‘The Batman’ Begins… Again! (Movie Review)

With The Batman, Robert Pattinson is the seventh actor to play the Caped Crusader, thereby eclipsing the number of James Bonds to hit the silver screen. Both made their live-action debuts in the 60s. Of course, there are way more Bonds films (26 official) than Batman (13), yet each new iteration has been an event. Director Matt Reeves (Dawn of and War for the Planet of the Apes) had been eying Batman: Year One for years, and while this 2022 feature is technically the Bat’s second year as Gotham’s vengeance-driven vigilante, that’s certainly close enough. Thankfully, that means we get to skip the overly used death of billionaire Bruce Wayne’s parents. If you’ve seen the trailer, you might have noticed that the dream of the 90s/early 00s is alive and well in Gotham City. To be fair, the character has always been kinda moody, so an emo Bruce Wayne isn’t the stretch one might have assumed. Think more My Chemical Romance’s Three Cheers For Sweet Revenge era, less Tobey Maguire’s dancing fool a la Spider-Man 3. So, let’s apply guyliner and tussle our carefully curated locks. After all, we have a city to save, Mr. Wayne!

I’d been excited to witness the new era of Batman since the incredible Se7en inspired trailer set the mood with Nirvana’s “Something in the Way” back in 2020. With smoky lighting and a crime scene right out of Jon Doe’s journals, this new vision for Gotham promised a departure from the epic realism Christopher Nolan perfected with his Dark Knight trilogy. Even more than the rock star sensibilities of The Crow, I was stoked to learn The Batman was finally presenting the Dark Knight as DC Comics has labeled him: “The World’s Greatest Detective.”

Starting with a dim red WB logo to set the tone, a heinous murder is committed. On Halloween, just days before an election, the mayor of Gotham is brutally bludgeoned to death by a masked man who leaves a greeting card addressed “For The Batman.” He calls himself The Riddler (Paul Dano). Clearly, this is the 00s as Sean Parker hasn’t convinced Mark Zuckerberg to drop the “the” for Facebook.

Immediately, there is something different on display. Most Batman movies only have Wayne suit up for big action set pieces. Pattinson wears his form-fitting gunmetal black attire for the bulk of this movie’s near-three-hour runtime. Instead of being a bat signal for action (although there is that too), it’s mainly so he and Lt. Jim Gordon (Jeffrey Wright) investigate multiple crime scenes together. It’s stunning how fresh and novel this approach is, as this Batman is more hands-on, let alone inquisitive. Who needs car chases when Bruce deciphering a codex with his butler Alfred (a charming Andy Serkis) is so rewarding. To the surprise of no one, Wayne can solve a riddle faster than any of my Worldle attempts.

As far as first outings go, this might be the most fully-realized Batman film yet. Tim Burton’s ’89 blockbuster may have kicked off the audience’s decades-long fascination with superheroes, yet as good as that and Nolan’s Batman Begins were, they were quickly overshadowed by their superior sequels. I would love if The Batman: Still Batty tops what director Reeves has accomplished here, but The Batman is a (mostly) complete feature as far as themes and ideas are concerned. One of its greatest strengths is how focused the narrative is on exploring Pattison’s masked hero. Being self-contained is a feature, not a bug, regardless of some diehard fans being annoyed the film would not be part of the ongoing DC Cinematic Universe. This Batman doesn’t need Wonder Woman or Aquaman for support.

In fact, Pattinson might just be the best Batman. His Wayne is a tad underused (I probably prefer Affleck’s Wayne overall), but the Twilight star’s presence in the suit is remarkable. The way his eyes dart subtly punctuates a clue. His voice, which narrates the film sporadically, is less like Bale’s affectation and more the longing of someone desperate to find hope in the dark city he lives in. When he does fight, all six feet of him is an impenetrable wall (Although, since this is year two, the fledging crime fighter can still make mistakes). He’s also a hero who doesn’t seem to have the usual “I do it alone” schtick. He and Gordon make a great team, and later on, Batman joins forces with Selina Kyle (an excellent Zoë Kravitz). Their banter is organic, not at all forced.

The script by Reeves and Peter Craig gives Pattison more to work with than previous actors have had. Without giving too much away, the narrative is laser-focused on the disillusionment of the millennial generation. Bruce has a way of looking at right versus wrong, and that “way” is challenging. It might make him less “super” to some fans, but it’s a necessity for any hero to have internal conflicts that aren’t easily solved by wiping a crowded dance floor of thugs. The Batman is primarily focused on Batman, a rarity in his previous films.

Beyond the mystery of the Riddler’s plan, there are plenty of scenes with bullets, shattered glass, and a wicked cool new Batmobile. Yes, the focus here is on the mystery, but this is a big WB production featuring big stunts and set pieces that are effective if a bit routine. The highlight is set at a funeral, as the stakes are high for Batman to succeed by using his cunning more than just his fists.

So much had to be said in praise of Pattinson and how Batman is written but make no mistake, the supporting cast is uniformly excellent. Dano is quite possibly the scariest villain in the series to date. Impressive considering much of Dano’s work is voice and body language, as his face is covered for the bulk of the runtime. Even when he’s not onscreen, the impact of The Riddler is always felt. Kravitz’s take on Selina is more sympathetic than typically showcased, giving the actress more to explore in terms of layers for the well-known cat burglar. Other vets like Colin Farrell as Penguin (unrecognizable under make-up), John Turturro as Carmine Falcone, and Peter Sarsgaard as Gotham’s DA have less meaty roles. Still, the actors elevate the characters by smart line readings and a general presence. 

The Batman is the best first outing in the history of Batman films. Is it the best of all the Batman movies? Not quite, as I prefer The Dark Knight and Batman Returns. Still, thanks to strong work from all involved, I can’t wait to return to Gotham again alongside Robert Pattinson’s emo Bruce Wayne… ready to usher in The Black Parade.

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