Delayed twice due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Cloverfield (2008) director Matt Reeves’ The Batman has seen its fair share of online chatter since announcing who’d be donning the cape and cowl. And for good reason. After all, the image of Twilight star Robert Pattinson doesn’t exactly scream Gotham City’s Dark Knight. Then came a first-look teaser showcasing a sneak peak of our new Caped Crusader brutally beating a perp to a pulp, before growling that he is Vengeance.
Opening with thugs and criminals prowling the streets, the Bat signal shines in the night sky, and Pattinson narrates setting a dark, moody tone on the gritty landscape of Gotham. Initially, I began fearing the development of a piteous emo Bruce Wayne wearing eyeliner with a “woe was me” look. Thankfully, Pattinson maintains the haunted, dour demeanor one would expect from someone orphaned at a young age without crossing the line into self-pity.
The film is set in Batman’s early vigilante years. Going even deeper and darker than Christopher Nolans crowd-pleasing trilogy, director Matt Reeves explores territory in the Batman story never before seen on the big screen.
When city officials begin turning up dead, The Batman takes on heavy noir detective mystery nuance as The Riddler (Paul Dano: Looper 2012) is introduced. Matt Reeves says was inspired by the real-life ’60s/’70s serial killer Zodiac. The Riddler’s cryptic crime scene clues addressed to “the Batman” sends our brooding hero, along with Lt. James Gordon (Jeffrey Wright: No Time To Die 2021) and cat burglar Selina Kyle (Zoe Kravitz: X-Men: First Class 2011), down a rabbit hole of corruption and into the seedy underbelly of Gotham’s crime syndicate.
Unexpected truths are revealed within a grim, shadowy cinematic world based more in reality than comic book gimmicks. With Bruce Wayne depicted as a recluse, the majority of screen-time is reserved for Vengeance, a.k.a. Batman, heavily focused on the character as a master detective.
Favoring realism and practicality over flashy, tacky costumes with nipples and spandex, the art direction goes with a makeshift mentality that reflects each character, their inspiration, and their environment. From its murky, sinister cinematography and Selina’s meow-dified cat burglar ski mask to The Riddler’s attire fashioned after the hooded garments and horned rimmed glasses worn by the aforementioned Zodiac Killer, The Batman visually pulls out all the stops.
Of course, you can’t talk about a Batman film without mentioning the Batmobile. This version of the Batman’s all-essential signature car has the look of a stunt car that was stripped down in a mechanic’s garage before being rebuilt and modified for speed and muscle. Although more basic than previous models, this souped up hell on wheels is perhaps one of my personal favorite renditions of Batman’s iconic ride.
Imagery, wardrobe, and props aside, The Batman wouldn’t be a worthy addition to the franchise without the cast performances. Under the guise of superior makeup work, subtle Penguine-esque facial features, and a mobster look, Colin Farrell (Daredevil 2003) is unrecognizable as he simply becomes Oz in every aspect of the character’s persona. Kravitz gives Michelle Pfeiffer and Anne Hathaway a run for their money in her graceful, badass portrayal of Selina as she rides a fine line between vigilante justice and murder. Dano perfectly blends mastermind intelligence and madness in a way in which we’ve never seen The Riddler.
However, the performance that’s on everyone’s mind is Robert Pattinson.
Adam West, the Batman of the ’60s, was great in his own right for his time. Michael Keaton, to many, will now and forever will be the true definitive live action Batman. Val Kilmer and George Clooney are best forgotten. Christian Bale gave an exceptional performance in an outstanding Batman trilogy. Ben Affleck simply had the misfortune of playing a good Batman in box office bombs. As for Pattinson? Some audiences will undoubtedly find ways to heavily scrutinize his version of the iconic caped crusader. Others will dub him the best Batman of all time. Although I hesitate to grant him the title of “Best in the Franchise,” Pattinson certainly earns his place among the greats.
Emotionally scarred, Pattinson’s Batman speaks little, allowing his strong, silent, intimidating demeanor to do all the talking. However, the one shortcoming of Pattinson’s performance is his lack of rage. Whereas Bale could have stood to tone it down a notch, I would have loved to see Pattinson as more of a loose cannon targeting common thugs while becoming more controlled and focused throughout the film. This simple adjustment would have strengthened the character arc while adding layers to plot development.
Unfortunately, Pattinson’s performance falling short of perfection isn’t the only minor misstep.
Pattinson and Kravitz have sizzling chemistry as their respective characters develop on opposite sides of the law. However, this duo’s collaboration begins in a clunky, abrupt way. A team-up to take down Gotham’s underworld, catch a serial killer, and find Selina’s missing friend after only two quick scenes? Considering this film’s run-time borders on three hours, I can’t help thinking there was room for a smoother, more gradual approach.
Finally, The Batman fails to reach its full potential by last minute pulls to its punches. Rather than push the envelope into an unflinching R-rating, which would have made the film go from great to ground-breaking, Reeves’ vision of the Dark Knight stops short playing it safe within PG-13 parameters.
After viewing the teaser, I hoped for an epic game-changer. However, I expected mediocrity. Packed with phenomenal performances, outstanding cinematography, and a never-before-seen take on one of DC’s most well-known stories, The Batman far surpasses this. However, it falls marginally short of the epic, hard-hitting vision I was hoping to see. Drawbacks aside, Reeves and Pattinson deliver a Batman with substance while getting at the heart and soul of Gotham’s hero. For this reason, it is sure to be a memorable favorite among fans for decades to come.