The Batman Has Hit Theaters and It's the Caped Crusader Like You Have Never Seen Him
After a few delays and halted production due to the pandemic, The Batman has finally hit theaters, and initial reactions have been pretty good for a Batman movie. Critics are loving it, audiences even more so. Is this finally what fans of the Dark Knight have been longing for?
A couple minutes into the film, and it becomes quickly apparent that this is not a look at the Bat we have ever seen. The introduction to Gotham City and its inhabitants is dark, surreal, even scary at times. Gone are the gratuitous butt shots and rock-hard nipples of Clooney's movies, the color and camp of Tim Burton's films, the crazy over-the-top villains, the cheap special effects. Instead, what we have here is something out of the darker side of comics: no happy endings, no crossovers or universe building, just a story about a man who suffered a terrible tragedy pulled into the darkness of a city wrought with corruption and crime. A man turned vigilante on a mission to rid the city of evil by any means. A man on a path of vengeance.
Adapting primarily from the Batman: Year One comics, the film takes place in year two of Batman's career as a vigilante. The Bat solely focuses on striking fear into criminals. The Bat logo shines at night, and you know an ass-kicking is coming soon. Instead of crazy super villains, the film veers into government corruption and crime families, concentrating more on visceral, gritty action and deception.
Every frame of the film feels like it could have been pulled directly from the pages of a comic book. The shot of Batman walking toward us next to the new Batmobile while a fire rages behind is an eerily beautiful sight. Every shot on cinematographer Greig Fraser's list feels so meticulously calculated. Michael Giacchino's musical touch feels angsty, broody—any adjectives that could be placed in front of "Batman." From the production design to the editing and special effects, everything in the film feels like it was done with a passion and with a love for these characters.
Paul Dano as the Riddler is haunting, maniacal, terrifying. It's an incredible performance from a truly underrated actor. Zoe Kravitz absolutely nails it as Selina Kyle/Catwoman, playing the role with an impeccable elegance and sexy sophistication. No stupid cat puns, no leather everything, just a badass woman being exactly that. Matt Reeves accomplishes something so pure with his direction—so real. His every decision feels like an artful brush stroke.
Robert Pattinson possibly shines brightest of all the elements in the films as a tortured Bruce Wayne. Pattinson’s vision for the character feels so much more layered than any other live action version of the character before. He looks tormented, broken, and disconnected from reality as Bruce Wayne and then viciously driven as Batman. He portrays a character so deeply hurt by the cards he was dealt and, in so many ways, shows that he is still that scared little boy who witnessed his parents murdered right in front of him. He feels a sort of responsibility to prevent that from happening to anyone else no matter the cost. Yet he has no idea how to be human anymore, no idea how to deal with his pain. He is a man so scorned that it becomes a part of him. Many might still pre-judge Pattison from his sparkly vampire days, but he brings an unmatched sincerity to this role that proves what a phenomenal acting talent he really is.
So, is this finally the gritty comic book film that Batman deserves? The answer… unequivocally yes! Now while the film does run a bit long, this film is dark, genuine, and a truly faithful adaptation. This is finally the Batman we deserve, the Batman we can look up to, that feels real, and someone we can relate to, learn from, empathize with. And while it may be a dead heat with 2008's The Dark Knight for the title of best Batman film, it is certainly a film that will be talked about for a long time to come. For me, it's easily an early front runner for the best film of 2022. It's a film that leaves us all thinking one thing, "Holy-Cinematic-Masterpiece Batman!"
Comparing Reeves' The Batman to His Acclaimed Planet of the Apes Films
It was the phrase many drooled over when the first The Batman trailer came out. The quote was almost like a fan rallying cry. People put it in their bios on social media platforms, kept posting and celebrating it. The filmmakers quickly turned all that around: once we sat down to watch the movie, we realized that the quote was a bait-and-switch. It's not meant to be something to aspire to. Instead, hope is the harder but more rewarding route.
I really want to look at The Batman in comparison to Reeves' previous two Planet of the Apes masterpieces, Dawn and War. I've started by looking at what Reeves does exceptionally well: story and character building. He takes the time to really understand every move and decision the characters would make. To this day, Caesar (the brilliant Andy Serkis), is one of the most complex protagonists to ever bless our screens. After watching The Batman, I noticed many similarities between characters and some of the storytelling that definitely put a smile on my face.
