Aidan Lerner ’22
Matt Reeves’ The Batman is the most accurate depiction of the character to appear in a live-action film with regard to the film’s adherence to the characteristics that have been foundational to Batman since his 1939 comic book inception.
In March, The Batman became the first solo Batman film released since 2012’s The Dark Knight Rises. Zack Snyder’s attempted murder of the character in assorted, horrible Justice League movies from 2016-2021 does not count. In 10 years, this reporter has probably watched Christopher Nolan’s trilogy of Batman movies upwards of 20 different times. That said, a fresh take on the character was much-needed, one that would leave behind some of the quirks Nolan and his Batman, Christian Bale, brought to the role—self-seriousness, bizarre combat edits, a raspy voice, etc. In that regard, The Batman is a slam-dunk.
The Batman follows a Bruce Wayne who is about two years into his crime-fighting journey. The film does a good job portraying a Batman at this early stage in his career without falling into the trappings of the origin story that viewers have seen so many times. For one, throughout the film, Batman’s tactics and gadgets lack polish. Batman struggles to execute his patented glide, and his Batcave is noticeably low-tech. A great sequence throughout the film captures Wayne’s many attempts to gain access to the Iceberg Lounge: he initially does so clumsily by force before figuring out a stealthier way in by the film’s climax.
A common complaint about The Batman is that it does not portray the “traditional” Bruce Wayne, or the billionaire playboy. Robert Pattinson barely cracks a grin for the entire three-hour runtime, and his version of Wayne has none of the charisma that past iterations of the character have. In fact, this Batman movie, more than any other, predominantly features Wayne’s masked alter-ego, and viewers can count the number of “Bruce” scenes on two hands. It was a bold take on Reeves’ part, but it paid off. Bruce Wayne, the playboy, is window-dressing. It is more fitting that the character’s formative years see him ignore everything else in his life as he fights crime. The Batman’s Bruce Wayne is not pretending at any point in the movie; he is Batman 24/7.
The best part of Pattinson’s performance is that he truly imbues it with a clear character arc in mind. This is a movie about how Wayne learns to become the Batman audiences know and love. The voiceover that bookends the film was a little too on-the-nose at points, but it was worth it to show Wayne’s journey from agent of vengeance to genuine hero. Indeed, after all of the film’s violence, it is a perfect touch to have Batman’s final act in the movie be to guide Gotham citizens to safety. Paul Dano’s Riddler, predictably insane, truly believes that Batman is his partner in crime, and audiences can see why. For most of the film, Batman acts as little more than a thug, chasing clues and beating up bad guys.
Take the Batmobile chase sequence, for instance. This Batmobile forsakes sleekness and is instead a ferocious demon of vengeance unto itself. It is a rip-roaring new vision of the iconic vehicle, and it mercilessly succeeds in hunting down Colin Farrell’s Penguin—but Batman only does so because he believes Penguin to be the answer to a riddle.
Dano does a great job imbuing Riddler with both intimidation and desperation. Viewers fear him for being one step ahead of the film’s heroes, yet it is easy to sympathize with his mission, as they can see what the city’s corruption has done to him. At the end of his trail of bruised bodies, the Riddler is genuinely dismayed to discover that Batman is working against him, just as Wayne is dismayed to realize that he has been doing everything Riddler wanted.
This is why the resolution of The Batman works so well. There is a recognition on Wayne’s part that his cycle of vengeance can only get him so far. He realizes that Batman can be something more than he ever intended, more than just an expression of his childhood rage. In several Batman stories, it is said that when Bruce Wayne dreams that he is Batman, he considers the cape and cowl to be more a part of his identity than his daytime appearance. The Batman embraces this lore and uses it to give the character his most complete story to date.
A review of The Batman would not be complete without reference to Zoë Kravitz and Jeffrey Wright as Catwoman and Jim Gordon, respectively. Both are exceptional at playing off Pattinson and nail the tone of the film and the essence of their characters. Kravitz, in particular, harnesses a chemistry and energy that elevates the film every time she is on screen.
The Batman delivers on the anticipation surrounding it and proves that the Batman franchise is in the right hands with Reeves and Pattinson. The runtime, though daunting, is not overlong, and it is a real delight to spend time with Batman in a boldly realized red-black Gotham. More content set in this Gotham, including a sequel, is bound to come, and fans should be excited to watch Reeves build on the tone and cinematography of this installment.
Ironically, the future is bright in Gotham.
Rating: 9/10 stars