‘The Batman’ review: The darkest knight ever

Zoë Kravitz and Robert Pattinson are the bat and the cat in 2022’s The Batman.

Jonathan Olley/DC

You’ve seen a million Batman movies. But you still have to arm yourself for the darkest Dark Knight yet: starring Robert Pattinson as DC’s Caped Crusader, The Batman is an intense, apocalyptic cinematic experience.

After the murder of his parents (you know), Bruce Wayne has been on his crusade against Gotham City street crime for two years. He’s formed an alliance with cop Jim Gordon, but nothing prepares them for a series of atrocities pre-planned by a gruesome masked murderer who leaves diabolical riddles with every victim. As Batman deciphers the cryptic clues, the investigation uncovers a bigger conspiracy. But the real puzzle is how the twisted motive of the ranting killer relates to the Batman himself.

As this synopsis suggests, The Batman (in theaters March 4) is hardly a superhero movie. Director Matt Reeves, who co-wrote the screenplay with Peter Craig, turns the previous Bat films into a single roaring blast furnace: there are notes on Tim Burton’s gothic angst, Christopher Nolan’s criminal politics and The Lyrical Brutality of Zack Snydermore the standalone joker movieThe psychological backstory of , its vaguely timeless design and layers of dark irony.

But it’s also more of a detective mystery than previous Bat-flicks, borrowing notably from David Fincher’s serial killers Seven and Zodiac. And it’s a gangster movie. Also a 70s conspiratorial thriller. And a relentlessly dark film noir.

But above all, The Batman is a horror movie.

In 1989, bead-loving parents were shocked and appalled by Tim Burton’s Batman. The pantyhose-wearing funny book hero who slapped, shoved and zapped cartoon villains was replaced by a traumatized crackpot in black rubber fetish gear, trading blows with a giggling, acid-scarred psychopath. In Britain, they even had to invent a new rating category for the film.

Let’s not get into the perennial fan debate about whether superhero movies should be for kids or adults. You absolutely cannot show The Batman to a child 100%. This new film is PG-13, but it’s on a whole different level than the relatively bloodless Dark Knight movies – and on a planet unlike any Marvel movie – immersing you in three hours of mounting fear and simmering pain garnished with a few surprisingly unpleasant keys.

The Batman Robert Pattinson

The Batman confronts a serial killer.

Jonathan Olley/DC

This explicitly scary Batman flick opens with a grim scene of jaw-dropping suspense, adding serial killer scares and even a few dashes of torture porn. The people of Gotham are presented as a swirling crowd of faceless and masked Halloween characters. Jagged chains of horror movies and Michael Giacchino’s relentless score escalate the tension. There are no villains looting diamonds from charity galas, but a gruesome serial killer plunging the city into a simmering cauldron of creeping panic. Batman himself steps out of the shadows with heavy step and heavier fists, exacting ruthless vengeance with a chilling lack of affect behind his mask.

Pattinson’s Batman (Pattinson? Pattman?) is a long-haired mess, a world away from the skilled professional of Christian Bale or the grizzled curmudgeon of Ben Affleck. Hunched over in the basement listening to Nirvana with mascara dripping down his face, this young Bruce Wayne is shapeless yet already unraveling, muttering a Taxi Driver-like voiceover as he drowns in a dirty tide of anarchy and degradation. Pattinson truly inhabits the Batman, expressing desperation with just his perfectly angled jaw and soulful eyes peering out from under the black mask. Still, you could probably cut the epic runtime by two hours and 47 minutes if there was a little less Batman slowly…walking…and…significantly…staring…

For all of his formidable combat skills and detective prowess, this Batman barely holds his own. And that gives the film a vital charge.

Robert Pattinson as Bruce Wayne.

Jonathan Olley/DC

As Selina Kyle — Pattinson’s Batwoman Catwoman — Zoë Kravitz is eminently watchable. But the film struggles to get under the character’s masks, piling on schlocky twists rather than exploring the character with any depth. The same goes for Jeffrey Wright’s cop pal, Jim Gordon, given the thankless task of standing next to Batman and frowning as they growl at each other. The bad guys are clearly having more fun: a recognizable Colin Farrell channels Robert De Niro’s Al Capone in The Untouchables, and the purring menace of John Turturro calls Brando back in The Godfather.

So if you’re wondering if there’s room for a new take after 14 movies, it’s actually surprisingly invigorating to see a Caped Crusader who’s more human – not just Bruce Wayne, but as Batman himself. same. This Batman doesn’t magically disappear from a room, but sometimes has to run for his life. One of the highlights of the movie is when Batman does something we’ve seen the character do a million times, but it’s clear from Pattinson’s little grimace that this is the first time he’s done it. Suddenly, a superhero cliche becomes a truly perilous and thrilling moment.

While the detective drives the story, the action scenes are truly exhilarating. Fights play out as long, lingering shots and show Batman wading through each fight with economical ferocity. The use of light and shadow adds punchy drama.

Perhaps most thrilling of all is an apocalyptic car chase. Instead of a shiny high-tech speedster or a city-conquering tank, Pattinson’s Batman drives a car that’s as whacky as he is. This Batmobile is a demonic hot rod growling with rage as it rushes to devour its prey, lit only by blood red taillights and infernal flame. It’s an incendiary climax to a deliriously intense film.

There’s a lot to unpack in The Batman’s psychological and political leanings, including the film’s treatment of women. There aren’t many, despite the sprawling cast. The plot revolves around the grisly murder of a woman, which is replayed more than once. A pretty big twist introduces a horrific story for an important woman in Bruce Wayne’s life. Selina Kyle is a badass, but she’s still presented with a lingering pan down her stiletto boots to her tight skirt, before the camera (and Batman) voyeuristically watches her undress.

Batman is clearly tied to the Riddler’s voyeurism and violence, challenging his methods more than previous films. The level of moral ambivalence is much closer to the darkly ironic Joker movie. When Batman first appears, for example, a victim of assault sees little distinction between his attackers and this demonic figure who beats them savagely. It’s also the first Batman movie to commit to the revisionist view that Bruce Wayne is a rich man whose hobby is hospitalizing the poor. Like the movie Joker, The Batman explores the radicalizing effect of inequality on a suppressed population. But Joker focused on one villain, and so the tongue-in-cheek conclusion had you in on the joke. The Batman, meanwhile, focuses on one hero – a conflicted and dubious hero, but still – and so there’s an opportunity for a more optimistic moral underpinning buried beneath the overwhelming gloom.

It’s long, it’s often slow and it’s terribly dark. But The Batman deserves this definitive article. It’s “The” Batman because it evokes many previous incarnations of the Caped Crusader while providing something distinctive. This darkest dark knight may not be for everyone (and certainly not for kids), but it’s an engrossing and heartbreaking bat-thriller.

Comments are closed.