Warning: this review contains mild spoilers for The Batman based only on trailers and promotional materials, as well as spoilers for past Batman films.
The Batman has had quite a tumultuous journey to the big screen. First announced back in 2014, The Batman once starred Ben Affleck as the Caped Crusader taking place after the events of 2016’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Affleck was also set to direct and co-write the screenplay with DC Comics alum Geoff Johns (The Flash, Aquaman, Titans). However, with poor critical and commercial reception of DC’s slate of films (i.e. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Justice League) and Affleck hanging up the cape and cowl in 2019, The Batman was back at square one.
Eight years after the movie’s original announcement, and with DC moving back to standalone “auteur-based” superhero films (first seen with Todd Phillips’s Joker, back in 2019), The Batman is now directed and co-written by Matt Reeves (Dawn of– and War for the Planet of the Apes, Cloverfield, Let Me In) and stars Robert Pattinson (Twilight, The Lighthouse, Good Time) as the Dark Knight, Zoë Kravitz (Mad Max: Fury Road, Big Little Lies) as Selina Kyle/Catwoman, Jeffrey Wright (Westworld, The French Dispatch) as Lt. James Gordon, Colin Farrell (The Lobster, In Bruges) as The Penguin, and Paul Dano (There Will Be Blood, Little Miss Sunshine) as The Riddler.
Departing heavily from Affleck’s original script, The Batman delivers an excellent story that situates itself outside of previous Batman films in tone, setting, and plot. Taking place two years after Batman’s first appearance and set exclusively in the seedy underbelly of Gotham City, Reeves’s exploration into the Batman universe is dark and horrific, incredibly nuanced, and thematically deep. The Batman provides a uniquely modern take on Batman with relevant social commentary hidden beneath its surface. With each member of the all-star cast bringing their A-game (though some characters deserved a tad more screen time and independence), The Batman is a near-flawless film that treads much-needed new ground for the Caped Crusader.
The Batman follows the World’s Greatest Detective as he is called in by Lt. James Gordon after the mayor of Gotham City (Rupert Penry-Jones) is brutally murdered. After a string of serial killings is claimed by a villain named The Riddler, Batman teams up with Gordon and the mysterious Selina Kyle to investigate The Riddler’s clues into Gotham’s deep-rooted corruption helmed by mobster Carmine Falcone (John Turturro).
Taking inspiration from seminal but lesser-known comic works like Batman: Year Two and Batman: Ego and Other Tales, The Batman is thematically and aesthetically much darker than previous Batman films. Gone are the days of Tim Burton and Joel Schumacher’s Gotham City caked as a gothic wonderland full of the rich elite. Instead, this now dated and somewhat cartoony setting is exchanged for grimy back alleyways, the narcotics-filled Iceberg Lounge, and the dark-as-night Batcave.
The Batman rarely exists outside these dark confines as themes of classism, sexual exploitation, and online troll culture plague Gotham like a disease. With muted greys and blacks matched with nightmarish lighting, it’s hard not to see Reeves pulling from crime noirs and German expressionist films (made complete with Nirvana’s “Something in the Way”). Though these themes and tones were touched on previously by Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, Reeves is able to provide more of an impactful commentary due to the film’s ground-level and raw setting. Ideas that Nolan merely worked with are perfected here as Reeves treats Gotham as much of a character as he does with Batman himself.
Additionally, this setting also has its impacts on the characters themselves. For example, Pattinson’s Bruce Wayne is broken, inexperienced, and simply one bad day away from complete self-destruction — a far cry from the stoic, high elite guardian portrayed by previous Batman actors like Christian Bale, Michael Keaton, and even Val Kilmer. Though Pattinson’s casting as Batman met the same public contention that Heath Ledger faced when cast as The Joker (I implore those on the fence to watch Pattinson’s work outside of Twilight), Pattinson poses an excellent Batman and a formidable Bruce Wayne.
Therefore, it’s important to note that The Batman is strictly a Batman story as Pattinson is rarely seen outside of his cape and cowl. The Batman is focused on fully exploring Batman as a character and not the “mask” that is Bruce Wayne — a claim that some fans believe Wayne is the alter ego rather than Batman. Furthermore, unlike previous Batman films, Reeves’s Batman helms the title of The World’s Greatest Detective. He solves puzzles, investigates crimes, and uses his masterful power of deduction while also representing a vengeful boogeyman to Gotham’s crime overlords.
However, this depiction isn’t to say that Pattinson’s Batman is perfect nor invincible. Reeves does an excellent job balancing Batman’s intellectual and physical prowess with his adolescent inexperience (considering Batman has only been on the scene for two years). Throughout the film, Batman is both a terrifying heroic presence but also an imperfect being capable of mistakes. Even the influence of Batman as an icon has consequences by inspiring both heroes and villains alike, as the moniker of vengeance has its grey areas. The inner conflict displayed by Pattinson is masterful (though a tad on the melodramatic side) as he ebbs and flows between different unregulated emotions, failures, and traumas that come to make an original and nuanced take on the Caped Crusader.
As good as Pattinson is, the surrounding cast is equally as strong. From Wright’s straight-edged Gordon to Kravitz’s cunning Catwoman to even Farrell’s slimy Penguin, The Batman is stacked with stars. However, every actor brings their A-game with each character adding to the profound world-building set up by Reeves. Even lesser supporting characters like Turturro’s Falcone play a major role in giving rise to Gotham and its cast of characters.
Of particular note is Dano’s take on The Riddler and Kravitz’s Catwoman. Dano’s Riddler is akin to the villain Jigsaw in the Saw franchise. Unlike Jim Carrey’s wacky depiction in 1995’s Batman Forever, Dano’s Riddler is sadistic, terrifying, and overall psychopathic as he sports duct tape, a green leather mask, and an overcoat that harkens back to the Zodiac Killer — Reeves’s horror background is depicted in full force here. Very few actors could pull off Reeves’s version of the Riddler, but Dano completely knocks it out of the park, providing an equal foe for the young Dark Knight.
On the other side, Kravitz is an absolute force as Catwoman, playing a powerful yet flawed foil to Pattinson’s Batman. Kravitz resembles everything a modern-day and independent feline fatale (pun intended!) should be, complete with deep character development and ultimate badassery. However, as good as Kravitz is, The Batman stumbles briefly by simply not giving her enough independent screen time outside of Batman. I feel that The Batman falls into convention by having Batman be such a powerful force in Kyle’s growth. Even when Kyle is against all odds, Batman swoops in to save her (with the opposite occurring soon after). As the film makes it clear that Catwoman and Batman stand on two opposite sides of the same spectrum, we never get to see Kyle explore this road alone. I would have liked to see Kyle pave elements of her own story outside of the influence of Batman so as not to undercut her own independence.
By the time the credits rolled on the nearly three-hour The Batman, I felt blown away by the original storytelling, immersive atmosphere, and impactful themes conjured up by Reeves. The Batman resembles an excellent modern-day Batman film that stands uniquely beside its predecessors. Though the film stumbles briefly regarding its supporting cast, it remains a minor criticism of what The Batman accomplishes as a film. As Nolan’s trilogy redefined what superhero movies were back with 2012’s The Dark Knight, The Batman will easily do the same as one of 2022’s best films and one of the best modern superhero films to exist bar none.