“The Batman”: Saving the Superhero Genre

In a world full of bland-looking superhero films, “The Batman” is a beacon of hope; proof that superhero movies can still be fun and entertaining without having to sacrifice their artistic integrity.

It’s been almost three years since “The Batman” was announced. Originally slated for a June 2021 release, and then an October 2021 release, the newest iteration of the dark knight finally opened in theaters this past Friday, March 4, 2022. The film stars Professional Hot People Robert Pattinson and Zoë Kravitz as the titular Batman and Catwoman, respectively. In the lead-up to the film’s release, it was made abundantly clear by director Matt Reeves that this was a detective film more than it was a traditional superhero film — and he wasn’t lying.

The film opens with the gruff voice we’ve all come to know and love — albeit a more soft-spoken version of it — narrating a night of vigilante-ing for Batman. It feels like something right out of a 1940s noir film, and I only wish it would’ve been maintained throughout the middle parts of the film. The lighting and cinematography add even more to the neo-noir feel of the film, with sharp contrasts, dark shadows, and perpetually rainy nights. Yes, “The Batman” is a superhero film, but — and this is important — it doesn’t feel like one. There’s clear stylistic choices that Reeves has taken with this film, particularly in the aesthetic realm. It’s a far cry from the sanitized, bland look of the MCU films that we’ve all come to love (or hate, depending on what part of film Twitter you find yourself on). The darkness and shadows of Batman’s world have always played a big role in Batman’s story, so much so that one of the most famous lines associated with the character centers their role in the Batman mythos: Tom Hardy’s “Ah, you think darkness is your ally? You merely adopted the darkness. I was born in it, molded by it.” While that might’ve been true for Christian Bale’s Batman, viewers get the sense that Pattinson’s Batman was born of darkness, and in many ways is still trying to find his way out.

If his jawline wasn’t enough to convince you that he is Batman, Pattinson’s performance in the film will. Robert Pattinson is the star of the show (obviously). We spend nearly the entire film with him as Batman, and in the few Bruce Wayne scenes we do get, it very quickly becomes clear that this is not the same happy-go-lucky billionaire playboy that Bruce Wayne usually is. Pattinson’s Bruce Wayne is a pale and gaunt figure, a man whose eyes betray his emotional fragility and instability. This Bruce Wayne has been — and continues to be — obsessed, nay, consumed by The Batman. The audience is unable to distinguish between the orphaned billionaire and the brooding caped crusader — but that’s the point. This film’s Bruce Wayne is himself unable to completely compartmentalize the two personas; even when he’s not wearing the cowl, he’s thinking about the Riddler, or hunching over evidence in his cave. Batman has always had a supernatural air surrounding him, and this film embraces that. He operates almost as a demonic presence for Wayne, whispering in his ear during the day, fully possessing him by night — not always physically present, but impossible to escape.

In many ways, Bruce Wayne is the alter ego while Batman is the true self. It’s an idea that Batman is forced to confront when coming face-to-face with Paul Dano’s Riddler. Dano shines as the antagonist of the film, embodying a frighteningly realistic avatar of institutional disillusionment. This Riddler is much more “Se7en” than he is “The Mask.” The character eerily mirrors the fringe alt-right figures we’ve seen come to prominence in recent years, rambling on to his followers about the corruption of Gotham and the need to take things into their own hands — all through what appears to be a dark web YouTube. The Riddler forces Pattinson’s Batman to confront who he is, pressing further on a question he asks himself in the beginning of the film: is he really making a difference? It’s a question that is satisfactorily answered in the film’s climax, when Batman disastrously realizes that his way is not working. It’s a shattering realization for our hero, but a necessary one that pushes him to be better — to be more.

The rest of the cast is equally as impressive and at the top of their game, from Jeffrey Wright as the tragically altruistic Jim Gordon to an unrecognizable Colin Ferrell waddling his way to fans’ hearts as the definitive on-screen Penguin. Zoë Kravitz’s Selina Kyle plays off of Pattinson’s Batman wonderfully; every scene between the two seems to be bursting with yearning (and parental traumas). Though not a carbon-copy, fans familiar with Jeph Loeb’s iconic “Batman: The Long Halloween” will be well-acquainted with Kravitz’s Catwoman. She helps our hero obtain the information he needs, but is ultimately driven by her desire to make The Roman pay for his past wrongdoings more than she is by Batman’s crusade.

For all its starpower and aesthetic achievements, “The Batman” is not a perfect movie. The film tries to set up a heartfelt “father”-son moment between Bruce Wayne and Andy Serkis’ Alfred Pennyworth, but it ends up feeling slightly hollow. This is mostly due to the fact that viewers don’t get to spend much time with Alfred, making it feel like the film is depending more on fans’ attachment to Alfred the Character, rather than this specific version of Alfred. It’s a shame that the film doesn’t dedicate itself to exploring the relationship between our emo-punk “you’re not my dad” protagonist and his war-scarred veteran surrogate father, but at nearly (basically) three hours long, it’s understandable that there wouldn’t be room for everything. Which, yes, the film is long. Very long. But, the run time is mostly used to its maximum potential. The only time it seems to lull or fall apart a little is in its transition from the second to third act of the film. Even then, it manages to compose itself and forge ahead to an explosive end.

“The Batman” is everything a Batman fan could hope for: a gritty neo-noir detective film starring the pointy-eared vigilante, fellow animal enthusiast Catwoman, and the perpetually-mustachioed Jim Gordon. It’s a film that proves just how interesting and rich comic book superheroes can be when approached from the right angle. It cares about the story it’s telling, and it’s not afraid to take some creative risks. Kevin Feige, take notes. This is how you do a superhero film. “The Batman” is not only an example of what superhero movies can be — it’s what they should be.

Grade: A
Directed by: Matt Reeves
Starring: Robert Pattinson, Zoë Kravitz, Jeffrey Wright, Colin Farrell, Paul Dano
Rated: PG-13
Released: March 4, 2022

Image courtesy of Digital Spy.