The Batman (2022)

MATT REEVES

Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB

USA, 2022. , , . Screenplay by Matt Reeves, , based on the character created by , . Cinematography by . Produced by , Matt Reeves. Music by . Production Design by . Costume Design by . Film Editing by , .

The reincarnations of superhero franchises are much more frequent with the genre’s massive twenty-first century popularity, and with each new interpretation come higher stakes for gaining the acceptance of increasingly cynical audiences. In the case of Batman, who once splashed across our television screen in light blue tights and a plucky sense of dizzy, comedic whimsy, his continuing to exist demands as much humorless realism as can possibly be squeezed out of the escapist fantasy, and the need to justify why a grown man would put on so ridiculous a costume to fight crime as a vigilante means upping the ante on both his motivation and the atmosphere that inspires it.

Writer-director Matt Reeves goes all out in creating not only a morally conflicted protagonist, but paints the city in which he does his great work in the darkest hues that have yet been rendered on the much bigger cinema screen. Doing away, thankfully, with any need for an origin story (I just could not see his parents get shot in an alley way one more time), Reeves begins in a Gotham City where corruption is so much a part of metropolitan life that the line between criminal and crimefighter is almost non-existent, regular citizens are afraid of the masked vigilante in the bat costume, but so are the violent thugs who roam the streets at night, always worried that at any moment their gleeful nihilism might be interrupted by the seemingly bulletproof man with the utility belt that has a gadget for every occasion.

That man is, of course, Bruce Wayne, here played by in a strange choice of wig that makes his resemblance to singer Jane Siberry so much stronger than it ever was before. Pattinson is given little more than the same old backstory of the character that we already know, gone are the montages covering years of training with tough mentors, there is no turning point at which he embraces his darkness, but subtle, underplayed density is thankfully the actor’s specialty: after compiling a fascinating career of offbeat independent choices with auteur directors, Pattinson, the Greta Garbo of our age, threatens to water down his critical appeal by going mainstream, but jutting his chin one way and darting his eyes the other, conveying more with a glance than every other star does with an arsenal of weapons, he elevates a comic book movie, even one as flawed as this one, into high art just by his very moody presence.

Moody and confused about why he even bothers to roam the streets of a city he cannot save, the Caped Crusader is pulled into a classic whodunit when a mayoral candidate () is found gruesomely murdered and covered by mysterious ciphers that need to be decoded, among them a note on the body addressed to him directly. Batman and the one policeman that can’t be bought, Lieutenant James Gordon () look into the crime and end up falling down a rabbit hole of political secrets and lies, shady dealings that threaten to undermine a recent drug bust that promised bright things for the city’s future. As they interview suspects at a series of increasingly dark and dangerous locations, more murders of high-ranking Gotham officials occur, each of them accompanied by cryptic riddles that Batman must solve in order to discover the culprit behind them.

Cinematographer Greig Fraser is the real star of this show, interrupting dark, inky landscapes with daring, almost transgressive bursts of colour as Batman runs, drives and even flies through Gotham’s rainy nights in pursuit of the Riddler, along the way picking up contact with a club hostess who turns out to do her own brand of morally dubious crimefighting in her off hours, a woman with numerous pet cats who goes by the name of Selena Kyle (played, in the first interpretation of the character worthy of Michelle Pfeiffer’s presence, by a riveting ).

The greatest gift of this exciting film is its openly embracing the conventions of film noir, a logical choice given that the world of Batman has always had the vibe of classic detective fiction (and a natural one for a film made by Warner Bros., who are responsible for some of the most iconic noirs in film history). Where Reeves makes a fatal error is in not ending the film when he should, indulging himself in a three-hour running time that is, to put a fine point on it, not in the least bit justified. A series of tantalizing secrets are planted and exploded like one exciting narrative bomb after another, but once every knot is untied and every lie exposed, the final third shifts to bloated action sequences that feel like retreads of what Christopher Nolan already did, as if the producers were worried that fans wouldn’t be satisfied with a superhero version of L.A. Confidential (for the record, some of us would definitely have been satisfied with this).

Nothing is ruined, but what could have been a perfect masterpiece is downgraded to a very good film by the ridiculous amount of time it takes for Reeves to establish his cohesive theme: in exploring the fight between good and evil, Batman discovers that they are an eternal, co-dependent binary, and that the only way to live in this complicated world is to either embrace hope or abandon it. Before things get bogged down by excess, however, the detective mystery is a fascinating voyage through a series of increasingly engaging characters, which also include an unrecognizable as the Penguin, as a mercurial mob boss, and Reeves’ Planet of the Apes star as loyal butler Alfred, who carries a number of secrets of his own.

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