Yes, three hours, plus twenty minutes of previews. It’s a commitment — but when a three hour movie feels like a two hour movie, and every second is filled with riveting action, tension, and emotion, it’s a commitment well worth your time.
The opening shot, disorienting and voyeuristic, sets the tone: this is a story about the world’s greatest detective. Influences from Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight Trilogy” can be found in the realistic take on Batman and Gotham, and a Batman that doesn’t have it all figured out yet. However, The Batman (2022) is strikingly different in style, tone, and genre. Nolan’s trilogy is a series of action-thrillers, while The Batman is a noir crime drama, although there’s still plenty of action to go around. This film specializes in calm-before-the-storm moments, with enthralling dialogue scenes that illuminate the fantastic performances of the cast. Set during Bruce Wayne’s (Robert Pattinson) second year as Batman, and inspired by Batman comics of the 80s, crime dramas of the 70s, and Kurt Cobain, this film takes the legacy of the caped crusader in a new and compelling direction.
Despite successfully creating a persona that terrifies the criminals of Gotham City, crime rates continue to rise. As the mayoral election approaches, The Riddler (Paul Dano), a puzzle-loving serial killer that communicates in ciphers à la Zodiac Killer, targets key political figures and uncovers the corruption rife among Gotham’s most powerful. He lures Batman in with greeting cards addressed only to him at each crime scene. Selina Kyle (Zoë Kravitz), who isn’t Catwoman just yet, becomes intertwined with the story while Batman is following a lead — but she is connected to this in more ways than one. As the stakes become clearer and more dire, Batman and Lt. James Gordon (Jeffrey Wright) race to stop The Riddler from tearing the city apart. You can’t help but keep watching as Batman unravels the serial killer’s sick game, where The Riddler always seems three moves ahead. The tension between the two, each pursuing vengeance in their own way, is electric.
This film began production at the end of 2019 and was forged during the pandemic, finishing the process in April 2021. It’s been hailed by DC fans for its portrayal of Gotham, immersing us in a city collapsing in on itself. It is always raining and crawling with criminals, the dark, muted color palette and grimy textures throughout reinforcing the idea that Gotham is fading away. The city transforms into a battleground between hope and despair as The Riddler stirs the pot.
The film is full of noteworthy and visually stunning scenes — writer-director Matt Reeves doesn’t waste a second of screentime. In the beginning, when Batman saves a man from a gang attack, the man begs him not to hurt him too. By the end, we see a woman reach out to him for comfort as she’s loaded into a rescue basket. There is a masterfully choreographed fight scene lit up entirely by muzzle flashes, which is partially included in the main trailer. The Batmobile reveal will probably have you shitting yourself, even more so if you’re watching in IMAX. In this particularly impressive sequence uploaded by Warner Bros. a month before release, Pattinson has no lines at all.
Pattinson’s Batman quietly analyzes crime scenes in addition to giving bad guys the beatdown. When he’s in the Batsuit, he’s not just showing up for the fights like in previous films, but having long conversations on rooftops and with Gotham’s police. This Batman/Bruce Wayne also stands out because Pattinson leans into Bruce’s raw vulnerability. There’s no billionaire playboy persona like with Christian Bale, nor is there a sense of cockiness and attitude like with Ben Affleck. He doesn’t look like he’s holding it together, even just barely, like Michael Keaton’s Batman/Bruce Wayne. He is visibly broken — the first time he takes off the cowl, we see ashen skin, greasy unkempt hair, and black makeup smeared around his eyes as he hunches over a computer. When he fights, all the rage that was quietly simmering under the surface bursts forth with no reservations. He doesn’t care about himself, or whether he lives or dies.
In an interview with Daniel Riley of GQ, Pattinson discusses his approach more in-depth, remarking that “Normally, Bruce never questions his own ability; he questions the city’s ability to change. But I mean, it’s kind of such an insane thing to do: The only way I can live is to dress up as a bat.” There’s a sense that although Bruce wants to change Gotham for the better, he’s also desperately clinging to the Batman identity and the idea of embodying vengeance to stay afloat. When Alfred (Andy Serkis) asks Bruce, “You don’t care about your family’s legacy?” Bruce replies, “What I’m doing is my family’s legacy.” He doesn’t deny his heritage, but he only wants to live as Batman right now and not as Bruce Wayne.
The other characters also come to life thanks to fantastic writing by Reeves and Peter Craig, as well as uniquely stylized performances. Paul Dano’s Riddler is uncanny and volatile: one moment he’s quietly smiling to himself, the next he’s screaming and wailing like a child. Zoë Kravitz as Selina Kyle/Catwoman exudes magnetism and ferocity, navigating the unraveling of Gotham as a woman fighting to survive.
With thoughtful cinematography, a gripping story, epic fights, and a strong cast of characters that fit right in on the dismal streets of Gotham, this film is a must-see. It’s a breath of fresh air in the Batman film canon and the superhero genre, and above all, it’s a damn good movie.
All photographs property of Warner Bros. Pictures, The Batman (2022).