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‘The Batman’ is a bleak, faithful reinvention of the caped crusader

‘The Batman’ is a bleak, faithful reinvention of the caped crusader

‘The Batman’ is a bleak, faithful reinvention of the caped crusader
March 11
08:00 2022

To quote film critic Roger Ebert, “Batman isn’t a comic book anymore.”

The caped crusader’s cinematic history has repeatedly challenged the status quo of the comic book film genre. Tim Burton’s 1989 “Batman” showed that superhero stories weren’t just campy escapades for kids to enjoy. Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight” showed how these stories and characters can provide vital commentary for today’s day and age.

This time around, Matt Reeves’ “The Batman” is a dark, violent, brutal and cerebral crime thriller that understands its protagonist better than its predecessors.

Because the marketing for the film has been secretive as to its plot, I’ll do the same: two years into fighting crime, Batman (Robert Pattinson) investigates a series of murders committed by a serial killer who calls himself the Riddler (Paul Dano).

Violence and corruption run rampant. With a city so ripe with crime and corruption, is Gotham truly worth saving? Such is the quandary that defines the film. The line between good and evil is so blurred and arguably arbitrary. Batman’s crusade to fight crime is a noble one, but good intentions can easily be misunderstood in today’s social climate.

Every character is a byproduct of its city: Bruce Wayne’s brooding desire for justice, the Riddler’s plan to destroy Gotham’s image, Penguin’s (Colin Farrell) shameless corruption and Selina Kyle’s (Zoë Kravitz) belief that the city is beyond saving. The Gotham City that Reeves depicts is a dreary, bleak and perpetually overcast cesspool of crime. It’s easy to imagine how Batman’s rogues’ gallery lives in such a place.

Reeves’ vision of the city is beautifully brought to life by his filmmaking style. He puts a high premium on careful shot composition, resulting in shots that are wallpaper worthy.

His method of filming action scenes often consists of smooth camera pans as opposed to the shaky handheld style that is seemingly favored today. He knows that the best way to film action is to present it clearly, employing beautiful wide shots that let the viewer witness Batman disposing of a room full of thugs or chasing down the Penguin in an astonishing car chase sequence.

The film’s color palette and lighting are beautifully varied with the expert lensing of cinematographer Greig Fraser, resulting in the best-looking Batman film by a country mile.

The ensemble cast delivers exceptional depictions of some of the comic books’ most beloved characters. Zoë Kravitz is effortlessly feisty and like Selina Kyle, perfects the well-known dynamic between her and Batman. Paul Dano, one of the most underappreciated actors working today, is prone to overacting and going over the top, and such is the case with his Riddler. For what the film is, his Riddler is an appropriately manic and dramatic fiend whose characterization is a clear allegory to how social media can enable people to act on their worst impulses.

Jeffrey Wright and Andy Serkis bring unique spins on as Batman mainstays Jim Gordon and Alfred Pennyworth respectively. Colin Farrell is absolutely unrecognizable as the Penguin, bringing some welcome levity and gravitas.

The elephant in the room, of course, is Robert Pattinson as Bruce Wayne/Batman. Over the last decade, he has shed the Twilight image by becoming one of the most versatile and unique actors working today. Films like “Good Time” and “The Lighthouse” are mere glimpses of the man’s talents, making his casting as Batman a no-brainer.

His Bruce Wayne is a decidedly more morose and distant version of the character. There is no playboy persona to be found, portraying a younger crime-fighter who currently can’t separate his public image from the cowl he wears at night.

Pattinson’s portrayal also has to be the one with the least amount of spoken lines, with the script relying more on his body language and facial reactions to convey emotion rather than overlong exposition. It’s a testament to his talents that he can carry a near three-hour film through visual expression and purposeful movement.

His and Reeves’ decision to portray Wayne this way is a novel approach. This is a Batman who isn’t a rookie but still has yet to reach his final form. This Batman gets hurt in combat, is still afraid of heights and makes mistakes in the heat of the moment. It stands on its own compared to the likes of Michael Keaton and Christian Bale but is also faithful to the ethos of Batman: a tragic figure who fights crime as much as he does his personal demons.

Matt Reeves’ “The Batman” is a three-hour crime noir that feels like two. I hesitate to call it a comic book film, yet it perfectly captures the essence of its characters and setting.  It’s untethered and unbothered by the usual trappings of the comic book genre, telling a story that can only be made for film.

It’s a film that shows the value of studios letting filmmakers run wild with their fantastical visions. Just on that metric alone makes “The Batman” a triumph.

Final rating: 4.75/5 

Featured Illustration by J. Robynn Aviles

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Kevin Diaz

Kevin Diaz

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