Since 1939, the crime-fighting, brooding, defender of Gotham City has reached multiple statuses over the decades from strange occurrence to pop-culture icon to transcendent figure of quintessential reality. He’s had an abundance of creative highs and commercial lows the likes of which haven’t been seen by any other astronomically popular character. Nearly everyone on the planet is aware of him in some perceivable manner, as he’s been riveting and perplexing the masses for literal generations due to his exploits. He is Vengeance. He is the Night. He. is. Batman.
Throughout the years, the dark knight has become such a wordwide phenomenon, every type of fan or non-fan has a favorite story or portrayal that’s associated with him. One can make the viable argument that those who haven’t even been born yet are already exposed to the character thanks to their parents. A stretch but within the realm of possibility. Whether it’s his tactical genius, deductive skills, implausible gadgets, formidable partners, or equally famous rogues gallery of villains, everyone knows the Bat and of course, his Bat-Family. He’s been the subject of long-standing debates on nearly every conceivable topic from whom he can defeat with or without preparation time to the discussion on whether his enemies are the result of his crusade or their own tragic circumstances and choices. There’s been meticulously written books and collegiate thesis statements made on his character. Rigorous conceptual analyzations and dissections, exploring the merits of his iconography, how it represents and reflects past and contemporary societal issues. He’s the cowled face of an entire brand next to Superman in DC comics, possibly one of the faces of vigilantism itself, fictional and non-fictional. He’s existed for so long, his adventures and accomplishments have attained limitless proportions, crossing the realm of otherworldly as well as paradoxical. Even for a superhero who doesn’t have any actual powers, though there’s been another debate on if he does possess them, given what he’s done and survived over the years. And of course, as if that wasn’t enough, he’s one of the most adaptable characters in global media history. Comics, films, shows, novels, and everything fans and the public can imagine. We’ve reached a point where even his counterparts have received the same treatment, bringing their own stories that have stretched beyond their original placements in the DC multiverse. Hm, contemplating on it further, his joke villains have actually gained competency and notoriety. Even freaking Kite-Man and Condiment King. Wow. Love him, like him, tolerate him, or hate him, the caped crusader is one of the most cultural figures of all-time.
Then, there’s writer/director Matt Reeves. A filmmaker whose carved out a rather prolific niche in cinema during his career, crafting sleeper hits and even sleepier marvels of his own. An arresting and visual storyteller who can build suspense and scope, expertly delivering entertaining features that are equally absorbing. He’s already obtained huge success thanks to the brilliantly marketed and intense Cloverfield (2008) as well as the horror remake Let Me In (2010). Though his greatest achievement so far was the modernized Planet of the Apes trilogy (2011 – 2017), which doesn’t receive enough respect and admiration for being an outstanding saga of tragedy, evolution, and revolution. “Apes Together Strong.“
And now, Reeves and the Bat have combined together at the peak of excellence in the superhero genre. As stated once again – Some visions can not be forsaken. Nor can they be contained, compromised, or forgotten. Some visions have such an indomitable power and longevity, it can’t help but to gain notoriety, exposure, and complete realization. By any means necessary. This claim was made apparent after the insurmountable campaign and release of Zack Snyder’s Justice League (2021), and now that statement is unveiling truth once again with Matt Reeves’ The Batman (2022).
Part origin story, procedural drama, intricate mystery, 70’s neo-noir, and humanistic incubus, Reeves’ harsh and evocative vision is overflowing with elements taken from past, present, and even future Batman stories, depicted in a slow-burning, immersive feature that’s as captivating as it is deep rooted in crushing realism and calamity. From terrifying beginning to subtle end, this ambitious journey takes a viewer into the underbelly of a city on the brink of chaotic madness and the players affected or laid to waste within it, whether physically, psychologically, or both. It challenges as well as thrills and horrifies, building an incredibly strong tone and mystique as it progresses…it’s a long, dark, and scary ride.
As the story goes, after two years of being the shadowy masked vigilante of Gotham, Bruce Wayne is learning what it means to be a symbol of fear and intimidation in a city overrun by criminals. Despite developing a reputation amongst criminals, the police department, and community, Bruce wonders if his war on crime is bringing about any significant change. Things take a turn for the worse when a deranged serial killer with an obsession with riddles starts murdering influential people in power and exposing their secrets. Now, with the help of Alfred Pennyworth, Lieutenant James Gordon and Selina Kyle, Bruce must use every thing in his arsenal to decipher the killer’s cryptic clues, save the next targets, and stop what’s coming, which threatens to tear the entire city apart.
One can surmise that Reeves truly understands Batman and the world he encompasses. When it comes to the presentation of Gotham City, it feels thickly gritty, dirty, and as metropolitan as it gets, yet there’s scenes involving sunsets and sunrises that also surprise with their rich allure. Most of the other depictions of Gotham have always kept that grungy style but this one also presents a serene, jarring beauty sprinkled amongst its black corners and tsunami-like rainy nights. Reeves and cinematographer Greig Fraser of Dune (2021) and The Mandalorian (2019) fame captured that pure atmospheric dazzlement in its hues, scope, and framing. In a way, the city itself is a character, shifting and evolving along with those who populate it.
