At the Movies with Alan Gekko: The Batman “2022”

MPAA Rating: PG-13/ Genre: Superhero/Stars: Robert Pattinson, Zoë Kravitz, Paul Dano, Jeffrey Wright, John Turturro, Peter Sarsgaard, Andy Serkis, Colin Farrell, Jayme Lawson, Barry Keoghan, Alex Ferns, Rupert Penry-Jones, Jay Lycurgo, Gil Perez-Abraham, Charlie Carver, Max Carver, Con O’Neill/Runtime: 176 minutes

I think it is safe to say that although the footprint left by the iconic superhero known as Batman in terms of his cinematic endeavors may be far from clear, especially for those of us who saw what was perhaps the moment where it looked like the franchise crashed and burned in the form of the colossal misfire that was Batman & Robin, but even with that significant misstep Batman’s cinematic legacy is still quite the impressive one all the same. Indeed many a skilled film helmer and actor have found themselves attracted to do their own distinct take on the Caped Crusader and those who have answered have managed to make such an impact on pop culture let alone cinema in general that they were able to acquire the seemingly never ending intrigue of fans across the planet to say nothing of managing to transform how the land of movie magic works in certain aspects especially when it comes to the words “dark and gritty” and usually in that order. Suffice it to say that since the playbook for how to make a genuinely great Batman film has been revealed to the world of movie magic, it shouldn’t be that much of a surprise to learn that as a result movie goers are now able to place that knowledge into their collection of expectations that surround every single new Batman movie that comes to theaters.

It is when looking at things through this distinct cinematic prism that one comes to the new slice of superhero cinema known simply as The Batman with a very peculiar point of view. Indeed here is a slice of cinema that can easily be classified as a reboot of the character and yet it makes the choice not to really discover a radical new take on the character and thus redefine him once more for a new generation of movie goers. Instead, this is a slice of cinema that chooses to put a significant amount of focus on virtually everything about this truly legendary superhero that has made him as iconic as he has been over the years. As a result, we get a slice of cinema that may not be seen by many as revolutionary in many respects, but is also nevertheless an incredible, taut, legitimately scary at times, and just plain phenomenal take on this icon complete with a riveting narrative to regale us with. Indeed film helmer Matt Reeves’ stab at the Batman mythos isn’t merely a retread of prior narrative paths that just make the creative choice to put a new actor in the black cape. Instead, this is one that deviates significantly from everything we have seen time and time again in this story (which means we do not have to witness Thomas and Martha Wayne get gunned down for about the zillionth time thankfully) as well as places a lot more of a priority on Batman’s nickname of the “World’s Greatest Detective” due to the film’s villain really testing him with a series of both visceral crimes and some really twisted conundrums. Yes the whole thing may be constructed on a base that might be quite familiar to an extent and yes this does tragically thwart it from ever coming across as completely distinct, but even if with that in mind there is also no denying that the end product is still quite immensely enjoyable to say nothing of a truly worthy take on this no less than iconic character.

The plot is as follows: Choosing to brush over quite a few things that were touched on in Batman Begins from the long gone year of 2005 whilst also making the assumption that everyone watching is completely aware of just how the iconic superhero Batman came to be, The Batman gets underway as we are given a new take on iconic billionaire Bruce Wayne. Namely that this take on Bruce Wayne is shown to be in year two of his fight against the criminal element in Gotham City and to say the man is obsessed with this mission might just kinda sorta be a wee bit of an understatement. Indeed here is a guy who not only beats the criminals he encounters to a bloody pulp, but he also extensively chronicles all of his nightly patrols and of the criminals he encounters on the streets which in this film utilize voice over narration that really will remind the avid comic book fans amongst you of those wonderful little yellow boxes of dialogue. Yet even though his winged vigilante persona is seen by many in Gotham as both a terrifying and disreputable force even by quasi-sorta father figure/ butler Alfred, there are some who view him as a force of good. One of these people is a detective in the Gotham City PD by the name of James Gordon and it is through his partnership with Gordon that we see Batman is able to investigate the home of Gotham’s mayor in the aftermath of the career politician being the victim of a horrific and brutal homicide by a mysterious serial killer with a caveat being that this enigmatic individual also left a note at the scene. One that is directly addressed to none other than the Caped Crusader himself. We soon are able to see that through the clues that have been left to him that Batman finds himself going straight to one of the cores of Gotham’s seedy underbelly in the form of a club known as the Iceberg Lounge. A club that has, among its list of frequent patrons, notorious gangsters such as a rising criminal figure known as Oswald Cobblepot and a legendary yet not seen that often crime lord named Carmine Falcone. However it isn’t long before as this homicidal maniac’s, now being dubbed the Riddler, little crime spree continues on that we see significant degrees of corruption start being exposed alongside a potentially perilous secret. One that will see our winged hero not only become dead set on bringing this menace to justice, but that may reveal a thing or two about Bruce’s parents that he never knew and show that maybe they weren’t the good people he had always long held them to be.

