Don’t worry… this is a spoiler-free The Batman review.
In contrast to Christopher Nolan’s high-concept blockbuster trilogy, director Matt Reeves has crafted a stunning, self-contained detective film with The Batman alongside Australia’s cinematography extraordinaire Greig Fraser (Rogue One, Dune). One that owes a great deal to the oeuvre of David Fincher. Specifically the thrilling neo-noir sensibilities of Seven, The Game, and Zodiac with philosophical homages to Fight Club, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, and Mindhunter. It’s slow-burn – like three hours of slow-burn, head to the bathroom beforehand – relentlessly bleak, cerebral, and above all else, unflinching. You thought you knew what a Batman movie steeped in realism looked like before? Be prepared to think again.
Those who’d preemptively written off The Batman due to Robert Pattinson’s casting clearly haven’t been paying attention. Bin those outdated notions of the sparkly + wooden vampire Edward Cullen from the Twilight trilogy. Those days are long gone. Our teen heartthrob turned bona fide thespian has since showcased his dramatic talents in electrifying fashion, rebranding himself through celebrated indie flicks before slipping back into the mainstream. Cosmopolis… Good Time… The Lighthouse… The King… Tenet… and now this.
While the likes of Michael Keaton and Christian Bale will forever be revered for their near-faultless portrayals of billionaire Bruce Wayne / The Dark Knight, Pattinson is to be commended for introducing an element of rage and raw intensity that – believe it or not – dwarfs his predecessors by sheer comparison. A raw intensity and rage that extends beyond an action sequence, the odd interrogation, and what is perhaps the most exhilarating Batman-related car chase to date. Side note: as much as we all love the Nolan-verse military tumbler, Reeves’ muscle car Batmobile is fucking sick. Trust me.
It’s apparent from the jump we’ve got front row seats to a legitimately broken man on the losing end of the battle for his city’s soul, still coming to terms with his own trauma after all these years, and threatening to teeter over the edge at any given moment. Many have lazily chalked it up to being “emo” when it’s simply a level of introspection we’d never seen before that practically leaps from the subtext of the original comic book pages. A Batman with essential dimensions, if you will. He’s positively seething at the state of Gotham and almost repulsed by what it has become.
The darker psychology is also a result of Robert Pattinson’s rather unique interpretation surrounding Batman’s longstanding “no killing” rule. Rather than framing it as a milquetoast moral code, he chose the far more intriguing avenue:
“Either he only wants to inflict the appropriate punishment or he wants to kill and his self-control prevents him from doing so.”
We’re even offered a glimpse of what a bad day looks like vis-a-vis Pattinson’s sentiment in the final act.
Where Christian Bale’s Batman was comparable to justice’s hammer, Robert Pattinson’s is a scalpel. Although he has zero qualms with getting down and dirty, brawling his way through Gotham’s underworld and walking down gunfire with brutal efficiency. Bonus points for not employing a ridiculously bullshit and devastatingly ineffective martial art like Keysi Fight Method.
What this means is audiences are treated to an iteration of Batman who actually lives up to the title of “world’s greatest detective.” And not just when the occasion explicitly for it via the many riddles presented courtesy of Paul Dano’s criminal mastermind Edward Nashton. We’re talking about forensic knowledge, code deciphering, deduction, the works. Side note II: the PG-13 rating everybody was so concerned about doesn’t hinder shit. If you only extract a single reassurance from BH’s The Batman review, make it this one.
The true mastery of Matt Reeves’ The Batman, however, doesn’t lie solely in a refreshing characterisation and the performance of leading man Robert Pattinson; nor the equally spectacular onscreen contributions of Jeffrey Wright, Zoe Kravitz, Andy Serkis, Paul Dano, Colin Farrell, and John Turturro in their respective roles as Detective James Gordon, Selina Kyle / Catwoman, Alfred the MI6-Office-Turned-Butler, Edward Nashton / The Riddler, Oswald Cobblepot / The Penguin, and Carmine Falcone. It’s how the film tackles two essential components of the Batman mythology.
In the opening scenes, we hear Pattinson’s Bruce Wayne ruminate aloud that perhaps his crusade as the Batman is doing more harm than good. By all accounts, every conceivable facet of crime is on the rise in spite of his best efforts. With a few key exceptions – i.e. Batman: Under The Red Hood – this Sisyphitic dynamic of throwing villains into Arkham Asylum, coming to blows with them again eventually, rinse and repeat, is seldom addressed. Rather it’s often swept under the rug in favour of what’s supposedly the net benefit.
In The Batman, the same dynamic is what informs the overall tone of the story. Reeves and Pattinson understand Bruce Wayne/ Batman was never a hero to be envied. The very essence which defines this duality of a man, whether you care to acknowledge it or not, comes down to tragedy and a grave burden of responsibility. What makes him heroic is his determination to endure despite essentially having a hand tied behind his back (not being able to kill) and despite being destined to lose at every turn a la Rocky Balboa (even in victory). The third act drives all this home with a heartbreaking epiphany that a very thin line separates Batman from those he deems the enemy.
Constantly revisiting the death of Thomas and Martha Wayne has become a meme at this stage of its cinematic lifespan. Yet Matt Reeves and co-writer Peter Craig (The Town, Top Gun: Maverick) has successfully elevated the canon to all-new heights in a way that isn’t entirely contrived; while simultaneously weaving in modern themes of a corrupt political class and the widening chasm of wealth to achieve relevancy like never before. Yes, even the philanthropic Waynes aren’t immune to Gotham’s rot. If you’re wondering why I’m not elaborating, you’ll understand soon enough.
There are entire tomes worth of analysis to unpack about Matt Reeves’ The Batman starring Robert Pattinson, as you’ll come to discover in just about every review being published online this week. But for the time being, all we’ll say is it hits Aussie cinemas on March 3rd of 2022.