We are coming up on nearly a full eight decades since the caped crusader first appeared on big screens (thanks in part to serials of the 1940s).
Since then, we have had a ton of contributions to the character over the years. From grappling hooks to gravely voices to batarangs to shark repellant to bat nipples, Batman is a character that is as full of depth as any fictional being out there. Adding the grammatical article making the newest installment The Batman just scratches the surface of what the new installment adds to the lore.
The newest film is not intended to be an origin story (who doesn’t know what happened to poor Bruce Wayne when he was a child?). Unlike the last time we saw Batman on the big screen (being portrayed by Ben Affleck), Bruce Wayne (Robert Pattison) is in his earlier years as the masked vigilante. The film opens with a murder from the mysterious serial killer, The Riddler (Paul Dano). He is leaving his own puzzles addressed “To the Batman”. This version of the Riddler is far from the Jim Carrey version of the 1990s, as here he is more insane, determined, and can even resemble the likes of the ridiculousness that is QAnon.
Still being a new entity to be used to, the police are mainly distrust the dark knight, with the exception, of course, of Jim Gordon (Jeffrey Wright). With some guidance from his always faithful butler Alfred (here played by Andy Serkis), the clues lead Batman to the likes of Selina Kyle (Zoe Kravitz), Carmine Falcone (John Turturro), and Falcone’s associate The Penguin (Colin Farrell, believe it or not).
From the get go, you can tell that director Matt Reeves (director of 2010’s Let Me In and The Planet of the Apes trilogy) is not set out to make this film to be of the fantastical, far-fetched variety. It is much more grounded and gritty. I can’t remember Gotham seeming so big in scale in any other live action Batman film before. It is true that most of the DC source material is much darker compared to that of Marvel, this film may be the darkest yet. The sun rarely shines, it is constantly raining, and the sewage is as evident as it was the first time I saw Taxi Driver (1976). The film is basically a film noir, taking many inspirations from films such as Se7en (1995), Zodiac (2007), and Chinatown (1974).
Hopefully, we are past the stage of seeing Robert Pattinson clearly as Cedric Diggory in Harry Potter or Twilight’s Edward (or whoever he was, since I pride myself on not seeing those films). The last few years have shown he has more than enough solid acting chops, in films such as The Lighthouse (2019) and TENET (2020). One could argue that each actor who has portrayed Batman brings has one attribute of sorts to the character. Bale’s semi-jerkish Bruce Wayne (and the now mocked voice), Keaton’s unique energy, Kilmer’s chin, West’s mobility, Conroy’s depth, and even Clooney basically looking like a real life Bruce Wayne are just a few examples. For Pattinson (who spends no more than 10 percent of the film without the costume on), it was his walk. The sound of his boots hitting the ground made it seem like he was walking into a bar in a classic western.
Parents, this is about as close to an R rating as any Batman movie has ever been. While there is no nudity or sexuality (despite the clearly strong chemistry between Pattinson and Kravitiz), the violence is indeed intense. There is also a good amount of swearing (I counted one F bomb). Basically, middle school and up.
It isn’t too big of a secret that the film’s major flaw is the runtime (if a three hour Batman movie doesn’t test your bladder, the constant scenes of rain will). Even so, I could not tell you off hand which parts I would cut to make it shorter, because very few parts seemed to just be tacked on for no reason.
Admittedly, I am not sure yet if The Batman is the film we needed or the one we deserved. It could be either.