Directed by: Matt Reeves || Produced by: Dylan Clark, Matt Reeves
Screenplay by: Matt Reeves, Peter Craig || Starring: Robert Pattinson, Zoë Kravitz, Paul Dano, Jeffrey Wright, John Turturro, Peter Sarsgaard, Andy Serkis, Colin Farrell
Music by: Michael Giacchino || Cinematography: Greig Fraser || Edited by: William Hoy, Tyler Nelson || Country: United States || Language: English
Running Time: 176 minutes
The simplest way to describe Hollywood’s latest incarnation of the Dark Knight (its third in the past 20 years), Matt Reeves’ The Batman (see how creative we are with naming sequels and reboots?), is that it’s a feature-length (a 3-hour feature!) expansion of Christian Bale’s confrontation with Tom Wilkinson in Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins (2005) — a longwinded yet not half bad exploration of Batman’s identity and psychology as a damaged vigilante. Instead of exploring the concepts of fear as they relate to empowerment or disempowerment (e.g. Batman Begins), the sociology of terrorism (e.g. The Dark Knight, or TDK), or whatever the hell The Dark Knight Rises (2012, or TDKR) was about, 2022’s The Batman emphasizes its titular hero’s job description above all else: A well equipped, well trained, well funded vigilante who pummels criminals to within an inch of their lives — but a vigilante nonetheless.
What makes The Batman a powerful film despite mining the same source material Hollywood has exploited since the 1980s is how well its direction congeals with its screenplay’s themes and overarching narrative. Matt Reeves, one of my favorite working filmmakers and also co-writer of the movie, executes The Batman with cinematographer Greg Fraser (see also: Dune [2021, 2023]) as an epic neo-noir crime drama; in both visuals and tone, The Batman is the grimiest, seediest, and most macabre feature to star The World’s Greatest Detective yet, moodier than any of Nolan’s work and grittier in sound FX, stuntwork, and choreography than Ben Affleck’s portrayal in Zack Synder’s DC Extended Universe installments (e.g. Dawn of Justice , Justice League [2017, 2021]). How it melds its screenplay’s narrative blueprint, Fraser’s arresting camerawork, and its unique, identifiable set-pieces organically in reference to its source material, is what separates this latest incarnation of the Dark Knight from so many other mainstream Hollywood comic book-movies. It is instead a good movie that happens to be based on a comic book a la Logan (2017), Dredd (2012), Hellboy (2004), etc., not just another “comic book-movie.”
However much The Batman may market itself like previous Batman film-adaptations, it does not feel like them. Reeves and co-writer Peter Craig’s exploration of Batman’s (Robert Pattinson) role as a vigilante in an urban environment, combined with Fraser’s aforementioned film noir cinematography (e.g. low-key lighting, harsh shadows, decrepit cityscapes, etc.), feels as indebted to American crime dramas of the 1940s-1970s (e.g. Chinatown , The French Connection , The Big Combo , Double Indemnity ) and German expressionism (e.g. M ) as it is to Batman: The Animated Series (1992-1995). One of course could argue similar descriptions of Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy (2005, 2008, 2012), but they would only be superficially correct in doing so: Batman Begins bears passing resemblance to Batman’s animated history as well as its noir influences, while TDK is above all else a tribute to Michael Mann’s Heat (1995) and TDKR is, again, something to this day I do not understand.
Perhaps the live-action Batman features most comparable to The Batman (God, I hate that title) are Tim Burton’s original Batman (1989) and Batman Returns (1992); Burton’s surrealist, Gothic style dominates both movies to the extent that Returns in particular barely feels like a Batman adaptation despite the character’s own Gothic roots, where over-the-top performances, goofy black humor, and extreme, almost dreamlike special FX become the star of the show at the expense of the title character. Reeves’ 2022 take is stylized in a more controlled manner, where his diegesis feels like a tangible, real world city and the characters could exist in real life, if only just. There are enough slick action sequences to maintain its tentpole blockbuster status and an overwhelming presence of Pattinson’s titular protagonist to identify this film as a Batman film, yet as stated above, its source material does not appear to limit its filmmakers’ creative control…
… except for when it does. While I wholeheartedly recommend this movie to most audiences (see below), Reeves’ latest feature is not without prominent weaknesses. Most obvious is The Batman’s gargantuan 177-minute length. If most 2-hour, 15-30 minute superhero blockbusters need to cut down on the narrative fat, and if No Time to Die’s (2021) 163-minute runtime was pushing things, then The Batman feels truly excessive. An easy thing to cut would’ve been Zoë Kravitz’s entire Catwoman subplot, which adds texture to the narrative, but is not critical to the greater story. Smaller yet no less noticeable problems have to do with The Batman’s mass audience-friendly PG-13 rating, which is the one area where major studio mandates appear to have restricted Reeves’ hand. There’s little bloodshed in the entire film despite a plethora of fisticuffs and implied — but never shown — grisly serial murders, not to mention a sequence where Pattinson eats an improvised explosive device at point-blank range with no bruises or scarring.
Aside from those complaints, however, The Batman justifies its adaptation of an overexposed Hollywood intellectual property thanks to Matt Reeves’ relative creative freedom and distinct artistic vision. The Batman is a neo-noir crime drama, a stripped down, bare-knuckled thriller before it is a “superhero movie,” and those are the only types of comic book-adaptations I maintain stand the test of time. Its bloated length and refrainment from Seven (1995) or even Zodiac (2007)-levels of explicit violence are a shame, but otherwise, this latest Dark Knight stands on his own two feet, regardless of the impacts of Tim Burton or Christopher Nolan’s take on the property before it. Instead of just talking about vigilantism, The Batman shows what that identity means and takes that cinematic discussion in a new direction.
SUMMARY & RECOMMENDATION: Built atop a memorable neo-noir look and believable crime drama world, Matt Reeves continues his trend of intelligent, thinking-man’s blockbusters with 2021’s The Batman. His action sequences have learned from the shortcomings of previous cinematic iterations of the title character (e.g. tight choreography, effective stunts, coherent editing) while his villains (e.g. Paul Dano, John Turturro, Colin Farrell) maintain the charisma and heightened realism of their forebears.
— However… while not as poorly paced as, say, TDKR, The Batman should exist as a 2.5 hour epic a la TDK and not verge on a limited series runtime better suited for streaming. I would’ve traded Zoë Kravitz, as fun as she is, for an uncensored R-rating in a heartbeat.
? Why didn’t the previous Batmans (Batmen?) need eyeliner for their masks? Between that and the car, this may be the most low-tech Batman yet.