October 12th, 2022
Title: The Batman
Director: Matt Reeves
Release Date: 3/4/2022
Format/Platform: HBO Max
The Batman series has had it's ups and downs, like many long running series. It has been interpreted by many writers, artists, directors and even musicians, to varying results. You run the gamut from the campy Batman television series of the 1960's, to the pseudo-cerebral of the Dark Knight trilogy (2005-2012.) In the middle, you have the relatively faithful but flawed Burton series- Batman Returns being a hidden gem and one of my favorite Batman films. There is the Schumacher series which goes back to camp, and has been heavily derided by critics and audiences- to the point where George Clooney has personally apologized for the film. I am not even acknowledging the numerous graphic novel and comic adaptations- though I've heard great things about the Alan Moore and Frank Miller adaptations.
Out of all of those media adaptations, I will say with what limited Batman authority I have that this is by far the best Batman film ever made. Yes, even better than the famous "The Dark Knight" of 2008 which was a huge critical and financial success. The Batman includes the grittiness, cynicism, moodiness and darkness that the series is famous for, in a much more authentic and culturally relevant way. Bruce Wayne is not a charming socialite- he is broody, sleep deprived, angsty and avoids almost all contact with others except for his head of security, Alfred. The Riddler, a far cry from the Jim Carrey interpretation of the 90's, is absolutely frightening and brings to mind serial killers such as the Zodiac Killer, the BTK Killer and the Toybox Killer. Zoe Kravitz plays Selena Kyle, also known as Catwoman, and absolutely nails the role- not overly objectified, yet powerful and cunning. But let's talk again about Batman himself- Robert Pattinson portrays a younger version of Bruce Wayne than we typically see, but does such an excellent job in channeling the anger and fear that young Bruce experienced, and the helplessness he feels toward assisting the residents of Gotham. According to director Matt Reeves, the main inspiration for Batman was Kurt Cobain, and you can definitely feel sense that influence (and not just with the song, "Something in the Way," which becomes the movie's sort-of theme.)
Which brings us to the main attraction of the show- Gotham City. This interpretation of Gotham is the closest to New York City that I have seen in film thus far- the dampness, darkness, grittiness, claustrophia-inducing narrowness and desperation oozes from Gotham as we experience it at street level. Crime is rampant; with hoodlums ransacking stores and attacking random people on the subway system- eerily mirroring real life events. The police are cynical and dismissive- if they do anything, they are criticized but they also do not want Batman to do anything because he risks running them "out of business." Riots occur on a regular basis, with a young mayoral candidate wishing to change things for the city and make it a better place to live. Organized crime flourishes, with several notable gangs having control throughout Gotham via it's law enforcement and most notable residents (including Bruce's father.) We meet "The Penguin," a crime boss that controls a nightclub and conducts his business there, along with a close associate Carmine Falcone (who is revealed to be far more important and close than we initially think.) While the Penguin has been featured prominently in prior films as the main villain, he takes a back seat in this film and will supposedly return in a sequel with perhaps a larger role. Colin Farrell is unrecognizable behind the makeup and fat suit, while on the polar opposite, John Turturro nails the role of a syndicate boss and embodies it with only himself. As a lifelong New Yorker who lived through the city's worst days, I can see how his experience manifests in this film- it eerily reminds me of his early career in films like "Do the Right Thing" where tensions run high in an urban environment.
I am not going to discuss the plot or the dialogue much, as we pretty much all know what happens from prior adaptations. If you're that curious, then you should just watch the movie because it will not waste your time. Ultimately, what separates "The Batman" from the rest is it's accuracy and eagle-eye attention to detail. It's the small things that add up to make a whole film- what I personally disliked about the Dark Knight trilogy is that it is too dialogue heavy and Gotham does not feel like Gotham whatsoever. It feels open, airy and unrealistically clean and empty. Even though much of the film was shot on site, it feels sterile- not at all like an urban center and more like a studio. The Batman also succeeds in creating tension, palpable fear and a villain that is tangibly threatening. You actually feel like there is something to lose, and that society is buckling under the weight of inequality and suffering. I can even say with certainty that I felt...good, after watching this movie. It wraps up nice and has a powerful message about how we can go about dealing with trauma- either through forgiveness, or through bitterness and violence against society.
I can't recommend this film enough, and is easily the best film I've seen in 2022.