The cinematic history of Batman runs quite deep. From the 1940s film serials, to Adam West’s 1966 feature film, to the Michael Keaton films in 1989 and 1992, to Val Kilmer and George Clooney’s poorly received pictures in the mid 1990s, to the esteemed Dark Knight trilogy led by Christian Bale, and through the DCEU Batman of Ben Affleck, there has been close to 80 years of Batman film history. With the release of the new movie “The Batman” this weekend, a new era has just begun.
Robert Pattinson plays The Dark Knight in this new interpretation of the famed comic book character. Directed by Matt Reeves, “The Batman” takes place during Bruce Wayne’s second year as the masked vigilante of Gotham as he further descends into the city’s criminal underground.
There are a number of reasons why this film works brilliantly.
For one, it immediately establishes a different atmosphere and tone for the character through its genre and cinematography.
Past Batman flicks have leaned heavily into their action elements, which is not necessarily a bad thing. The Dark Knight trilogy contains all brilliant action movies, with a number of set piece, high-tension action sequences in each movie. “The Batman” does not try to beat those critically acclaimed films at their own game, but instead find a new genre for the character to explore. This film is more of a crime thriller than an action movie, only containing about three major action sequences. Leaning into the crime genre works really well for “The Batman” as it explores the character’s detective side, making the film feel different than prior interpretations of the character. This film is also more deliberately paced than past Batman flicks, clocking in at close to three hours long. However the film never once feels boring or slow-moving, and it instead uses that extra time to build an atmosphere and develop characters through scenes of long dialogue.
The cinematography of the film also helps build this new atmosphere for the character. Reeves and cinematographer Greig Fraser create a grungy Gotham in this film that feels both gritty and occasionally gothic. With some intense close-ups and out-of-focus shots, Fraser and Reeves utilize the camera to nail the grittier aesthetic of “The Batman.” Along with this grunge-inspired tone, the film has some shots that look like they were pulled straight out of a comic book. Overall, this inspired cinematography further separates “The Batman” from past interpretations.
The writing is another aspect of what makes this film work brilliantly. While the primary goal of “The Batman” is to develop Pattinson’s character and the world of Gotham, this film tells a very cohesive story throughout. The story and world development are completely intertwined, making this origin story of sorts work perfectly. By the end of the picture, not only do you understand the world of Gotham, but you understand who Pattinson’s Batman is, and who he wants to become.
The performances are another part of what makes this movie. Reeves and co. cast this movie perfectly with actors that truly bring it all to their performances. Pattinson is fantastic as Batman and Wayne, taking a very different approach to the character than his predecessors. The character evolves throughout this picture and will likely evolve further in future films in the franchise, giving Pattinson more opportunity to showcase his acting chops. Zoë Kravitz and Jeffrey Wright both have brilliant chemistry with Pattinson in their respective roles as Catwoman and Lieutenant Gordon. Paul Dano and Colin Farrell are incredible as the villainous Riddler and The Penguin respectively, with Farrell being absolutely unrecognizable in the part. Ultimately, by the time the film closes, the characters are portrayed so brilliantly, you cannot help but want to see what happens next in this new world of Gotham.
If there is any reason not to declare this picture the best Batman film of all time, it is just because there is not a Heath Ledger-level performance in this picture — but that is almost an insurmountable bar to clear. From now until the next film is released, there will be countless debates on whether this or “The Dark Knight” is the best Batman movie. I still lean toward Nolan’s epic because of Ledger’s legendary performance, but this movie drives a hard bargain.
Ultimately, “The Batman” does not just meet expectations but exceeds them, delivering an intense, well-executed crime thriller with fantastic action sequences. With brilliant cinematography, a cohesive story and exquisite performances, “The Batman” is the first film of 2022 to earn a strong recommendation.