THE BATMAN (2022)

  • Release Date: 04/03/2022
  • Cast: Robert Pattinson, Jeffrey Wright, Zoë Kravitz, Colin Farrell, Andy Serkis, Paul Dano
  • Director: Matt Reeves

The best “Batman” film since “The Dark Knight Returns” ?

— Ambar Chatterjee

The Batman has little to do with any previous iteration of the character in films and sets out to tell a new story. The story, however, is deeply rooted in the comic book mythology of the character and is in portions inspired by real-life crimes like the nefarious and unsolved “Zodiac Killer” case. The film begins by introducing us to Bruce Wayne AKA the Batman (Robert Pattinson) who has been active for 2 years in Gotham. He picks his fights diligently as he is alone in a city full of criminals and cannot be everywhere. Gotham is rotting and the extent of the rot is characterized by the moral bankruptcy of the people who are entrusted to save and defend the city. Soon a mysterious killer known as the Riddler (Paul Dano) emerges and begins killing some of the most important people of the town. Every time he kills someone, he leaves behind a note for the Batman that holds a cryptic message, puzzles, or both.

Jim Gordon (Jeffrey Wright) brings in the Batman to help investigate the murders as he believes that there might be some connection between him and the Riddler as the Riddler called him out in his messages. As the story progresses, the Riddler peels out layer after layer of the delicate yet dangerous alliances between Gotham’s rich and privileged, law enforcement, and the criminal underbelly. A time comes when Bruce Wayne is faced with the stark reality that his family might not be as noble and pristine as he had believed for so long. What happens next forms the crux of the narrative of the film.

The Batman is 3 hours long and the majority of that runtime is spent on investigating the murders, establishing connections between different characters and their involvement in the Riddler’s scheme of things, and also solving the cryptic messages and codes that the Riddler leaves behind after every murder. Matt Reeves anchors his narrative on the primary question of why the Riddler is killing these specific people and what he wants to achieve by doing so. It is evident that solving the murders and understanding the clues left behind are the keys to saving the lives of the next possible victims. It is this aspect of the film that accounts for most of its thrills and intrigue.

It is engrossing to see Batman go through the motions and conduct his investigation. He uses cutting-edge technology as well as brute strength to arrive at conclusions and unearth facts. After a long time, we have a Batman who mouths out solutions to riddles and solves crimes in his head, and takes the concerned authority to it without uttering a single word before revealing the facts. This is one aspect of the film that was most definitely inspired by the 1990s Batman: The Animated Series where the character had very similar vibes to his modus oparandi. It must also be noted that this is a Batman film where Bruce Wayne appears only for a few fleeting moments. The majority of the time is devoted to the character of Batman and I loved every second of it.

Jeffrey Wright and Robert Pattinson in a still

The plot is a reimagining of the brilliant, Batman: The Long Halloween storyline but Reeves makes so many changes to it and plays around with the dynamics of the characters so much that it nearly feels like a whole new story. For the modus oparandi of the killer, Reeves takes inspiration from the infamous “Zodiac Killer” case. This not only infuses a sense of realism and credibility to what apparently is a bizarre set of killings but also reminds audiences that something like this has happened before and can be replicated by some other killer in the future. This further infuses the film with energy, thrill, and intrigue.

The look, feel and setting of the film are reminiscent of the Arkham Asylum games. I played the first Arkham Asylum game before my PC became too old to support the graphics of the next few and I became too old and involved in the chores of daily grinds to sit and finish a video game. But I can distinctly remember the feel and the setting of the first Arkham game and this film constantly took me back to that. Even the manner in which Batman is shown taking out the enemies in hand-to-hand fights was in keeping with the gameplay mechanics of that game. I have a hunch that if they make another film in this iteration of the character, it might just be based on the Arkham story arch from the games as many subtle references were pointing to that fact.

I could also see the considerable impact of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight in the film as the motivations of both the Riddler and the Joker (Heath Ledger from “The Dark Knight”) felt very similar. The path that both the antagonists take to achieving their respective goals was similar. Both the antagonists were essentially anarchists albeit for very different reasons. The only difference lay in the choice of victims. While the Joker went after the noble, the Riddler goes after the worst. I loved the verbal encounter between Paul Dano and Robert Pattinson in the asylum and it reminded me of the interrogation sequence from The Dark Knight. It is ironic that both the sequences end abruptly and in a similar manner with the Batman rushing out to save a whole lot of lives after what he learns in the discussion.  

Paul Dano in a still

Robert Pattinson’s Batman feels the most like Batman. His Batman rendition is the best that I have seen to date and that is including the charismatic Michael Keaton and Christian Bale. He speaks little and most of his talking is done through his eyes. He lurks through gatherings and sees things without uttering a word. He makes sense of things but keeps it to himself. He is more Batman than he is Bruce Wayne and it is evident that he is much more comfortable being Batman than going through the motions of a millionaire heir to Thomas Wayne’s legacy. I loved the fact that he is shown as someone who is evidently smitten by Zoë Kravitz’s Selina Kyle but is too afraid to expresses it through action. He however doesn’t move a muscle when she approaches him and kisses him gently hinting that he is just as much into the moment as she might be in.

The only aspect where Pattinson is less effective is where he plays Bruce Wayne with an almost freakish vibe to the character. Bruce in the comics and animated films and series has always been a polished, articulate, and endlessly pleasant personality. To see him as an awkward, unpleasant, and grim individual who doesn’t even care to have his cufflinks on was unnerving and I couldn’t bring myself to be on the same page with the interpretation of the character. In terms of rendition, I feel Pattinson did a great job even with this aspect of the character as it harmonized with his Batman rendition and essentially made both the characters feel the same.

The rest of the cast of the film did an exceedingly good job. I loved Zoë Kravitz’s rendition of Selina Kyle. The drama that plays out between her, Batman, and Falcone (John Turturro) was interesting and I loved the manner in which Reeves approached the entire portion. She is also hell-bent on exacting revenge from a few for murdering her apparent lover and that forms a different track for her character. There is also a hint of a minor romance brewing between her and Batman and that forms the third track for her character. For some, a single character involved in three different subplots may be too much to fathom but I had no issues with her performance and realization of every element of her character.

Robert Pattinson and Zoe Kravitz in a still

Colin Farrell as the character of Penguin is unrecognizable but has a vibe that is very similar to one of the greatest actors of our times, Robert Di Nero. He is an absolute delight in the film. I wish he had a longer role. Andy Serkis and Jeffrey Wright are great actors and they pull their respective weights effortlessly.

Even though the attention of Reeves was more on the detective aspects of the story than anything else, The Batman has some scintillating actions sequences that will hold its own against any action film of recent times. The physicality and the bravura gusto that Pattinson brings to these sequences coupled with a terrific background score make these sequences inspiring and memorable. One must also give due credit to the cinematography and the editing of these sequences as they add to the affectivity of the sequences. Even though the film is primarily shot at night, it looks beautiful and rich in its visual presentation and one can enjoy every aspect of it without the lack of light ever becoming an issue.

I had a great time with The Batman and will most definitely be watching it again. It is a brand new story that has set the ball rolling for some interesting things to come in the future. With Matt Reeves’ deft touch and inspired direction, this will definitely turn out to be a fresh new take on the beloved character made for the future generations but never ignoring the roots and ethos of the character that made it so popular the world over. It is only left to be seen how Pattinson evolves as the titular character with future films.               

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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