In 2022 it feels as if there have been just as many comic book movies as there have been comic book issues printed. One character who has been portrayed by over a dozen actors across film, television, video games and beyond is the Caped Crusader himself, Batman. After being in development as early as 2013 when the DCEU introduced Ben Affleck’s portrayal in Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, here we are nearly a decade later receiving a true homage to Batman’s detective origins with Matt Reeve’s The Batman. Less a standard comic book movie and more a thrilling, character-driven mystery and noir film, The Batman shows us what sort of Caped Crusader a slightly unhinged and reclusive Bruce Wayne would give Gotham.
When Robert Pattinson was cast in the lead role, there was a lot of skepticism because of his early career as a teen heartthrob, but those who followed his more recent performances in The Lighthouse, Good Time and The King knew he was a fantastic choice. The same skepticism arose when Heath Ledger, also a former teen heartthrob, was cast as The Joker in 2008’s The Dark Knight, giving us an iconic performance that won him an Oscar. Pattinson does not disappoint in the slightest. His portrayal of Bruce Wayne was written as someone who rather than being a polished, level-headed and womanizing billionaire bachelor, he instead never got over his parents death, nor ever found out who killed them. There’s a palpable sense of bitterness and resentment for Gotham PD and repressed anger that only comes out when he’s beating criminals to a pulp.
The Batman is also not an traditional origin story and instead takes place over a year into Wayne’s vigilantism and goes back to his detective roots rather than just stopping petty crimes. He’s not only a brutal force to reckon with but he’s a true investigator: cold, calculated and, when called upon Lieutenant Gordon, examines every crime scene with meticulous detail. Fighting alongside, and sometimes with, Batman is Zoë Kravitz as Selina Kyle, bringing a grounded and tough yet emotional, vulnerable performance as the conniving young Catwoman. Kravitz’s chemistry with Pattinson is all over the screen and the two work wonderfully together as the will they-won’t they, Bat & The Cat, fan-beloved power couple.
In the role of the always loyal Jim Gordon is Tony and Emmy Award winner Jeffrey Wright, who equally carries his own as one of the few members of Gotham PD who hasn’t been bought out and still cares about his city. Wright commands the screen and more than holds his own opposite the film’s gallery of villains like Penguin, Carmine Falcone and The Riddler.
Colin Farrell plays Penguin, unrecognizable under layers of prosthetics and makeup, and bringing forth a menacing performance, skipping over the cartoonish gags we’ve seen done before. He may let his goons do the dirty work for him but he isn’t afraid to fight back when necessary. We’ve seen Carmine Falcone respectfully portrayed by John Doman in Gotham, a temperamental and ruthless Tom Wilkinson in Batman Begins, and here played by a calm, cool and collected John Turturro. Turturro brings an oozing sense of charm to every role, you just can’t help but like the guy. But his Falcone is merciless and the gravitas he brings to the role is truly fantastic.
And we arrive at the main event of this larger-than-life Rogues Gallery of villains: The Riddler, brilliantly portrayed by Paul Dano, one of the most underrated actors in the business. This version of The Riddler is a psychotic serial killer and, as Dano shared in several interviews, inspired by the real-life Zodiac killer. His methods are brutal but calculated, carefully planned and carried out with clues intentionally left to toy with Batman and the GCPD. Dano’s portrayal is unhinged, disturbed and truly terrifying.
In a supporting but pivotal role is Gil Perez-Abraham as GCPD Officer Martinez, who takes a while to warm up to Batman assisting in police investigations, but soon becomes an ally. It’s worth noting that the actor is the only Latine actor in the film and among the very few in the history of Batman films. During an interview on my podcast Actors With Issues, Perez-Abraham shared, “I’m still thinking ‘what are my fellow Latinos gonna think when they see this movie?’ Because I feel like I’m carrying us a little and representing us in it.” Perez-Abraham gives a fantastic performance despite only having a dozen scenes throughout the film, and hopefully, returns in future films with a more substantial role.
The Batman features a brilliant and brooding score by Michael Giacchino, whose body of work continues to diversify itself, from Disney’s Up and Coco to Marvel’s Spider-Man trilogy and Doctor Strange. The bass-heavy underscore fits the noir-style film perfectly, and his blaring brass and orchestral themes ramp up the action, and bloodshed, to the next level.
Director Matt Reeves, who also co-wrote the script with Peter Craig, does a phenomenal job bringing a shrouded environment to this more urban version of Gotham City, filmed across the U.K. and in Chicago. The film’s incredibly complex but effortlessly spans genres from thriller and mystery to a noir and action film to a straight up horror movie. With a whopping 3-hour runtime, The Batman is the most ambitious Batman film to date, with fantastic performances from the entire cast without a weak link among them. This isn’t just another popcorn flick or comic-book movie. It’s a masterful cinematic experience.
My final score: 4.5/5 stars
The Batman is in theaters everywhere March 4th.