As mentioned before, the plot is a slow, Stanley Kubrick-ian build and plays out like one. Anyone expecting an action extravaganza will be sorely disappointed. While this does possess sensationally gripping sequences of brutality and destructive violence, at its helm it’s about the engulfing mystery, distinct characters, and developments that transpire more than anything. Reeves, who co-wrote the screenplay with Peter Craig, also incorporated quite a few known Bat-works from the comics, such as “Year Zero,” “The Long Halloween,” “Year One,” “No Man’s Land,” “Earth One,” and more. Plus he plays around with the history and lore of the icon, taking a few dynamic risks that might enrage and confuse fans, yet nevertheless succeed in making an engaging story that’s full of actual twists and turns. And as mentioned, this is the grimmest and bleakest Bat-tale to date and levity doesn’t have any place here. This is not a Batman for kids in the slightest. A purely adult affair. One that requires a certain level of maturity, patience, and appreciation to experience. And the score? That impeccable score. Done by Academy Award winner Michael Giacchino, and just as layered and grandiose as the film itself. Hypnotic, loud, impactful, and seeringly bold, it never losing its presence throughout the film’s near three hour runtime, giving us the goods like everything else.
Which leads to the cast of characters themselves. Unsurprisingly they were quite solid, including Andy Serkis’ Alfred and John Turturro’s Carmine Falcone. But of course the main highlights were the big five. First up, the consistently amazing and underrated Jeffrey Wright as Lieutenant James Gordon, which developed the legendary cop in a way befitting this stage in his career. Gordon hasn’t reached his getting-too-old-for-this-shit stoicism and reserved wisdom, opting for a seasoned but subtly aggressive officer who understands the city’s need for vigilantism as well as bending a few rules himself to solve these crimes and save lives. He isn’t a second fiddle to Bats but an equal on the upstanding side of the law. The two worked well together and Wright portrays each part of the character swimmingly and effectively. Much in keeping with the actor’s skills, which never disappoints. Next is the also underrated and exceptional Zoe Kravitz as femme fatale Selina Kyle. The sultry, spunky cat burglar who has her own mysterious goals and secrets. Even though this rendition of Kyle hasn’t fully embraced her Catwoman persona just yet, her moral ambiguity, attraction to the Bat and vice versa remains engrossingly electric all the same. Their chemistry oozes off the screen and Kravitz embodies the role in every facet, cementing her place next to the other distinct Cat portrayals of the past. Eartha Kitt would be proud. God rest her soul.
One of the biggest transformations of the film is Colin Ferrell as Oswald “Oz” Cobblepot aka The Penguin. While Ferrell is no stranger to disappearing into a role, this is his biggest Houdini act to date. No qualms in stating that if it was never revealed that THIS was him, no one would’ve guessed. Four hours of make-up work a day and an excellent performance gave the current low level mobster a sleazy and slimy presence that was fun to watch. Next up, the incomparable Paul Dano lends his theatrical eccentricities to creating a truly disturbing, creepy, and all-around insane version of The Riddler that was an uncomfortable and uncompromising force to be reckoned with. Based off of the real life Zodiac killer, Dano also vanishes into this role, showcasing a talent for playing menacing, calculating, and worst of all; inspired. Such an immeasurable portrayal to be draped across this entire film. By far the best depiction of the villain ever put to screen. It’s in a league all its very own. Implicitly.
And last but certainly not least, is Robert Pattinson as the reclusive Bruce Wayne as well as the damaged yet intimidating Batman. Considering this is only year two of Bats’ vengeful mission against the unlawful, he’s still rough around the edges, unhinged, and as disturbed as those who fear him. With a focused stare that peers into the depths of your soul, mercilessness that grinds bad guys into dust, and actual investigative skills, this version is a breath of fresh air next to the others we’re used to. This Bat also makes mistakes, has inner doubts and plenty to learn about what it means to be a symbol of vengeance and change. Not to mention he doesn’t see the world as anything but black-and-white, assumes the worst in society as well as himself. He’s intelligent, resourceful, crafty, and more than capable to take on what threatens the city. Even though many have distrusted Pattinson with putting in a worthy showing, he nevertheless knocks it out of the park, nailing every note, look, gesture, punch, and expression. But it’s little surprise because the actor has put in consistently superb work for years now. And he continues that work with an astounding tour de force performance.
At the end of the day, whether the word of mouth or box office determines if this film is a bust or not, one thing remains gravely certain – Matt Reeves has done Batman faithful justice with this uncanny piece of triumphant storytelling. An insatiably thrilling, dismally demented, wildly creative, and multi-layered feast of visual complexities. It’s the kind of film that shows the unbridled power of it, shirking conventions, while simultaneously blowing socks off. It’s hyper-stylish, robustly directed, nails so many elements, themes, and nuances about the historic and modern icon it’s downright extraordinary. Time will tell if this film stands at the peak of cinematic excellence without faltering, but either way, it doesn’t change its spectacle and revelatory success. Bottom line, it’s one of the best films ever made, and another reminder of this golden age of comic content being brought to life in glorious fashion. Whether you’re a fan or not, check it out and prepare to be wowed. Or at the very least, see if you’ll blink while gazing into the abyss.
Review written by Marcus Wilturner