2022 - PG-13 - 175 Mins.
|Director: Matt Reeves
|Producer: Dylan Clark, Matt Reeves
|Written By: Matt Reeves, Peter Craig
|Starring: Robert Pattinson,
|Review by: David Rolston
|Official Site: https://www.thebatman.com/
Director Matt Reeves' "The Batman" with Robert Pattinson as Batman, arrives in theaters at a critical moment in history. The traditional theatrical film business is in shambles, as theaters continue to be plagued by Covid and associated restrictions that have kept them closed for years, or sent their parent companies into bankruptcy. Financing and traditional release cycles have been disrupted by the emergence of premium and streaming media companies, who are now co-financing a significant number of films and television series and releasing them online at the same time they are released to theaters, which competes directly for the attention of the traditional movie theater audience.
the face of vengeance
Conceptually, "The Batman" was a brash undertaking, coming as it has upon the heels of Christopher Nolan's trio of Dark Knight films with Christian Bale. Those films established a new entertainment world order, where comic books reign as the primary source for stories that predictably are both crowd pleasing, and cinematically rich and nuanced. Nolan's Dark Knight films established the high water mark, and any Batman film to follow, whether it be a reboot, or simply a version for a new generation would have to be compared and evaluated in comparison. I think it's worth noting that this entire thread of the evolution of the film business circa 2020 and beyond, can be traced back to Frank Miller's "Batman: The Dark Knight Returns". The visionary take on characters that were previously considered worn thin, inspired an entire generation of artists, writers and filmmakers with the rich potential of comics (now rebranded as "Graphic Novels") as source material for big budget hollywood film. Tim Burton took Miller's revisioning of material once considered only suitable for boys, and proved that it could also be a vehicle for adults, even if Burton's version of Batman was more inspired by than adapted. Along with fellow comic book visionary Alan Moore, Miller provided a viable blueprint for the type of tentpole film series that were highly adaptable, and that audiences would pay to see, and critics albeit begrudgingly, have come to accept and even praise. Nolan then continued where Burton left off, and in recent years, Zack Snyder with Ben Affleck as Bruce Wayne, brought adaptations of stories involving the other primary characters from the DC comics universe. Which brings us to Reeves' entry into the genre in the year 2022.
As it turns out, the movie business is certainly not dead, as proven by the recent performance of films like "Spider-Man: No Way Home" ($781m gross worldwide and climbing) and "Sing2" ($225m). Given that early release previews of "The Batman" earned it close to $30m in limited release, there is little doubt that "The Batman" is going to be a big hit. It will need to be to recoup its reported $200m price tag, but that seems all but assured given the way Reeves film seems tailor made for this exact moment in time.
In "The Batman", Bruce Wayne, unlike the character in the Nolan and Snyder's films is not yet a fully formed adult. He is driven by his preoccupation with the murder of his parents, but in a more personally wounded fashion than has been previously depicted. Pattinson somewhat surprisingly, turns out to be tailor made for this role, looking far younger than his 35 years, and at 6'1, embodying the same sort of physicality that 6'4" Ben Affleck brought to it. And this is where you first start to appreciate the mastery of Reeves direction, in that there has never been a Batman film as successful in depicting the hulking intimidation and brutality of hand to hand combat as employed by Pattinson's character. Pattinson's Batman is ruthless and larger than life, where so often films of this scope tend to shrink the size of the characters. There is a kinetic quality to the action sequences that match the gadgetry and technical proficiency of Nolan and Snyder. With Batman, you expect the vehicles and gun battles, but it's in the depiction of Batman striding into situations where he is unwelcome, and narrowing focus in on these smaller scale confrontations that make the film feel fresh and different from its predecessors. "The Batman" exists in a universe without supernatural beings, where mere mortals made of flesh and blood and bone, live and sometimes die. This focus helps reduce the inherent potential for it to be ridiculous. The "Batman" is in most ways an ordinary, if highly trained combative, who is not so much wearing a costume as he is, wearing the body armor any ordinary person might want to wear, if they were routinely engaged in confrontations with a criminal element that would be quite happy to end your life. From the very first confrontation, it is hard not to recognize that this film is actually something with a novel aesthetic.
Reeves' world building is sensational, as there has never been a more consistent depiction of "Gotham" as both alternate NYC, and something that exists in its own separate reality. One of the ways he accomplishes this is to limit and focus what you can see, so that more often than not, things are hazy, blurry or just flashes of light in darkness. The sound design of the film is marvelous, and there are many sequences that start with sound, that builds and buzzes and crescendos to the degree that it almost becomes another character in the film. Before we see the Batmobile, we hear it roar to life. I saw the film in one of the world's best known movie palaces, the walls and floor shaking with sound at various points, and with an enthusiastic near capacity crowd of mostly Gen Z young adults who would routinely explode with applause.
While Nolan's films expertly employ the type of weapon and vehicle technology and gadgetry, and which made him the leading practitioner and benchmark against which other films must be measured. Reeves and the production team behind the film enjoyed the advantage of being able to borrow from Nolan, in the way they depict all the power and fury of heavy machinery, only in a more restrained and naturalistic way. The vehicles don't seem quite as outlandish. The weapons and gadgets aren't quite as fantastical. At one point Pattinson's Batman emerges at the precipice of a building edge, pursued by a crowd he must escape from, and in that moment he teeters and nearly falls. In "The Batman" Bruce Wayne is a mere mortal, in a world where the physical peril of his activities is portrayed in a more realistic manner than ever before.
Another bold stroke of story structure, is in the decision Reeves and his screenwriting partner Peter Craig made to set the film as a Film Noir, with Pattinson's inner monolog as voiceover framing the story. The primary plot points are driven forward in Wayne's pursuit of the truth behind a series of interconnected mysteries, which become more and more personal to the characters as the story progresses. This idea of Bruce Wayne as a detective, works very well, and makes the secrets and motives of the supporting characters far more interesting than they have been in most of the other Batman films. The film is also longer than average (at nearly 3 hours) and is able to take its time building up the secondary characters, leading in one case, to a riveting confrontation scene that is entirely character driven and motivated by what you have come to learn about those characters in the build up to that confrontation.
Perhaps this is a stroke of pure luck, however, the themes of the film which involve social unrest, rampant crime and lawlessness seemingly without repercussion, and the oft justified mistrust of the institutions of government and law enforcement, make the film feel eerily prescient and relevant.
For Matt Reeves, I think it is arguable that with Cloverfield, his remake of "Let the right one in", and his two Planet of the Apes films, he had already established himself as one of the best current american born directors in the world, but that reputation and the expectations that come with it will certainly only increase from this point on. "The Batman" is a film that could only have been made by someone with the intelligence, clarity of vision, technical proficiency, and talent to marshal the immense commitment and fortitude required to pull off a film of its magnitude, and in doing so also refashion the franchise with consistently fresh ideas about how this story could be told.
The Batman is not just a good comic book film, or a good superhero film, or a good Batman film. Like the Nolan films which are both its foil and jumping off point, "The Batman" is virtuoso filmmaking and cinematic art, worthy of the cost of a ticket to see it on a big screen in IMax if you can, and with an audience sharing the experience by your side. One can only hope for all our sakes that in the year 2022, this will once again be an option for people around the world.