“The Batman” (2022), directed by Matt Reeves and co-written with Peter Craig, is the latest reimagining of the ubiquitous Dark Knight.
The film stars Robert Pattinson as Batman, deciphering a trail of clues left by Paul Dano’s Riddler, a serial killer systematically targeting Gotham’s corrupt elite. As Batman and Lt. Jim Gordon (Jeffrey Wright) delve deeper into a vast web of conspiracies, they must contend with Gotham’s criminal underworld crossing paths with Carmine Falcone (John Turturro), the Penguin (Colin Farrell) and the curiously gray Selina Kyle (Zoë Kravitz).
Despite the capes and larger-than-life villains, “The Batman” isn’t a superhero movie. Rather, it’s a noir-style mystery firmly rooted in Batman’s point of view.
Action takes a backseat to witty detective work and gripping character drama, refocusing the caped crusader from MMA fighter to Sherlock Holmes. Considering the franchise’s history of action-oriented films, placing greater emphasis on the far more interesting “world’s greatest detective” side of the character helps to justify this new reboot.
The film isn’t entirely without action, though. The movie keeps you on the hook with a steady build in suspense, only to startle you with an eruption of incredibly dynamic set-pieces.
Michael Giacchino’s brilliant score especially shines in these moments. When Batman emerges from the shadows to serve brutal vengeance, the score, heavy with blaring trumpets and nerve-twisting strings, inspires awe and terror in equal measure. In particular, there is an edge-of-your-seat chase scene featuring the Batmobile which will stick with you long after viewing.
And speaking of shadows, this film excels in an area that few comic book movies do: cinematography.
Some films, to appear gritty, darken every frame to the point that it looks like a flat gray puddle. But in “The Batman”, each shot is packed with depth.
The lighting in the film is beautiful, especially its use of blues, reds and crisp, fiery orange. Paired with some excellent framing, the camera does half the story-telling and looks great while it does it.
Ultimately, the performances tie the film together.
Robert Pattinson — who has become known for eccentric and emotionally intense roles — was an inspired choice for this unstable, reclusive version of Batman. His strengths as an actor play perfectly into the obsessive nature of this iteration, and he conveys startling emotional depth, even with half his face covered. His chemistry with Zoë Kravitz’s Selina Kyle was delightful, and every scene between the two drips with sexual tension.
The rest of the cast delivered as well, especially Jeffrey Wright as Jim Gordon and Colin Farrel as Penguin, who is unrecognizable in the role thanks to exceptional prosthetic and makeup work.
However, Paul Dano’s Riddler may have fallen prey to over-acting.
In Dano’s eagerness to convince the audience of the Riddler’s insanity, a few moments arise where the audience might chuckle at his absurd antics rather than shudder. Overall, however, Dano’s Zodiac-inspired Riddler is effectively unsettling.
This movie might not be for everyone. It’s a long film with a run time of nearly three hours, and moments of brevity are downplayed to avoid undercutting tension.
In its drawn-out story, “The Batman” deals with many issues which are hot in the American consciousness, including dysfunctional policing, a corrupt political system and wealth inequality. A central theme is that beating up petty criminals doesn’t solve the structural issues that lead to crime.
This is a sharp turn for Batman to take following Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy, which takes a decidedly conservative approach to the same issues. What’s disappointing, though, is that no real solution is arrived at by the end of the film.
Overall, Matt Reeves’ reboot of this familiar hero exceeds expectations in terms of story, style and performances.
While DC’s new strategy of more self-contained stories has been successful over the past couple of years, few of their movies have seen box office success or penetrated the public consciousness quite like “The Batman”, demonstrating that DC is capable of going toe-to-toe with Marvel without imitating them.
“The Batman” lives up to the hype, and I can’t recommend it more.
Final Grade: A-
“The Batman” is currently streaming on HBO MAX
Noah Fellinger is an Arts Editor for The Daily Cardinal. He's covered the performing arts, new film and television releases, and labor issues in the arts. Follow him on Twitter at @Noah_Fellinger.