Warner Bros. Pictures and DC Comics have struggled over the years to generate consistently good cinematic releases. With “The Batman” however, it seems like another entry has been added into the really good, even bordering on great, category. It’s a fresh spin on Gotham’s Dark Knight, and without falling into unearned hyperbole, the film might wind up at the least, as the second-best incarnation of the Capped Crusader.
Yes, I’ll be the first to admit that I was skeptical of Robert Pattinson‘s ability to carry off the role of Bruce Wayne/Batman. Someone who had become so iconic as a glittery vampire during his time in the “Twilight” did not really feel like an actor who could step up to the level needed to be able to perform though the mask of this titular character.
He, like most of the rest of “The Batman’s” cast- which includes Catwoman/Selina Kyle (played by Zoë Kravitz), Detective Gordon (Jeffery Wright), Alfred (Andy Serkis), The Riddler (played by Paul Dano), and The Penguin (played by an absolutely unrecognizable – in a good way, Colin Farrell)- come across having more depth of character than in most of the DCEU.
The film picks up at around two years after the first appearance of Batman. While Detective Gordon does work with him, the rest of the Gotham Police Department is wary at best, and downright hostile at worst. The first of a series of gruesome murders happens, and Gordon brings in Batman to get his help on and case, and also to have him look at a cryptic letter left at the crime scene for Batman himself. From there, it’s largely a cat-and-mouse murder thriller.
Wayne/Batman as portrayed by Pattinson is a reflection of Gotham itself. Dark, brooding, and emo to the core. This version of Gotham isn’t a shiny modern city, instead it’s a modern gothic piece of art. The period that it’s set in is clearly intentionally left vague. There’s little technology to be had, and most of the sets, locations, and cars all look as though they could have been plucked most anytime over a span of time between the 1950s to today.
Batman’s suit and sundry toys have taken a step back from the hyper-technology of recent Bat-outings, and instead focused on more contemporary gear. Other than the kinetics-absorbing suit, this time he drives around Gotham via a pretty traditional motorcycle, and a less traditional souped-up muscle car. Wayne Manor this time is a near-derelict mansion in a blighted area of the city. The Batcave is a bat-filled abandoned subway station (at least as it appears) from when the city was in earlier, better days.
Where the story pivots its moral question around this time is about when is a vigilante celebrated vs. reviled. The Riddler is killing off corrupt politicians and cops, and puts to Batman at one point, where is the difference between them – it’s the limited use of violence to incite fear enough to make a change. It’s an effective thread, though Riddler’s isolation and use of very Reddit-like message boards to communicate with like-minded followers is a barely-veiled analog to both incel as well as alt-right communities with feelings of persecution and isolation.
Overall the film is beautifully cinematic, without being overdrawn. While not as barebones reductive from the source material as 2019’s “The Joker,” Batman does pare down the superhero-ness except during the fights and set pieces. Becoming more of a crime drama, but adding to it that this is still a relatively young in his career Batman, and isn’t the super-detective that he winds up being later.
The two main downsides is that it is long, coming in at just shy of three hours. For audiences who enjoy paced cinema, it’s fine, but thinking back on how some contemporary audiences weren’t fond of slower burns like “Blade Runner 2049” or “Dune,” it becomes something to call out. It could have lost a half hour in edge trimming and have not suffered.
The second item is that there is a “scene” at the very end of the credits. I put quotes around scene because it’s only a few seconds, and hits the audience as being such a non-event as to make the audience feel more tricked than rewarded for keeping their bladders tied up for another 5 minutes of credits. So stay or roll at the beginning of the credits, you won’t miss anything to write home about. Personally, I’d been hoping for Robin to put in an appearance, but no such luck.
“The Batman” is rated PG-13. Limited engagements begin on March 3rd. It officially opens everywhere March 4th, 2022.
Rating: 7.5 stars out of 10