I’d like to go back to 2012 for just a moment, scroll down a few paragraphs if you just want to hear about ‘The Batman.’
That year saw the release of two (I believe) culture-changing films: Christopher Nolan’s ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ and Bill Condon’s ‘The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2.’ On the surface, beyond the obvious bat iconography, those films have nothing in common. Yet I think this week’s ‘The Batman’ represents a fascinating intersection of those two films.
I have less experience with the latter (I bought into the “’Twilight’ and everything associated with it is bad” crowd a lot when I was younger, I’m not proud of it). Having asked people who were part of the fandom, even amongst fans, there was this ticking clock of expectations around its cast. Could they make "serious" turns outside the franchise that turned them into megastars or were they just the new faces audiences were expected to root for?
The former, however, is a different story. For me, 2012 was the year I started exploring comic books and their adaptations more seriously, and TDKR was no small part. It was Christopher Nolan's bold (if imperfect) climax to a re-introduction of the character a lot of audiences simply weren't expecting. But even for its flaws made apparent, the Batman legacy made it mostly immune to any questions of what next or who gets to tell that story, let alone its complete antithesis to 'Twilight's "image" amongst moviegoers.
I suppose my point (if there is any) is to point out the often-absurd nature of expectations, fan or otherwise. How many of us would’ve predicted Robert Pattinson’s maverick of an arthouse turn in the years since 'Twilight?' Or that he’d make his return to mainstream blockbusters with a character as populist and seemingly well-defined as Batman? Or that sure thing Ben Affleck would step aside from his vision and pass it on to Matt Reeves, who has had his own creative peak with ‘Planet of the Apes’ and suddenly redefined the character’s very place in terms of DC’s film slate?
But all of that out of the way, and pandemic delays a plenty, and ‘The Batman’ has officially made it to theaters, did that strange time in 2012 intersect in something great? I mean…yeah! The thing is there was very little writing on the wall that I was worried about regarding Reeves and Pattinson’s take on the character, but I certainly didn’t expect it to be this good!
‘The Batman’ takes the best bits of the approaches before it and imbues it with the kind of off-the-wall fear and depth of character that comic fans have always known but has never been this exposed until now. Not to mention the movie is technically a masterpiece, the cast is superb, the ideas are consistently fascinating, and I just need to stop gushing and get to the synopsis.
Two years after first donning the cape and cowl, Bruce Wayne (played by Robert Pattinson) has had significant success with his efforts to clean up the streets of Gotham as Batman. After being brought on to solve a recent murder alongside Gotham Police Lieutenant Jim Gordon (played by Jeffrey Wright), Bruce discovers a new serial killer loose in Gotham, who comes to become known as The Riddler (played by Paul Dano). While looking for leads, he meets Selina Kyle (played by Zoe Kravitz), a waitress at the notorious Iceberg Lounge, owned by “Penguin” Oswald Cobblepot (played by Collin Farrell).
Selina decides to help Batman’s case, but only to know what happened to her missing roommate, whom she believes had information on Gotham politicians that Riddler wants to expose. As the city becomes divided over Riddler’s methods vs. results, Bruce himself must contend with his own family history, which is guarded by his loyal butler, Alfred (played by Andy Serkis), and tied to Gotham’s history more than he realizes.
The technical departments on ‘The Batman’ are staggeringly impressive. Greig Frasier is on a hot streak after his work on ‘Dune’ and he is a bonified magician when it comes to balancing light sources in Gotham’s shadowed cityscapes. Most of those locations are developed by production designer James Chinlund (Reeves’ PD on the ‘Apes’ movies), with a near-perfect visual mix of Nolan and Tim Burton’s Gotham Cities.
Then there’s the music and notice I didn’t say score. Michael Giacchino’s score is among his best (and that’s saying a lot), but I genuinely don’t think I can listen to Nirvana’s “Something In The Way” without picturing early morning motorcycle drives in the breaking dawn (pun intended).
About a half an hour in, I realized exactly why Robert Pattinson was attracted to the role. He’s in Dave Crossman and Glynn Dillon’s bat suit maybe more than any actor has and is salivating at the opportunities it presents. Pattinson leans into Batman’s more obsessive and physical angles with ease, but only in his moments as Bruce Wayne does the character’s arc take shape.
It’s an approach that feels incredibly sheltered but becomes all the more fascinating as those doses of humanity peak through the mission statement that is Batman. And that doesn’t even touch on Riddler, who becomes a reflection of the things Bruce perceives as weaknesses, even if more and more of Gotham demand that humanity from their leaders.
It also benefits from across-the-board greatness in the supporting cast, ranging from Zoe Kravitz’ focused portrayal of Catwoman, to Jeffrey Wright’s gritty morality of Jim Gordon, to Paul Dano’s increasingly unhinged (and just contemporary enough) intelligence to Riddler’s schemes.
My one significant qualm with Reeves’ approach is some of the writing. Not that it’s bad by any means, but this is a nearly three-hour noir story, and the graphic novel-style approach Reeves and co-writer Peter Craig utilize can be a bit much. There’s a lot in the subplots that the movie like to throw at you, and a certain point you may just want to get to the action pieces (they are there and they're exhilarating), even if I still think the movie’s pacing helps a lot with that aspect.
I've seen the takes floating around that ‘The Batman’ is a phenomenal adaptation but lacks as a cohesive film. While I certainly don’t disagree, I think that’s downplaying what’s on screen. Matt Reeves takes Bruce Wayne to new, more subdued places than any incarnation has concerned itself with and knows how to use Robert Pattinson’s strengths to raise the drama when needed or just let the world itself breathe.
The result is a Batman movie unlike any other that demands your attention, not solely as a blockbuster, but as an exploration of losing oneself to one’s worst tendencies and how those who would seek to exploit that self-doubt can be incidentally enabled. If you’ve never been a fan of the character, I can’t speak to how much it’ll resonate, especially with that runtime. But even incremental fans will appreciate where this movie goes and the future of the character it presents is more compelling than ever.
Overall, I give ‘The Batman’ 9/10.
'The Batman' will be available in theaters beginning March 4th.
Want to follow me on social media? Follow me on Twitter and IG @TheMovieKing45 and follow my podcast Plot Devices on Spotify and Apple Podcasts.