by Andrew Yoast
HURLEYVILLE, April 2022 — The opening narration of “The Batman” explains that the masked vigilante has only been active for around two years, which gives us arguably the most compelling version of the Caped Crusader: The Batman who is still figuring out how to be Batman, and how to balance that with being Bruce Wayne.
Everything about this movie indicates that it’s a story to be taken seriously. Director Matt Reeves and Cinematographer Greig Fraser give us a macabre, perpetually-raining Gotham that feels alive; a mixture of towering high rises, seedy underground clubs, neon lights, and endless shadows, where The Batman may or may not be lurking. It’s the perfect setting for the story that unfolds, which is part film noir detective story reminiscent of Frank Miller’s iconic Batman: Year One (1987), part serial killer mystery/suspense thriller à la David Fincher’s Zodiac (2007).
Robert Pattinson’s performance is superb, and in depicting a Batman who’s exceedingly not comfortable and, perhaps more importantly, not interested, in being Bruce Wayne, we get the heartbeat of the story. Batman is his true identity, and his work on the streets is what he considers his family’s legacy, much to the chagrin of the steadfast Wayne family butler, Alfred Pennyworth (Andy Serkis). His unrelenting commitment to beating the vengeance into the criminals of Gotham parlays into a partnership with Lt. James Gordon (Jeffrey Wright) of the Gotham City Police Department. Wright is a masterful character actor, and his rendition of Jim Gordon illuminates the steel-sharpening-steel nature of the relationship between himself and The Batman which brings out the best in both characters.
Gordon and The Batman rely more heavily on each other throughout the story as they work together to solve a string of gruesome, politically motivated serial killings by a masked villain called The Riddler (Paul Dano). The Riddler appropriately leaves riddles addressed “To The Batman” at each crime scene, because to him these assassinations are part of a game or a joke that only he and The Batman are in on. The Batman’s quest for answers entwines him with the very pinnacle of criminality in Gotham, represented by the scar-faced lieutenant, The Penguin (an unrecognizable Colin Farrell), and the Godfather of the criminal underworld, Carmine Falcone (John Turturro).
In the thick of this layered, multi-narrative plot, we’re introduced to the scene-stealing Selina Kyle (Zoë Kravitz), a cocktail waitress in Falcone’s club who moonlights as a nightcrawling, cat-loving burglar. Kravitz delivers the definitive version of Catwoman, displaying the sensuality and dexterity associated with the character while simultaneously providing a tender, compassionate foil to the brooding Pattinson. “I have a thing for strays” she tells The Batman, a line with an inherent double meaning that defines her character throughout the film. They form a tenuous partnership, a means to different ends that eventually illustrates the ethical and moral lines that Batman refuses to cross. If Pattinson’s performance is the heartbeat of the movie, Kravitz’s is the soul.
Ultimately this is just a tremendously crafted movie made by a person who really cares about the source material. The ensemble cast delivers in every single performance, the movie is darker, grittier, and more serious than any of its predecessors, the direction creative and perpetually moving, and the Nirvana-enhanced musical score rattles the bones at its most intense yet still finds subtlety in its most tender moments. And for comic book fans, the film plays the hits: Dazzling hand-to-hand combat, “World’s Greatest Detective” problem solving, extended use of the grappling hook, a riveting Batmobile car chase, and some nifty gadgets that help Batman along the way.
So, what is The Batman about? It’s about fear, and how fear can manipulate people into corruption. It’s about how hard it is to grow up and process the grief of losing someone you love. And it’s about the challenge of how to find balance within yourself.
Comic book stories, like mythology, are so infinitely interesting because we get to explore what happens when a character with an immense amount of power comes into conflict with their own emotions. Stories of gods, superheroes, vigilantes, or characters with otherwise extraordinary capabilities are woven into the fabric of human nature, and always will be. That’s partially because it’s intoxicating to think what we would do with those powers. But a more significant part of it is that watching someone with inconceivable power confront the fallibility of the human heart will always resonate with us.
Andrew Yoast is a freelance writer who lives in Hurleyville. His movie reviews will appear from time to time in The Hurleyville Sentinel.