By Marc S. Sanders
Another year at the movies, means another trip to see Batman on the big screen. I think we are close to a dozen iterations, no? Fortunately, the latest reinvention for March 2022, The Batman, is a refreshing interpretation that focuses on the detective skills of the masked vigilante hero who prowls from the rooftops of Gotham City. Matt Reeves has written and directed a gripping and engaging film that doesn’t rely on simple paint by numbers. He’s capitalized on using the mysterious Riddler (Paul Dano) as the main villain here, and Batman’s (Robert Pattinson) brains get more exercise than his brawn.
It is the second year since Batman has introduced himself to the crime ridden city. The man behind the mask, Bruce Wayne, keeps a journal of his exploits and observations, and through voiceover he questions if his actions have benefitted since it appears that crime has only increased since his first appearance. A serial killer is taking responsibility for the grisly deaths of important people within the city and he’s leaving greeting cards for “The Batman” with a common scribble of “No More Lies,” along with a “?,” and a riddle for The Batman to solve. Thanks to a strong partnership with Police Lt. Jim Gordon (Jeffrey Wright), Batman is given easy access to the crime scenes so he can attempt to reveal the mysterious villain and determine exactly what his endgame is. The Riddler doesn’t make it easy, though.
Mobsters like the Penguin (Colin Farrell) and Carmine Falcone (John Turturro) have a grip on the city, as well. There’s also a possible lead from a woman (Zoe Kravitz) who’s managed to infiltrate the gangsters’ underground headquarters. She also has the fighting skills and agility that’s comparable to the caped crusader, and maybe she’s a cat burglar as well. Still, is she pertinent to Batman’s investigation or not?
It’s better not to spoil anything that occurs in Reeves’ film. The mysteries that are uncovered are part of the fun, and it does take some time and exposition to get there, but I found it worth it. Barring a few ingredients within the film that I recognized from the Christopher Nolan and Tim Burton films, the picture is worth seeing for a new formula on a character, that although is a favorite of mine, I feel has also been done to death on the big and small screens. This is a Batman film where I appreciate the thinking approach of its craft, over the action. When Batman is playing detective with Jim Gordon, it is much more enticing than just another Batmobile chase or another ham-handed fist fight. This film is a test of Batman’s mental capacity and ability for analysis.
Reeves direction is also appreciated, though I’m expecting the naysayers. The Batman is a very dark motion picture. When it’s not dark, the photography is dim and blurred. There’s lots of rain and dimly lit streets and garages. There are strobe lit nightclubs. Windows are blurred, so sometimes you can’t make out the image in front of you. He makes the viewer work for the focus and that kept me alert. I believe Matt Reeves was attempting to give the viewer the literal point of view of the characters. It will not be a surprise, however, to find some movie watchers lose patience with the technique.
The Riddler especially is most mysterious with a twisted and inspired Zodiac killer approach. Often, Matt Reeves’ film feels especially reminiscent of David Fincher’s Seven. I would not be surprised if Reeves wrote his script as a cop/detective story, and then added the Batman flavor to make his final draft. This is not a picture of grand special effects or superpowers and gadgets.
It’s definitely not the Batman film that everyone wants. I foresee the response being very divisive. Nonetheless, if you’re a Batman devotee like me who grew up on the character in the macabre storied comics (as well as the hammy tongue in cheek material), you’re going to be thankful for this “at last” interpretation. I’ll definitely be seeing it again.
NOTE: The Batman is not a film for children under age 13. I truly believe that. There are disturbing images and threats within the story, and the violence depicted or left to the imagination is not for celebratory effect and amusement. This is definitely a film for mature audiences. Do not presume it’s meant for all ages based on its misleading marketing approach with companies like Legos and Little Caesars pizza.