The Batman

Review by Adam Woodward @AWLies

Directed by

Matt Reeves


Paul Dano Robert Pattinson Zoë Kravitz


The Dark Knight rises (again).


Plenty of R-Batz for your buck.

In Retrospect.

That rare beast: a neatly self-contained contemporary blockbuster. Still too long though.

Robert Pattinson’s grunge prince vows to wash the scum off Gotham’s streets in Matt Reeves’ noirish detective thriller.

It’s the two-letter word on the lips of every high-powered executive in Hollywood. The first thing Kevin Feige thinks about in the morning and the last thing Kathleen Kennedy thinks about at night. I’m talking, of course, about IP. In an era of seemingly endless reboots, remakes, prequels, requels, shequels and spin-offs, IP has become the movie industry’s north star – the shining beacon every big studio guides itself by. As a result, and due in no small part to the highly lucrative, precision-tooled homogeneity of the Marvel Cinematic Industrial Complex, diverse, original storytelling is increasingly hard to come by at the multiplex.

Critics and filmmakers who perhaps think themselves more discerning than Johnny Popcorn™ frequently give films based on existing intellectual property a bad rap; driven by a purer artistic calling and a genuine concern for the future of the medium. But IP is not, as some would have it, a terminal blight on film culture. Or rather, it doesn’t have to be. Because just as Bruce Wayne uses his trust fund billions to finance a secret life of vigilantism, so too can catering specifically to a built-in fanbase be a worthy endeavour. IP in and of itself is not the problem. It’s what you do with it that counts. Which brings us to Matt Reeves’ The Batman.

The latest DC-Warner Bros co-production may trade on 80 plus years of sweet, sweet brand recognition, but it makes a concerted effort to recalibrate Bob Kane and Bill Finger’s creation for a new audience, distancing itself from other cinematic iterations both tonally and thematically. It draws more from the character’s comic book roots and recent video game exploits than any previous Batman film, owing little to Tim Burton, Christopher Nolan or Zack Snyder. Crucially, it explores the Dark Knight’s chequered past from a standalone perspective, largely unencumbered by the rigid franchise mechanics to which so many contemporary blockbusters are bound.

Several years after the biggest drugs bust in Gotham’s history, the city is still a cesspit of sleaze and corruption. At the end of a long Halloween, a prominent politician turns up dead, leading Robert Pattinson’s grunge prince to a series of ciphers which he must decode in order to apprehend the man responsible, an enigmatic edgelord who calls himself The Riddler (Paul Dano). These cryptic clues also lead to a nest of lies that will implicate some of Gotham’s most senior public officials, as well as a Penguin (Colin Farrell), a Falcone (John Turturro), various vultures and stool pigeons (the place is a regular aviary, but alas, not a Robin in sight).

Putting the proverbial cat amongst them is, well, Catwoman (Zoë Kravitz), who agrees to help Batman provided he doesn’t interfere with her own pursuit of vengeance. Selina Kyle, it turns out, has serious daddy issues – and she’s not the only one who’s forced to reckon with traumatic events from their childhood. “Are you scarred under there?” teases Kyle when Batman refuses to take off his mask during a twilight meet-cute. He may not be physically disfigured, but the painful memory of his parents’ untimely demise is etched across his face. Indeed, every character in this film is wounded in their own way.

With his crosshair motif, homicidal tendencies and passion for puzzles, Dano’s Riddler instantly evokes the Zodiac Killer; his hooded military surplus costume closely resembles Robert Graysmith’s famous sketch of the unidentified serial killer. An elusive psychopath with pretensions of martyrdom and a poetic (albeit deranged) sense of justice, he’s also an orphan with a personal, not entirely unfounded, vendetta against the Wayne family. In a chilling echo of numerous real-life cases of domestic terrorism, he uses the dark web to incite a violent uprising against the wealthy elites who have exploited and oppressed Gotham’s most vulnerable citizens. If Batman and The Riddler are ideological opposites, however, it’s telling that both are essentially working for the same cause: to rid the city of those who have rigged the system to serve their own interests.

Crooked cops, a dirty DA, a Machiavellian mayor. It’s not just a few bad apples – Gotham is rotten to the core. To that end, Reeves has pointed to a number of American crime movies from the 1970s as inspirations for his noir-tinged detective thriller. Chinatown and Taxi Driver are the most obvious touchstones, but there are further nods to Klute, Serpico and The French Connection. (Closer in the rearview, the film’s procedural plot and rain-lashed cinematography call to mind David Fincher’s Seven, with Pattinson’s idealistic rookie teaming up with Jeffrey Wright’s weary gumshoe, Jim Gordon, to solve a string of elaborate and grisly murders.) Much like Jake Gittes, Frank Serpico and “Popeye” Doyle, here our angst-ridden antihero ultimately learns the truth that fear and power are two sides of the same coin.

The Batman takes far too long to arrive at this conclusion (at just under three hours it is the longest Batman film to date), and yet the slowly dawning realisation that his considerable privilege and status are symptomatic of the broken society he is committed to fixing is apropos for this less seasoned, more impetuous caped crusader. Maybe he doesn’t have the cunning of Keaton or the brawn of Bale, but in his own unique way Pattinson’s Batman feels perfectly adapted for the uncertain and unjust times we are living in, where greed and impunity are the order of the day. And if the film itself isn’t totally original, it at least spreads its latex wings in some fun and surprising ways.

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Published 28 Feb 2022

Tags: Batman Colin Farrell DC Comics Jeffrey Wright Matt Reeves Paul Dano Robert Pattinson The Batman


The Dark Knight rises (again).


Plenty of R-Batz for your buck.

In Retrospect.

That rare beast: a neatly self-contained contemporary blockbuster. Still too long though.

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