“The Batman” Review- The Dark Knight Returns to the Big Screen in One of His Best Films Yet
Robert Pattinson gives a great performance in what is one of the best superhero films since "The Dark Knight"
March 5, 2022
Even as a massive Batman fan, I was a bit worried when yet another cinematic reboot was announced in 2017. The character had already been given a great trilogy (The Dark Knight Trilogy) by Christopher Nolan, and I would’ve rather seen them fix Ben Affleck’s (Batman V. Superman) version of the character than just start over again. But regardless, I was still willing to give this new version a chance, and I can confidently say I’m glad I did. Ever since the first teaser trailer was released in August of 2020, it was clear to me that The Batman, Matt Reeves’s (Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Cloverfield) new take on the Dark Knight for the big screen, was shaping up to be something special.
The film has an impressive cast, the cinematography looked stunning, and the action looked visceral, with Michael Giacchino’s (Doctor Strange, Spider-Man: No Way Home) simple, incredible score backing it all up. With each trailer and piece of information released in the run-up, my excitement only continued to increase, and somehow, even with the high expectations I had, this film exceeded them. Matt Reeves’s The Batman is a phenomenal detective noir film that excels in almost every regard and leaves me more excited for the future of the franchise than ever before.
One of the main highlights of this film is the performances. The acting in this movie is, for the most part, fantastic all around. Colin Farrell steals the show in every scene he’s in as the Penguin (with some transformative makeup and prosthetics to back him up.) Zoë Kravitz is perfectly cast as Catwoman, delivering a much more genuine, grounded performance than any of the other actresses to take on the role. And, of course, I couldn’t go through the rest of this review without mentioning the best performance of the movie: Robert Pattinson as Batman.
Any concerns you may have about “Twilight vampire boy” playing the caped crusader should be quelled within minutes of his first appearance, where he beats a criminal to a pulp and utters the chill-inducing line, “I’m vengeance”. What makes Pattinson’s take on the character unique is his approach. Every actor to play the role before him made the character interesting because of their take on the dichotomy between the Bruce Wayne and Batman personas, but here, Pattinson is in the Batsuit for about 90% of the movie. He can’t rely on the contrast of these identities, so instead, Pattinson has to commit to the singular character of Batman, which he pulls off with ease. His calm, quiet demeanor, both when he is and isn’t speaking, acts as a mask for all of the pain and rage that he hides inside. Pattinson is able to bring this out through his facial expressions, which is most evident in an early scene where he’s looking at a young boy who’s just lost his father. The pain he feels from the death of his own parents is masterfully shown through Pattinson’s fixated gaze on the child and the deep, sullen look in his eyes. In addition to scenes like that, Pattinson nails every dramatic beat and portrays his inner conflict about whether or not his crime-fighting is actually making a difference quite well.
The only performance that I didn’t love in this film was that of Paul Dano’s take on the Riddler. This isn’t because Dano is bad by any means, he’s just inconsistent. I was initially a big fan of his serial killer take on the Riddler, which is heavily inspired by the real-life Zodiac Killer’s look and actions. This included leaving ciphers at crime scenes, along with the character’s signature riddles. Yet, when it came to Dano’s performance, it felt like he just wasn’t right for the role. It seemed that what Reeves wanted was a cold, calculating villain who would have the occasional angry outburst, but that demeanor seems to go out the window in the latter portion of the film. In fact, when he finally meets Batman face to face, Dano takes the performance to a level that is way too over the top and seems more like an immature man-child than the terrifying killer who I’d seen up to that point. It feels like he got a little too carried away with his performance and, unfortunately, it was a bit underwhelming how they left off his character.
However, that isn’t to say the rest of the film is bad, because it’s exactly the opposite. Reeves combines elements of classic Batman comics like The Long Halloween and Zero Year to craft a simple, yet captivating story. The premise of the film is that The Riddler, one of Batman’s most iconic villains, is killing major political figures in Gotham, and Batman is brought onto the scene by Jeffrey Wright’s Jim Gordon to help find the killer. This sends Batman into Gotham’s criminal underworld, where he runs into characters like the Penguin, Catwoman, and Carmine Falcone, while also learning about the deep-rooted history of corruption in the city. What makes this story so intriguing is the way it’s told. At its core, The Batman is a detective noir film, and I can’t stress enough how happy I am that “the world’s greatest detective” finally got to be a detective in a film. This detective angle is accentuated not only through Batman’s efforts to solve the Riddler’s puzzles, but also through the use of Batman’s internal narration, which is employed sparingly enough to compliment the detective angle in a satisfying way. This unique approach, however, is only part of what makes the story work.
The dark tone in which Reeves presents this tale is what made the near 3-hour runtime so riveting the entire way through. And when I say this film is dark, I mean it is dark. In the first 30 minutes, I was convinced that it was rated R, and for all I know, if there wasn’t a production company like Warner Brothers pushing for a PG-13 rating, it might have been. The Riddler’s killings at the beginning of the film give the story a sense of urgency, which keeps the audience on their toes and constantly prompts them to ask the question “Who’s next?” on the Riddler’s hit list. However, this isn’t purely a slow-burn detective story. This film easily has the most exhilarating action of any Batman movie. The Batmobile car chase scene is an instant classic and it’s scenes like this that should pull the viewer back in even if they’re not as invested in the detective aspect. The only major gripe I have with the story is the way in which some exposition is delivered in the film’s second act. It is a bit clunky, but it’s easy to look over given how strong the rest of it is.
What I love most about this movie is how well it adapted the comics. For some odd reason, every other live-action Batman adaptation has approached the character in ways that were drastically different from the source material. Tim Burton’s Batman world felt like what he would’ve done if he’d created the character himself. Christopher Nolan’s Batman world was more of a “What if Batman actually existed in our world?” approach that was less concerned with adapting the comics and more concerned with grounding every aspect of it in reality. Worst of all, every single prior live-action version of Batman (except for George Clooney) killed people, which blatantly violates the Dark Knight’s #1 rule. While Reeves’s version of Batman’s world makes slight deviations from the comics, such as the Riddler’s Zodiac-inspired approach and Catwoman’s lack of an actual cat costume, it still stays true to who Batman is and the world he inhabits from the comics. Batman explicitly doesn’t kill in this movie, and regardless of how brutal his actions may be, this fact holds strong throughout the film’s entire runtime. It’s an aspect of the character that has been severely lacking in the medium of film and I am overjoyed they finally employed this core aspect from the source material.
What Matt Reeves and cinematographer Greg Frasier also translate to perfection is the city of Gotham. In the screenplay for Tim Burton’s 1989 film Batman, Gotham is described as if “Hell erupted through the pavement and built a city”. While that is definitely present in Tim Burton’s Gotham, I believe that this description of the metropolis is much more apt for the version of Gotham seen in The Batman. The city is grimy, dilapidated, and riddled with crime, yet there’s still a pervasive use of color, whether it be through the warming sun rising over the gothic skyscrapers or the neon billboards occupying the city square. This makes the city feel like it was ripped straight out of a graphic novel, giving it a sort of beauty embedded within its ugliness.
The Batman was a successful reboot of one of the most popular characters in the world. Not only did this film give me my (and what I expect to be many others’) favorite live-action Batman, but it also gave me my favorite Gotham, which I hope to soon see again. While Paul Dano’s performance as the Riddler isn’t quite on par with the rest of the cast, and the story stumbles a bit in the middle, the rest of the film is so spectacular that it’s easy to ignore these minor flaws. The character seems to be in safe hands with Matt Reeves and I’m excited as ever to see what he does next. 9/10.