REVIEW: ‘The Batman’ displays ‘the world’s greatest detective’ in his element

Boyce Rucker, Staff Writer

This review is from an early premiere screening of “The Batman.” The film will officially be released in theaters on March 4, 2022.

In the cinematic landscape of superhero franchises, rarely do we see a low-key approach to the genre that does not feel monetized or formulaic. Many superheroes, particularly Batman, suffer from derivative storylines and unoriginal interpretations on the big screen. The character’s history in mainstream cinema spans back to 1989, when Tim Burton debuted a gothic and fantastical take starring Michael Keaton. Since then, filmmakers and actors like Christian Bale and George Clooney generated films that have become iconic in their own right. 

However, previous films never delved as deep into Batman’s detective roots as “The Batman” does. Director Matt Reeves plunges the caped crusader into an expansive noir mystery that gives us a unique and emotionally-stirring Batman film.

Robert Pattinson as Bruce Wayne in ‘The Batman’ (2022). (Matt Reeves/IMDB )

In his second year of crime-fighting as Batman, Bruce Wayne (Robert Pattinson) searches the Gotham underworld for the sadistic serial killer known as The Riddler (Paul Dano). The Riddler targets the city’s elite figures and leaves messages at the scene of each murder addressed to Batman. In his investigation, Batman uncovers secrets that unveil a corrupt system in Gotham.  He links the killings to an organized crime conspiracy as he encounters cat burglar Selina Kyle (Zoë Kravitz) and mobster Oswald Cobblepot (Colin Farrell). In his pursuit for justice, Bruce realizes that he can be more than a creature of the night in Gotham.

The film explores Batman’s impact on Gotham City and the toll it takes on Bruce Wayne’s psyche. This grounded take on Batman makes it hard to consider it a “superhero film” in the general sense. On the contrary, it is more in line with a crime thriller. It is a fitting approach that does wonders for the character. He is depicted as a pariah who is feared by criminals to the point of being mythologized and barely trusted by police. The Batman we see here is an investigator who is not only fighting against corruption in Gotham but questioning who he wants to be in the public eye. 

Andy Serkis as Alfred Pennyworth in ‘The Batman’ (2022). (Matt Reeves/IMDB )

A common theme across Batman media is how Bruce Wayne is merely the mask to the alter ego. We do not see the Bruce Wayne eccentric playboy facade develop here, though we get the sense that Batman dominates Bruce’s life to the point where it is feeding on him. While not an origin story, it is through the investigative lens that Bruce will work towards being the beacon that Gotham needs. 

As the film stands separate from the rest of the DC Extended Universe, Reeves takes creative liberties while drawing from select Batman stories, old and new. Packed with atmosphere, he paints Gotham as the urban hell depicted in the comics. Glimmering in the rain among darkness and decay, the city feels like a character itself, subjected to change throughout the story as Batman uncovers secrets that shake the city to its core. 

John Turturro as Carmine Falcone in ‘The Batman’ (2022). (Matt Reeves/IMDB )

The film’s ensemble of characters is used brilliantly to drive home emotional stakes within the three-hour runtime. Fan-favorite characters such as GCPD Lieutenant James Gordon (Jeffrey Wright), Bruce’s butler Alfred Pennyworth (Andy Serkis) and crime boss Carmine Falcone (John Turturro) make their way into the film as figures who factor into the complex detective story. One of the film’s strengths is seeing Batman and Gordon investigating together as a detective duo, further emphasizing the procedural theme. Whereas Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight trilogy takes the Batman mythos and adjusts it to a real-world setting, “The Batman” takes the real world and tailors it to the comic book setting. 

Batman’s prominence in the runtime subjects him to something of a character study. However, that does not diminish the arc of other characters. The cast breathes life into the film with the amount of depth each carries. Although some of the characters, especially Riddler and Penguin, stray from their comic book depictions, their development signals an evolution for them. The extensive runtime may cram in a lot of information about these characters, but it shows that they still have room to grow as part of a new Batman franchise.

Robert Pattinson and Zoe Kravitz in ‘The Batman’ (2022). (Matt Reeves/IMDB )

The ambitious writing and direction of the film is matched by a superb cast. Pattinson’s roles before “The Batman” already showed us that there is more to him than just the “Twilight” franchise. His role as the costumed vigilante reinforces his flexibility as an actor. Pattinson exhibits a brokenness and idiosyncrasy in Bruce that differs from Bale or Ben Affleck’s portrayals. There are more Batman scenes than Bruce scenes, but Pattinson easily shows the two personas as one and the same in moments of tension, such as the funeral scene. Pattinson gives us a Batman we invest in as we see him progress from weaponizing fear to symbolizing hope by the film’s end. 

Dano portrays menace in The Riddler that adds an uneasy feeling to the film. The villain can easily be thought of as one of the least significant opponents due to his reliance on brain over brawn. However, Dano adapts Riddler’s terrifying intellect and adds a deranged personality that keeps us guessing as to what he’ll do next. Dano’s face is covered for most of his screen time, but his chilling line delivery keeps our eyes glued to the screen whenever he appears.

Zoe Kravitz as Selina Kyle in ‘The Batman’ (2022). (Matt Reeves/IMDB )

Kravitz is a standout among the supporting cast as she injects danger and humanity into the mysterious cat burglar. Selina Kyle acts as the film’s femme fatale and can be seen as a secondary protagonist. Her story arc is not dictated by Batman, as she displays moral ambiguity while trying to solve a mystery that ties into Batman’s own investigation. Her deep motivations advance the character in a way that goes farther than the Nolan and Tim Burton depictions. This iteration of Catwoman warrants a spin-off in the near-future.

“The Batman” is not just one of the best Batman movies in years, but one of the best noir stories in recent memory. With due respect to what came before, Reeves adapts elements of the Batman mythos with sleek precision and care. Pattinson is riveting as the world’s greatest detective, portraying him as a broken man beneath a hard-boiled shell. If one were to watch “The Batman” without seeing its predecessors, they might think this is the first Batman film ever made, as it gives a deeper understanding of the character than ever before.