In The Batman, one of the most prolific superheroes in comics and movies returns to the big screen. However, this run of the Dark Knight’s story introduces an entirely new cast of actors playing characters we fans already know and love.
Director Matt Reeves has some big shoes to fill in his version of Batman. The movie starts with the breathy voice of Robert Pattinson (Batman/Bruce Wayne) narrating the story. He’s a lone vigilante now, who has made enemies of the Gotham Police Department. They don’t trust him, and he doesn’t trust them.
Batman has good reason — corruption has run amok within the elite. This includes not only the capitalists but politicians and law enforcement. The only person left with a shred of integrity is Lt. James Gordon (Jeffrey Wright). In the film, Batman and Gordon team up as the ultimate detectives to solve the case of a killer on the loose who has a penchant for leaving behind a trail of cryptic clues filled with sadistic tricks.
The Batman introduces us to players we’ve come to know well in the Batman universe. First, there’s the savage scoundrel the Riddler (Paul Dano). This interpretation of the villain cleverly uses wit and skill to provoke fear in the citizens of Gotham (as opposed to campy humor and zingers). In the past, the Riddler, most notably Frank Gorshin in the ’60s TV show and later popularized by Jim Carrey in Batman Forever, was depicted with absurdity and hilarity that oftentimes diminished the degeneracy of the character. Batman: The Animated Series, however, provided a more cerebral and serious version, which is what we get with Paul Dano’s performance as Edward Nashton. There are a few moments Dano delivers a creepy smile that will make your flesh crawl and would probably give even the Joker a run for his money.
While the Riddler is dropping off “Zodiac killer”-like clues for Batman, Batman locates a member of Gotham’s crime syndicate — Oswald Cobblepot, also known as the Penguin (Colin Farrell). Farrell is so unrecognizable as the notable villain that I had to double check the end credits to make certain he was the one cast in the role. The Irish actor drops his accent for an Italian-American one, which is quite convincing. This is an improvement from the gimmicky Bronx accent he tried to pull off in the 2002 film Phone Booth.
In the same scene in which Batman meets the Riddler, a gorgeous femme fatale serving the Penguin enters the room, who we immediately recognize as Selina Kyle (Zoe Kravitz). Selina, most known for her moniker Catwoman, is immediately striking to Batman.
Next up is Carmine Falcone (John Turturro), a major crime boss and mafia chieftain. There is a bit of a mystery to his character. He’s playing both sides as he tries to earn Batman’s trust. But he also has an ulterior motive.
We also cannot forget Batman’s trusty right-hand man and employee at Wayne Manor, Alfred Pennyworth (Andy Serkis). One of the greatest actors of our time, Serkis delivers in this iteration of the character. He’s paternal, endearing, and loyal. He’s very protective of the Wayne legacy and willing to defy even Bruce himself, who, at times, lacks respect for it.
It is currently an election year for Gotham City, and as the campaign heats up, one of the mayoral candidates is abducted and becomes a victim of the Riddler’s vengeance. This case kicks off the story and sets the heroes on a journey to discover just how deeply corruption has infested the political sphere. Compared to previous Batman films, Gotham has also gotten a bit progressive with a Black female challenger in the mayoral race. Bella Reál (Jayme Lawson) is confident, poised, and ready to make change for the better for Gotham. She’s also young and would bring new energy to the city.
The Batman stays consistent with its dark themes of the Dark Knight’s lore and Gotham’s universe. The tone is foreboding, grim, and gloomy — as it should be. If you’re looking for humor, go see a Marvel movie; you won’t find it here.
Batman and Catwoman do not have the stereotypical flirtationship we’ve come to expect from seeing them in previous films. Yes, romantic chemistry ensues, but it feels more like fan service than an actual authentic moment for the two prominent characters. Their attraction for one another is a bit truncated and not fully fleshed out — pun intended. The choice to make the relationship between these two more about going after the bad guys and less about getting into each other’s supersuits was the right one. With a running time of 2 hours and 55 minutes, there’s just too much plot to unpack to make room for a romance. If that were part of the plot and it hit the cutting room floor instead, it would be worth exploring — perhaps release the Matt Reeves cut?
Zoe Kravitz has some interesting looks in this film, I’m not sure which was the most reminiscent for me: the scene where she rocks a bob-shaped costume wig looking like Natalie Portman’s doppelganger from the movie Closer or her long pink wig stylized similarly to her haircut (albeit shorter) in the tech thriller Kimi. Either way, I’m here for Zoe Kravitz with different hues of hair color and wigs.
Zoe’s Catwoman is three-dimensional and her backstory offers some firm groundwork for future sequels to come. Kravitz delivers in this nuanced performance and could easily hold her own solo film if another Catwoman film were to emerge from the Warner Bros universe.
The music in this film felt like a supporting character. Michael Giacchino’s beautifully haunting score is absolutely incredible. I’m almost certain this score will earn some award accolades down the road. The sorrowful tone encapsulates everything this story of Batman represents. A lone vigilante, orphaned as a child, works to fight corruption in a town that doesn’t respect him. The sadness of it all is just so perfect and resonates well with the movie’s score. If you don’t know what I mean, just listen below:
So here’s the moment you’ve been waiting for: How is Robert Pattinson as Batman? Pattinson, who doesn’t get enough credit as an incredibly talented dramatic actor, gives Bruce Wayne a vulnerability that makes him relatable. The tortured soul and wounded spirit of Bruce Wayne is emoted stunningly from Pattinson. We actually see more of Pattinson in costume as Batman than out as Bruce, which is a testament to how well he shows his emotions under a mask. This is also a different kind of Bruce. He doesn’t care about his wealth, nor is he flashy about it either. At one point, Alfred has to help Bruce dress properly and remind to add cufflinks to his attire — after all, he is still a Wayne.
The black makeup smeared and faded on Pattinson gives Bruce a gothic look. He’s an emo Batman, and why shouldn’t he be? We got our emo Joker; I think it’s time for Batman to go a little darker too.
The Batman is a captivating take on the franchise and is in a league of its own. The pacing is consistent throughout its nearly 3-hour long running time, and the ending leaves you craving for more.
The Batman flies into theaters nationwide March 4, 2022.
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Jamie Broadnax is the creator of the online publication and multimedia space for Black women called Black Girl Nerds. Jamie has appeared on MSNBC's The Melissa Harris-Perry Show and The Grio's Top 100. Her Twitter personality has been recognized by Shonda Rhimes as one of her favorites to follow. She is a member of the Critics Choice Association and executive producer of the Black Girl Nerds Podcast.