The Batman films that I have lasting and fond impressions of are those that do daring things and
thrilled me in the theatre. They’re the ones who upset my expectations of The Bat and his nocturnal obsessions. They are the ones that make what is, at heart, a vigilante story about a rich and privileged white dude beating the stuffing out of criminals in the streets relatable in some way. I’m not particularly fond of millionaires but part of what any Batman film has to do is make you care about his mission of vengeance. THE BATMAN asks what happens when vengeance isn’t enough anymore. What happens when the people that you are trying to save need something more?
THE BATMAN answers this and makes us care about his mission. Thanks to the fine direction by Matt Reeves and the equally laudable acting work of Robert Pattinson (Tenet, The Lighthouse), Zoë Kravitz (“Big Little Lies”, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald), Paul Dano (Love & Mercy, 12 Years a Slave) as Edward Nashton aka The Riddler, Jeffrey Wright (No Time to Die, “Westworld”) as Lt. James Gordon, John Turturro (Transformers films, “The Plot Against America”) as Carmine Falcone, Peter Sarsgaard (The Magnificent Seven, Interrogation) as Gotham D.A. Gil Colson, Jayme Lawson (Farewell Amor) as mayoral candidate Bella Reál, Andy Serkis (the Planet of the Apes films, Black Panther) as Alfred and Colin Farrell (The Gentlemen, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them) as Oz, aka The Penguin.
If I have said it once, I have said it a half dozen times. The only real reason to continue to remake, reboot, or make sequels to a film franchise is if you bring something new and exciting to the mix. THE BATMAN has succeeded in doing so with flying Chiroptera colors. Matt Reeves has brought another startling and fresh take to an already extant series and given it a reason to exist artistically. Just in fairly recent memory, you have the 1960s admittedly entertaining but campy Adam West television show. You have the Tim Burton series that morphed into the Joel Schumacher series. Then there’s the Christopher Nolan series, which was also admittedly quite good when it was firing on all cylinders. You have Ben Affleck from the Zach Snyder DCEU. I’m not really going to say anything bad about the rest of them. All of them have their fans and their good points.
But what Matt Reeves, director, and co-writer, of the film has done is that he has taken the basic idea in a different and fresh direction. Like his reboot of The Planet Of The Apes series that no one thought would recover after the Tim Burton embarrassment in 2001, he brought a seriousness and a love of the material that brought something back to The Planet Of The Apes films. Here, with THE BATMAN, Reeves has performed a similar feat.
What Reeves has done is strip the idea of a Batman movie back down to its emotional core. He’s focused on story and characterization in a way that other adaptations have not. He has crafted characters that are not infallible or superhuman. Remember that Batman is a rich guy who has gadgets. He’s not a god (Wonder Woman, Thor). He’s not imbued with superstrength (Spider-Man, Superman). He’s just this guy who is rich and smart but obsessed with the idea that he can make things better through brute force. He’s like so many other characters in film history who want revenge. He has had the people who mean the most to him taken away at a vulnerable age and he wants someone, anyone really, to pay for it. What he doesn’t realize is that being Batman will never fix the hole in his heart.
There was some griping about the look that Robert Pattinson has in the film, and no, a goofy haircut can’t make Robert Pattinson unattractive. The point of how he looks is that life as an obsessive vigilante who never sleeps and who repeatedly gets beaten and shot isn’t healthy. One of the best decisions about the character is to make him human. Too many attempts at Batman the character have been smarmy playboys and, honestly, look way too well-rested and muscled to really be what Bruce Wayne would actually be: haunted, confused, and very very angry.
Zoë Kravitz as Selina Kyle is a double of Bruce Wayne. She’s angry and set adrift without family, but she has purpose and artful guile. She’s more subtle and, in a way, smarter about it. She’s very strong and a brave and powerful fighter. She’s not looking for a rich Prince Charming. The film lets her be a character with her own self-worth. That worth exists outside of the feelings that she may have for Bruce Wayne. The film doesn’t make her into the traditional Bat girlfriend.
Reeves and Pattinson have pulled back from the fetishism of the Batsuit and Bat gadgets and the tendency to make Batman extremely cool. How cool would a guy who hangs around in a cave and whose hobby is solving crimes and pummeling petty thieves and gang members really be? It’s a stripped-down tale that focuses on who these people are and why you should care about them. Pattinson and the other actors take their roles very seriously but don’t take themselves too seriously. There’s one gag that had me rolling in the theatre. I won’t give it away, but you’ll know it when you see it. The one actor who comes the closest to an old-school ham performance is Colin Farrell as Oz or The Penguin, and it works because of who the character actually is and Farrell is completely believable and isn’t COLIN FARRELL. He’s allowed to be unattractive and not conventionally charismatic.
