The Batman (2022)

The Batman, Matt Reeves’ cinematic relaunch of one of comics’ most enduring characters, has hit HBO Max, and thus I’ve had a chance to see it.

Spoilers, plus rambling. You have been warned.

As you probably know this is the fourth live-action iteration of the character in the “modern era” of super-hero films (at least, anyway—that’s counting Keaton, Kilmer and Clooney as the same character), and it’s the first one that has debuted without a visual retelling of the origin story—gunman, alleyway, tumbling pearls and so on.  Instead the movie keeps pop-cultures most famous mugging off-screen, even as it makes it more central to the plot than ever before.  More on that later.

Because Batman is such a well-known character it’s impossible to talk about this movie without referencing how it stacks up against previous takes on the hero.  This time around Robert Pattinson is in the cape and cowl, and as long as he stays in the costume, he’s really good. 

Ever since Michael Keaton starred in two Batman movies starting in 1989, one of the most discussed and examined aspects of the hero has been his suit.  And one of the biggest issues with that has been Batman’s mobility–Michael Keaton’s Batman was imposing to look at but often moved like a brick with legs.  Subsequent versions have improved on this but maybe we’ve never had a Batman with the visceral dexterity that Pattinson gets to demonstrate.  The movie does lean heavily into “bulletproof Batman” which is not something I am a fan of, but it doesn’t do this at the expense of the fluidity of Batman’s movement.

Pattinson’s Batman also cuts a lean figure, which I think is appropriate for the character.  Ben Affleck’s Batman in the various DCEU films that he’s appeared in is an absolute beast—bizarrely broad-chested, like one of those stereo-typically big mob enforcers that Batman usually beats up. Pattinson gives off more of that ninja / mixed-martial artist-vibe that I’m looking for in my cinematic Batman.

The Batman‘s take on the character is also surprisingly public. He just sort of wanders into police crime scenes and appears before crowds of people.  He’s not quite deputized by the police (like the in the old TV show) but the public support he is shown by Lt. Gordon makes it pretty close. Maybe as a result, he also doesn’t lean too heavily an overly affected voice (as Christian Bale could do).

Nonetheless, he is amongst the most dark of Dark Knights that we’ve had in the movies—grim and nearly humorless. This is balanced, thankfully, by the character’s moral journey, as he shifts from being all about “vengeance” to symbolizing “hope”. I don’t know how deftly I’d say this is done in the film, but I do appreciate the fact that this is a Batman who doesn’t believe in killing (even if he does seem to believe in beating people to the point of permanent disfigurement and disability).

So all that to say I quite like Robert Pattinson’s Batman–he might even be my favorite Batman when it comes to the action, as well as the general look of the character.

This is good, because he’s up there with the worst Bruce Wayne’s that are out there. The movie decided deliberately to move away from the idea of Bruce Wayne the playboy, and turned him instead into Bruce Wayne the moody social recluse who doesn’t know how to interact with people, and who is almost completely devoid of personality.

I get it, it’s a character choice, but not one that I’m fond of. I’m not going to say he’s the absolute worst because you know, Batman & Robin exists. But it’s pretty close–the saving grace is that maybe after the events of this film Bruce will learn to take some responsibility for things, and we’ll get an adjusted view of the character in the sequel.

The supporting cast of the film are fine. Andy Serkis makes a surprisingly good Alfred, and Zoe Kravitz is probably closer to the Catwoman of the comics than any version we’ve had since the 1960s (though Michelle Pfeiffer is still my favorite by a country mile). Jeffrey Wright works well as Batman’s police officer ally, James Gordon (although I’m still partial to Gary Oldman). And John Turturro is one of the last people I’d expect to be a convincing mob boss, but he’s actually really good as Carmine Falcone.

As for the Riddler, well he’s not really like any version of the character that I’m familiar with, having been transformed into an insane serial killer with a political agenda and a fixation on puzzles and Batman. He’s basically the real-life Zodiac killer from the 1960’s and 70’s put into a plot from a Batman comic featuring the Joker (and not, as you’d think, the Riddler). Paul Dano is an actor who has been around for a bit but whom I do not recognize, which is part of the point I think. When we finally do see the Riddler, he’s an utterly ordinary person, someone we would not look twice at, which makes him that much more frightening.

The plot of the movie works fairly well, overall. The movie emphasizes detective work more than any previous Batman film, and this is a good angle for things to take. There is some interesting stuff with Batman’s backstory, including a dark secret about Bruce’s father and lot about why Bruce’s parents were actually killed (ground that the Batman films have surprisingly avoided up until now).

The film is nearly three hours long (ten minutes longer than The Dark Knight Rises which was also really long). This lets the movie fit in a lot of story but also gives rise to questionable pacing–at times things happen pretty slowly. Viewing in my home, with the ability to pause and restart the story whenever I wanted, I didn’t mind this. But it’s a point against its rewatchability and smacks a little of self-indulgence.

I’ve always wanted to see a really good and immersive Batman TV show–not a Gotham or Batwoman spin-off, and not the old series in all its campy glory. This movie could probably be broken up pretty easily into 40-45 minute episodes to create that vibe.

I have been pretty complimentary about The Batman, and I did indeed like it, but there are some things that are pretty stupid about the movie. There is a car chase between the Batmobile and the Penguin (an almost unrecognizable Colin Farrell that is not that well done and seems to result in multiple explosions of innocent bystander cars, something which goes conspicuously unaddressed.

Batman takes a severe amount of punishment with very few ill-effects. This is probably not the first time this happened in a Batman movie, but it’s more blatant than usual when he takes an bomb explosion directly in the face (we don’t even see him flinching or turning away or anything) without gaining a single burn. Seriously, everyone should be noticing that Bruce Wayne has sustained severe injuries around his jawline from then on. And the way the backstory plot about Bruce’s parents plays out is kind of silly–a bad guy tell Bruce the real reason his father was killed and Bruce just believes him, even though the informant clearly has sinister motives. One scene later and Alfred is setting him straight, which makes the previous emotional gut-punch into kind of nothing.

And there’s some really dumb stuff at the ending where it turns out that the Riddler has inspired a bunch of internet followers to show up at the sight of an emergency to start shooting all of the Gotham upper-class. This is actually a pretty good plot point, but somehow it turns out that all these guys are so well organized that they all turn up in identical costumes, all enter a secure area without dealing with any security problems, and all creep around the rafters of a building with a series of safety tethers protecting them. How on earth did they get all this set up without being noticed by anyone? There’s no reason except so that they don’t all plummet to their deaths when Batman starts beating them up.

Then Batman gets shot by one and for the very first time in the movie, after being shot multiple times by machine guns from inches away, seems to feel pain. Catwoman needs to rescue him, which she does, but then they both go into their deep emotional moment together rather than checking if there are any other bad guys around. Of course there are, and soon everyone is in peril again, but because one feels like it would have been easily avoidable it’s annoying rather than exciting.

So, all that to say The Batman is by no means perfect. I’d still hold up the Christopher Nolan / Christian Bale version to be the gold standard. Christian Bale is still the best Bruce Wayne that the movies have brought us, and the most interesting Batman as a character. But Matt Reeves / Robert Pattinson stand up respectably next to the Dark Knight trilogy, and in some ways (particularly the visual and cinematic design of Batman himself), even exceeds it.

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