Looking at the story, we've got ourselves the classic detective Batman plot, which I thoroughly enjoy, but it was also the thing that needed a bit more polishing. The one pulling all the strings in the story is The Riddler (Paul Dano), the perfect classic Batman villain to build a detective puzzle off of. However, some of the riddles they created for the film felt a bit… lazy? It was a lot of play with words and meanings, and I will even say that the Penguin/Falcone bird riddle connection felt a tiny bit forced.
I also had a big problem with the Alfred storyline. Alfred is played by Caesar himself, Andy Serkis. And he is severely underused. Alfred and Bruce's relationship is something that always played a huge role in the comics and any form of adaptations. He is the one who's always there for Bruce and for Batman. I nearly walked out when Bruce (Robert Pattinson) was a dickhead to him right in the first scene, but then they gave us a glimpse into what it looks like when they work together, and I calmed down. Then Alfred disappeared for most of the movie.
Fortunately, when Alfred returned, it was just in time for him to get hurt, and we finally saw something more than anger in Bruce. That hospital scene with Serkis and Pattinson is probably one of my all time favorite scenes from any Batman films. Bruce is back being that boy again whose parents died in front of his eyes and his only solace is in Alfred, his father-figure, the one who always stood by him. Both of these amazing actors' performances were so pure and honest that it brought tears to my eyes. I absolutely adored it and needed more of it.
In looking solely at the movie's story, there's not much to compare to the Planet of the Apes movies other than recurring pieces of symbolism. An example is the very first crime scene shot where Gordon (Jeffrey Wright) leads Batman in among a wall of policemen. Reeves filmed Pattinson's Batman from behind showing that he has no respect from the policemen who question his involvement. This is very different from Caesar in Planet of the Apes who is already a leader at the beginning of War and walking among his people. It's interesting how Reeves uses two very similar shots, one at the beginning of a possible trilogy and another near the end of one, but each with a different meaning. Absolutely brilliant.
My favorite of the similarities to Reeves' Apes films shows up in the second act of The Batman when Batman and Riddler come face-to-face in Arkham Asylum. As the Riddler’s monologue builds up, slowly elevating the tension of: Does he really know that Bruce Wayne is the Batman? The whole thing takes a wild turn. He left those messages to Batman, because he was in the belief that they are working together to take down the bad guys. He only mentioned Bruce Wayne so much, because he was the only one he failed to kill. However, Batman quickly tells him that they never worked together and they never will. Dano’s spine chilling performance in the scene is absolutely out of this world. Brilliant. The whole scene is reminiscent of that moment in Apes where Koba (Toby Kebbell) realized that Caesar will never lose his trust in people. I honestly believe that if (when?) Reeves will bring back Riddler in a very possible sequel he will be even more menacing and evil than in this entry.
Has Reeves transformed The Batman with the same magic he brought to Planet of the Apes? To answer this question we have to look at Christopher Nolan's incredibly successful Dark Knight trilogy. Christian Bale's Batman symbolizes hope and justice, and these two things are exactly what this new movie emphasizes in the end. It carries the same theme that Batman needs to become more than his anger and that famous vengeance he built his whole persona around.
Now there are already a lot of debates on Twitter about which movie is better: The Batman or The Dark Knight. While I prefer The Dark Knight, The Batman is still a fantastic new entry, too. I will even say that it stands right next to Nolan's movie. But we really need a follow-up movie to say for sure that it's upping the game. That's totally possible based only on how masterful Matt Reeves is with his craft.
We definitely need to cut down on the runtime though, whew! While I do enjoy slow burners and detective stories, I think there needs to be a better balance between that side of the story and Batman leaping into action.
To summarize it all: Matt Reeves is the GOAT, he proved that with his Planet of the Apes movies, and now he put more emphasis on it with The Batman. I most definitely look forward to the foreshadowed next installment as it has a lot of potential. If I may be so bold to suggest a source for the story "The Court of Owls" is right there.