There’s one character, Annika, played by Hana Hrzic, who managed to give a memorable and warm performance that wins sympathy with a bare minimum of screen time. Her work makes you understand why her friend is desperate to help her. The casting is good down to the smallest roles. I also have to mention Andy Serkis as Alfred. If you had told me that Andy Serkis would make a great Alfred before I watched this movie, I don’t know that I would have been fully convinced, but he does. He goes down in the annals of beloved Wayne Family retainers as one of the best. All of the main cast members are allowed to work to their full potential and their work shines. Jeffrey Wright is cagey and trustworthy. John Turturro has brought back a bit of his Coen Brothers flair, specifically Bernie Bernbaum, from Miller’s Crossing. Jayme Lawson as Bella Reál brings determination and honesty to her portrayal as a mayoral candidate promising change.
Then there’s Paul Dano as Edward Nashton. I know that there are people who really don’t like Paul Dano and his work. I knew one critic who would yell anytime Dano was involved about how much she disliked him. It was one of her social media gimmicks. The thing is, however, that Paul Dano is a really good actor. He’s got a bit of the schlub about him and has a perpetual hangdog look in his roles. He uses those qualities and his ability to craft a disturbing foe in his portrayal of The Riddler.
Once again, the point is stripping away the superhero fetishism and giving a more realistic and grounded characterization to each role. While you would probably never see someone like Jim Carrey’s Riddler walking around a metro area, you could definitely see someone like Edward Nashton peering at you curiously or sitting across from you in an office. That’s what is most disturbing about the character that Reeves, co-writer Peter Craig, and Dano have created. He seems real. We’ve seen disaffected and angry young men like him committing acts of terrorism and acting out on the Internet. Dano is really good at playing a villain who doesn’t know he’s a villain and doesn’t think that he’s a villain. There’s none of the grandiose supercharged posturings of previous characters like Bane or The Joker. Here’s a spoiler alert for real life. Bad people don’t think they’re villains. Usually, they think they are heroes. They think they are right.
I have only great notes for the ensemble cast. There’s not a single bad performance in the whole film. The actors, the casting associate Olivia Grant (no casting agent is listed in the credits), and Reeves as a director deserve praise.
That leads me to the dramatic arc of the movie. It’s all too real and believable, especially after the events of the last two years. It’s not “ripped from the headlines” specifically, but the militant fanaticism of the QAnon and other online movements echo through the plot. Dano’s performance also echoes that of Pattinson as Bruce Wayne/Batman. He has his reasons too. He has his hurts and his need for vengeance. Part of what THE BATMAN is about is being able to understand what your purpose really is, at least for Bruce Wayne, and maybe for some of the people in the audience.
For anyone concerned, the action is still featured here. Reeves’ THE BATMAN contains a really terrifying car chase, one of my favorite kinds, and he’s really upped the game with weather conditions and vehicles. I remember the absolutely jaw-dropping moment in The Dark Knight when the big rig hits the ground and I felt a similar awe during THE BATMAN’s car chase centerpiece. The Batmobile is stripped down too, more of a muscle car made of Detroit iron than a streamlined sports car with Bond-style gizmos. The fighting is realistic, again, and the actors and stunt people show with their bodies how those hits feel.
Greig Fraser (Dune, Bright Star) is the cinematographer and DP. His work on Dune has been unjustly maligned. But people who talked some nonsense about Dune should know that Fraser was also the DP/Cinematographer for Andrew Dominik on Killing Them Softly and Kathryn Bigelow on Zero Dark Thirty, so I think he knows a little more about great cinematography than you do. Not everything in cinematography is about how brightly lit and visible everything is and how all the action is center frame at every single moment. It’s depressingly similar to the carping about Gordon Willis’ work on The Godfather back in the 70s. People were angry because so many of the scenes were so dark. However, now, Willis’ work and The Godfather are acknowledged as masterful cinema, as they should be and those people had no idea what they were talking about.
Michael Giacchino (Ratatouille, Spiderman: Homecoming, Doctor Strange and Cloverfield) composed the music and I remember that it fits the movie well. The main theme was stately and eerie and had bells as a central part of the composition. Since I wasn’t able to watch it a second time to observe the music more carefully I can’t say more than that, but it was really good.
Truly terrifying, truly emotional, with a real mystery at its center, THE BATMAN is a truly different take on the oft-told tale of The Bat. THE BATMAN shows you the true meaning of vengeance.
THE BATMAN exceeds my expectations and passes the bar of a reboot. It justifies its own existence with great storytelling, insights into humanity and human society, and powerful performances. It has thrilling action that works in service to the story and terrifying villainy that is all too real. It’s a Batman for The Now made all the more vital by the accuracy of its portraiture.
Warner Bros. Pictures Presents a 6th & Idaho/Dylan Clark Productions Production, a Matt Reeves Film, THE BATMAN. The film is set to open in theaters on March 4, 2022, and will be distributed worldwide by Warner Bros. Pictures.