MANILA, PHILIPPINES — Since 1989, several men have put on the cowl of Batman on the big screen. Michael Keaton, Val Kilmer, George Clooney, Christian Bale, and Ben Affleck have all given their takes on the Dark Knight Detective with varying degrees of success. For a character whose origins date back to 1939, so many comic book writers and artists have taken on the challenge of bringing something new to the Batman mythos. In 2022, that challenge fell into the laps of director Matt Reeves and actor Robert Pattinson in the form of “The Batman.”
When Gotham City mayor Don Mitchell is murdered by a serial killer, Lt. Jim Gordon (Jeffrey Wright) allows the vigilante known as The Batman (Pattinson) to examine the clues with the police. A serial killer calling himself The Riddler (Paul Dano) is behind the murder and has been engaging Batman through some curious clues.
After the Riddler kills Commissioner Pete Savage next, Batman and Gordon find a thumb drive containing images of a woman named Annika at the Iceberg Lounge. This nightclub is run by The Penguin (Colin Farrell), one of mobster Carmine Falcone’s (John Turturro) trusted lieutenants. Selina Kyle (Zoe Kravitz) is a waitress at the Iceberg Lounge and was seeing Annika before the latter disappeared.
Batman taps Selina to find out more about Falcone’s involvement with Annika and learns that several key figures are on his payroll. As Batman continues to dig deeper, he learns some uncomfortable truths not just about Selina and Falcone, but even about his parents and how the Riddler plans to expose all of this to the world.
It feels like the most recent incarnations of Batman on film just happened recently and it’s true. Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy just concluded with 2012’s “The Dark Knight Rises.” That was followed by Ben Affleck’s turn in the cowl for “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice” and the much- maligned “Justice League.”
With these images of the Caped Crusader so fresh in our minds, nobody would blame you if you wondered if another new Batman was really necessary or if anything new about the hero could be shown. What The Batman does is answers with a resounding “Yes!” for both.
Reeves took over what was supposed to be a film that Affleck would both star and direct in, and proves to be more than capable in rendering a vision of Gotham City different from what Nolan, Tim Burton, and Joel Schumacher have done before.
Reeves and Pattinson’s Batman is relatively new in the role, not an aged veteran. This is Batman back to his roots as a detective, figuring out clues and examining evidence. While still reliant on the considerable knowledge and training from butler Alfred Pennyworth (Andy Serkis), Batman has also entered into an uneasy alliance with Jim Gordon.
His Batmobile isn’t the imposing tank also called “The Tumbler” that Lucius Fox and Wayne Tech designed. In fact, there is no Fox to give Batman so many high tech toys here. It’s basically a two-man crusade with Alfred being very reluctant to help Bruce because he fears that the scarred boy he helped raise is losing his mind.
Whatever fears some people may have had about Pattinson being a capable Bruce Wayne/Batman should be completely obliterated after watching this film. The actor proves he doesn’t need to adapt a strange voice like Bale did when he put on the cowl. There is weakness and uncertainty in this Batman as he’s not quite sure yet that what he’s doing will indeed avenge the deaths of his parents.
The cast of characters assembled around Pattinson also needs to be recognized. Wright is, as usual, excellent in every role he takes on. His Jim Gordon isn’t on top of the police force yet but does have the commanding presence and conviction that his future role will need. He doesn’t completely trust Batman but does know that what Batman is doing has been helping and not harming what the police are there for.
In Kravitz, we have a comic-accurate Catwoman in terms of look, origin, and physicality. The film adapts some of Selina Kyle’s backstory from “Catwoman: When in Rome” and “Batman: The Long Halloween” to show her motivations go beyond mere burglary. Kravitz’s sexiness is different from Michelle Pfeiffer and Anne Hathaway, or even Julie Newmar, Lee Meriwether, and Eartha Kitt from the campy 1966 TV series. This is a Selina that’s been hardened by Gotham and is fighting back.
Turturro and Farrell are such versatile veteran actors that nobody should be surprised with how good they are here. Turturro has played protagonists and antagonists both serious and comedic for so long that when he doubles down on being a mob boss, it feels scary. He’s not physically imposing by any means but he does bring menace that Falcone does in the comics.
Farrell is, as has been said several times recently, unrecognizable as Oswald Cobblepot. The prosthetics and the fat suit completely remove whatever good looks the actor has, leaving only his eyes and his physical performance to engage the audience. His Penguin is very different from Danny DeVito’s psychotic orphan from 1992 embracing Cobblepot’s mob boss role in recent years.
The breakout star in The Batman, however, is Dano’s Riddler. For decades, the character has played second fiddle to The Joker in the pantheon of Batman’s main villains. Both Frank Gorshin and Jim Carrey played the character for laughs in the past but there was always something lacking from taking him as seriously as we did with “the Clown Prince of Crime.”
By keeping Dano masked for 85% of the time he’s onscreen, then revealing himself to be some nobody in glasses later, his threat feels more real. It’s as if anyone off the street can become a psychotic serisl killer with malevolent plans. Riddler is finally featured as a primary villain that Batman needs to take seriously.
The pacing in the first third of this motion picture is a bit slow but when it picks up, it basically doesn’t let go until the end. Aside from Reeves, co-writer Peter Craig, and cinematographer Ben Fraser, the music of Michael Giacchino resonates throughout the film. He had huge shoes to fill with Danny Elfman and Hans Zimmer producing such memorable themes in the past, but Giacchino’s own score fits perfectly for Reeves and Pattinson’s own take.
It’s always a challenge to make a credible Batman movie because he is so rooted in the comics but, at the same time, this is a character with no superpowers but does dress up as a giant bat to fight crime. Thankfully, Reeves, Pattinson, and the rest of the crew met the challenge head on and exceeded expectations.