The Batman (2022)
Ever since Christopher Nolan's Dark Night trilogy it seems like every few years we get a new Batman with a new actor in the role. Typically it's because the previous director screwed it up so badly that, by the time everyone gets around to making the next movie no one involved with the previous movie feels like bothering. At least that appears to be what happened to Ben Affleck, who was set to reprise his role as the caped crusader and even direct the next Batman film. He even filmed a new coda to Zach Snyder's Justice League to kind of give a hint to where the story would have gone if Joss Whedon hadn't derailed the series.
A number of factors led to Affleck departing, both as star and director, and Matt Reeves taking over behind the camera. Though he liked the script that Affleck had planned to film he decided to write his own and completely remove The Batman from the D.C. Cinematic Universe films before it. That meant completely avoiding Snyder's evil Superman plot and taking influence from a number of the darker, more violent Batman comics, including heavy influence from the original Detective Comics.
Batman (Robert Pattinson) is already a well-known and established part of Gotham City, having spent a couple years fighting the criminal element and trying to carry on the charitable work of Thomas Wayne. While his butler Alfred (Andy Serkis) is concerned that Bruce is losing himself in his alter ego, Wayne's career as a crimefighter is kicked into high gear when Mayor Don Mitchell (Rupert Penry-Jones) is murdered by an unknown assailant. While investigating he runs into Selina Kyle (Zoë Kravitz), who he initially thinks may have been involved, but it soon turns out that the perpetrator is a man known only as the Riddler (Paul Dano).
As the investigation continues the Riddler starts to pick off other city officials, each time revealing information that ties them to corruption and drug running. In the middle of all this is Selina's girlfriend Annika who was a preferred escort to Mayor Mitchell and may have learned too much. Both Bruce and Selina begin a search for an informant that had turned on a mob boss named Marone, allowing the Gotham Police to make a historical drug bust, and their search leads them both to a low-level enforcer nicknamed the Penguin (Colin Farrell) and his reclusive boss Carmine Falcone (John Turturro), a former associate of Thomas Wayne. With Lieutenant Gordon (Jeffrey Wright) being the only member of Gotham's force he can trust, Batman begins doing what he can to stop the Riddler while confronting uncomfortable truths about his parents' past.
A few things to get out of the way, especially since it seems no movie can come out these days without some sort of politics being associated with it. Yes, the "white privilege" line stands out like a sore thumb, and I don't know if Matt Reeves and cowriter Peter Craig thought they were being clever or if part of the interference that studios are infamous for has extended to forcing social justice issues be shoehorned into films regardless of how they come across. It's even more ridiculous as, like I have said before at various times, any audience they are trying to reach and convert with political lecturing is not watching the film to begin with. Even worse, none of what is at the core of the corruption in Gotham, including the Riddler's goal, has to do with white privilege.
As for any other complaints, Selina was bisexual in Nolan's series and it makes more sense in modern urban environments for Gordon to be black rather than white. While on the idea of the color of characters' skin, Eartha Kitt played Cat Woman way back in the old television series in the 1960s, so Zoë Kravitz playing the role should never have been an issue. She makes it her own, not camping it up like Kitt or oversexualizing the role (often in uncomfortably weird ways) like Michelle Pfeiffer was asked to do. If anything her way of playing Cat Woman recalls Julie Newmar more than any of the more recent actresses, being both sexy and dangerous - and being in complete control of her sex appeal.
As for Batman, the history of the character on the big screen is that the actors who would most likely fit the role - Val Kilmer and Christian Bale - do an okay job, but not great. While Nolan's trilogy is looked on fondly it is more remembered for its villains rather than Bale's portrayal of the lead character, other than the gruff voice he uses while in costume. On the other hand, the actors everyone complained the most about before the movies came out - Michael Keaton, Ben Affleck and, in this one, Robert Pattinson - have done the best. Keaton was known largely as a comedy actor, but he had quite a bit of range, and managed to stay a memorable Batman even up against the performances of Jack Nicholson and Danny DeVito. Affleck's problem was media overexposure, much of it having to do with his romantic life and behavior off-screen, rather than his actual acting skill. His version of Wayne, in fact, is quite close to Pattinson's, particularly the world-weariness we see toward the beginning of the film.
Pattinson's problem is that, no matter what he does, everyone remembers him as a shiny vampire in one of the most awful film series of all time. He has worked hard to shake that, purposely avoiding a lot of blockbuster films, and hopefully with The Batman he's had a chance to do so. Matt Reeves says that his idea for Batman was influenced somewhat by Kurt Cobain, and Bruce Wayne when not in the costume certainly looks like an addict - only in this case it's to being Batman. He often looks malnourished and strung out throughout, and much of the point of the movie is that, as Batman, he is his true self, and Reeves wisely has Wayne out of costume for very little of the film. It is a completely new cinematic take on the character.
Where the movie does suffer a slight bit is in the villain category. Paul Dano is excellent as the Riddler, in this movie a fully realized character of his own rather than just a knockoff of the Joker. Still, he necessarily has to fade into the background for a good portion of the middle act in order for Bruce and Selina to work out exactly what is going on with Gotham's government, thus setting up a strong secondary villain in Carmine Falcone and possibly setting up the Penguin for sequels. While I thought the finale was rather well done I did feel that, after initially wrapping up the Riddler's plans, a nice ambiguous ending is what it deserved. Instead of having the usual problem with too many villains and not enough to do, The Batman has a different problem with the story still continuing after both main villains have been dealt with. While the ending of the movie helps progress Bruce at the very end his revelation could have been done in a more subtle way. Still, other than tacking on about 20 minutes to a movie that already had a decent climax, it doesn't ruin anything.
As for Reeves he does a great job with this, combining the otherworldliness of Gotham that Tim Burton strove for with the more realistic, lived-in version of the city in Joker. He does overdo it with the rain when it comes to striking a mood, but it does convey what a horrible, dreary place Gotham must be, as it seems to remain in a state of dingy half-light even during the day.
While the movie could have been shorter and does suffer from some of the current cinema problems - not knowing where to end a movie is certainly a big one - it is nice to see superhero movies progressing a bit. It is also hopeful that this will help to start squashing a lot of the previous DCCU and go in a completely new direction; namely, one that doesn't rely on a color scheme of brown on brown and figures out that it doesn't have to try to imitate Marvel.
The Batman (2022)
Time: 176 minutes
Starring: Robert Pattinson, Zoë Kravitz, Jeffrey Wright, Paul Dano, John Turturro, Andy Serkis, Colin Farrell
Director: Matt Reeves