anything we've had before but something we really deserve to see.


Colin Farrell also gives a brilliant turn as Oswald Cobblepot, aka The Penguin thanks to his large stature and waddle. No eating fish or squawking with laughter here. He's a criminal kingpin who plants many seeds to grow in this Bat-universe, and Farrell is near unrecognisable under the effective prosthetics and Robert De Niro-esque mafia lingo. Add in screen veterans like John Turturro as Carmine Falcone, Andy Serkis as former MI6 spy turned butler Alfred Pennyworth and Peter Sarsgaard as corrupt DA Gil Colson, there are plenty of characters here to be explored.

Bats wears a suit forged from special ops combat gear to enable him to fight, survive and escape with minimal weapons bar a grappling hook, chest mounted Batarang and his fists. The Riddler dispenses with camp costumes and canes to become an olive green gimp mask, duffel coated wearing serial killer. Selina uses her athletic frame and sleek outfit to get what she needs, with no tongue-in-cheek cat themed kit at her disposal. These are very real heroes and villains, making the crimes and actions committed very chilling and also very exciting - the threats are real, the motives and goals feel real and it's all wrapped up in the familiar bubble of the DC Batman history that means we know these characters and their legacy, but we don't know THESE characters or potential relationships.


But we are treated to all of the familiar elements that we know and love, from the explosive and brilliantly shot Batmobile chase through a packed night-time freeway to the use of the Bat-signal, the underground Batcave under Wayne Tower and a short, but touching, look at the bond between Alfred and Bruce. It's all there, just never lampooned on as a "money shot" or tick box list of Bat-traits. The stunts and action are expertly presented to feel more practical than ever, keeping Bats grounded as much as possible and letting us see a gorgeous Gotham City and close quarter confrontations thanks to cinematographer Greig Fraser who knows how important it is for audiences to see and feel the experience on screen.

The almost 3hr run-time is brave for the first of a potential new stand-alone series of films, and thankfully Reeves doesn't bore us with more origins; if anything he goes back beyond the Thomas and Martha Wayne murder to plant seeds about how Bruce was raised and the current state of his legacy seen in the film. The third act comes close to superhero excess, but it always has one foot on the brakes to never let action or rampant CGI take away from the character driven story that is front and foremost in the climax...or climaxES as there are a couple. And this is a neo-noir detective story, with gadgets and goofy action taking a backseat (think more of Casino Royale than Die Another Day) but still miles apart from the Nolan trilogy of gritty, dark realism.


The Batman takes more risks in showing us the violence and threat that comes from these dark villains and anti-heroes, leading to a very adult and mature DC hero experience that certainly doesn't suffer for treating Batman as he really should be, and with such a dedicated cast and crew who prove they know their source material, the future once again seems very promising for Caped Crusader and the Rogues Gallery. And that's no joke.

While 'The Batman' wouldn't have been possible without Christopher Nolan opening up the darker, real-world superhero genre, Matt Reeves has given us a new take on Batman himself that proves how thrilling, dangerous and cinematic DCs Dark Knight is - and should be - for his future.





'The Batman' is a co-production between DC Films, 6th & Idaho and Dylan Clark Productions


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