The Batman (2022) Director: Matt Reeves
“Fear is a tool. They think I’m hiding in the shadows, but I am the shadows…”
It is a rain-soaked Halloween and the hazy, trash-filled, neon-lit noir-esque streets of Gotham City lie in ruins. Crime continues to rise despite the fact that the anonymous vigilante Batman has been battling the city’s thugs for two years. Unlike the playboy Bruce Wayne we have seen elsewhere, Robert Pattinson offers a brooding, reclusive Batman, who goes by the name “Vengeance.” What is his purpose? What is he doing? Cue Kurt Cobain’s “Something in the Way” as Bruce Wayne narrates his nights stalking through the shadows. The Batman is thankfully not a reboot of the well-trod Bruce Wayne origins story. Instead, as a shadowy outsider and an insomniac or “nocturnal animal,” his silent and stoic personality reveals a tortured past.
Matt Reeves’s take on Batman as a detective drops us into a gritty mystery thriller, a slow-burn crime drama which see Batman team up with Lt. James Gordon (Jeffrey Wright) to uncover corruption within the highest levels of Gotham’s government. In the midst of an election, the city’s mayor is murdered by a twisted psychopath who leaves behind a string of cryptic clues. We know him as the unsettling glasses-wearing “Riddler” (Paul Dano), an ordinary forensic accountant turned Zodiac serial killer. Suddenly, more prominent leaders are murdered with more clues leading to a trail toward the Penguin/Oz Cobblepot (Colin Farrell) and Carmine Falcone (John Turturro), and along the way Batman befriends the morally ambiguous Catwoman-esque character, Selina Kyle (Zoë Kravitz). With dangerous hints and ongoing bomb plots, one of which nearly kills Alfred (Andy Serkis) the trail leads Batman right back to the Wayne family where we hold up a mirror to Bruce Wayne’s own legacy. As it turns out, his father’s stint as mayor years ago led to the “renewal program” which was intended to help the city’s orphans, but like so many products built on good intentions, the program falls prey to corruption.
I thought this alternative perspective on the Wayne family was intriguing –they are portrayed as cynical and cold elite billionaires who have deliberately isolated themselves from ordinary civilians while civilization feels on the verge of collapse. Despite what Bruce has been led to believe, perhaps his father was not as noble as he once thought. The Riddler reveals that Thomas Wayne was involved in a plot to murder a journalist who was digging too deep for information on Martha Wayne’s mental illness. However, Alfred reassures Bruce that it was Falcone who ordered the killing. Do we trust him? The truth is left somewhat ambiguous. At any rate, Falcone is revealed to be Selina’s father, and Falcone and the Riddler/Edward Nashton is captured –but this is all part of his plan. Several bombs are detonated around the city unleashing a huge sea wall, and with everyone gathered in one place, a cohort of internet followers of the Riddler who darkly mirror the contemporary isolated “incel” boys rise up and attempt to murder the mayor but they are prevented by Batman and Selina. After the battle, Selina decides to leave Gotham in search of greener pastures while Batman remains in an effort to rebuild the city. Whereas in the beginning, his purpose was to inspire fear, he now plans to inspire hope.
In a brief epilogue, the Riddler sits in a cell in Arkham State Prison and he is introduced to a laughing character who resides in the neighboring cell –it is none other than the Joker. This ominous conclusion sets the film up nicely for a sequel. Needless to say, I thought this was one of the best installments in the Batman franchise. Many were skeptical after Ben Affleck abruptly departed as director, plus when Matt Reeves took over and completely revised the script, eyebrows were raised, and this was followed by the announcement that Robert Pattinson would lead in the titular role causing a minor controversy, however returning the Batman narrative to the “world’s greatest detective” is a welcome new direction. In my view, The Batman rivals Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight as one of the best Batman films ever made.