Now I am pleased to say that in many respects, The Batman is the slice of superhero cinema that many a DC Comics fan has been waiting patiently to get about this particular superhero. I say that because here is a slice of cinema that doesn’t feel like it has to instruct on just who this guy is. Instead, it knows that we know the background information and as such places feet first into a Batman-focused narrative that is not weighed down by unnecessary exposition. As a result, we see that the key characters in said narrative are able to come into the film in a manner that not only feels organic, but also that gives you every bit of information that you need to know without the picture coming to a complete and grinding halt narratively speaking. A feat that is even more impressive when you take into account the fact that this slice of cinema, including credits, is saddled with a few minutes shy of three hours runtime and yet film helmer Matt Reeves is able to make every single minute of the film work both from a narrative and world building point of view. Indeed there is both a well-done rise in the magnitude of what is revealed and enough riveting action beats to work alongside the more dramatic components in beautiful synchronicity. Suffice it to say that by the time the movie comes to a close, you really do feel like you have actually traveled through this film’s take on Gotham City. Yes a fair amount of that can be attributed to the brilliant work done behind the camera, but it can also be attributed to just how potent this slice of cinema’s cast is in their respective parts and how terrifically their characters are constructed.

It is in that respect that I can honestly say that, much to the relief of fans everywhere, Robert Pattinson is actually fantastic in this. Indeed his stab at Bruce Wayne is one that is very much the midway point between what Keaton brought to the role and what Bale brought to the role. As such, here is a young man who may be a noteworthy member of the public, but who is very much an introvert at heart and who really only feels complete when he puts on the cape and the cowl. Yet perhaps the best thing about Pattinson’s take on the character is that when he puts on the mask or comes forth from the shadows to lay a serious smack down on some bad guys you really don’t look at him and see an actor playing a superhero. A feat that is impressive since not only does it help to showcase a realistic take on someone having an alter-ego, but it also hooks you in from the first moment he appears on screen. Even with that in mind, as astonishing as Pattinson’s metamorphosis into Batman is, that’s still nothing compared to what is being done in this film by Colin Farrell…assuming that is actually him in the role of Cobblepot in this movie and we’re all not witnessing the greatest episode of Punk’d ever. I mean when it comes to the worlds of make-up, prosthetics, and whathaveyou, there has been a lot of brilliant work done (take An American Werewolf in London and the original Planet of the Apes for example). Usually however when you glance at the eyes of a character covered in prosthetics and/or make-up and you can usually 95% of the time tell who is playing that particular part. With this take on the character however, I can’t honestly say that. What I can say however is that this truly is (even without a umbrella weapon or a wind-up exploding penguin toy) the most incredible cinematic take on this legendary comic book antagonist we have gotten to date and one of the finest examples of an actor immersing themselves in a part I have seen in a while.  This brings us to the main villain of the piece and honestly in that regard Paul Dano as The Riddler is not only absolutely great, but he is legitimately terrifying and a genuine force to be reckoned with in this. I mean make no mistake dear reader: this is not only a complete 180 from what Jim Carrey brought to the role in Batman Forever, but Paul Dano does a great job from beginning to end keeping the stakes in this film perilously high for Batman throughout and really reminds you less of a comic book villain and more of someone in the vein of say The Zodiac Killer or even John Doe from the movie Se7en, but also in setting up a puzzle that every time you get a new piece it really magnifies your curiosity about just what exactly the final picture is going to reveal. Indeed this is easily the finest portrayal of this iconic villain and any future installments are going to have a lot to live up to when looking at the precedent set by Farrell and Dano in this film. Yet although Paul Dano, Colin Farrell, Robert Pattinson are by and large the standout performances in this, I can also promise you that Reeves also manages to get some truly wonderful work from the rest of the cast who all give respectful portrayals of some of the other people in Batman’s world. This starts with Zoë Kravitz who has the sly and flirty yet also slightly aloof nature to say nothing of wonderful chemistry with the titular character that I think every cinematic take on Catwoman must possess and extends to both John Turturro who brings a solemn yet potent assertiveness to his top-flight portrayal of Carmine Falcone and Jeffrey Wright who does a wonderful job at giving us a Gordon who both works well with Pattinson’s Batman, but also is able to give the movie some moments of comedy that are very well placed. Finally, I would be seriously amiss if I didn’t miss the wonderful work done by Andy Serkis whose take on Alfred Pennyworth has a rather distinct bond with Pattinson’s Bruce that not only connects them in a rather unique way, but also is able to hit with quite the emotional right hook when the film calls for it.

All in all I think it is safe to say that everything from fresh takes on this slice of cinema’s cast of characters, the foreboding yet riveting theme music courtesy of Michael Giacchino and even small little touches like the insanely wicked design for the new Batmobile all immensely aid Matt Reeves’ new take on this iconic superhero with a personality and style all its own. At the same time though, this slice of cinema is also sadly not entirely able to overcome the built-in catch 22 so to speak in how it deals with this character from a macro perspective. That being when a film about this character chooses to take some of the more out of this world aspects that were part and parcel for the comics and ground them in reality, that slice of cinema is predictably going to remind movie goers of that other take on this character that did that phenomenally well and which takes the form of the Dark Knight trilogy from Christopher Nolan. Yet even with that in mind, there is also the argument which I would like to make which is that those movies jogged so this one could run the marathon since had those movies not been the triumphs that they turned out to be, this take on the character might not ever have seen the dawn of day. Thus even though the degree of realism on display here does in some aspects make this slice of cinema feel more like an extension of prior work done on this character rather than a complete retooling, there are also some significant ways in which our titular hero grows during the duration of the story. Ways that, without going into spoilers, look to put him on a novel and intriguing road that could by the end of it actually help to distinguish this take on the character from the ones done by everyone from West to Bale. Indeed it may not be obvious as to what the future for this particular take on the character may look like, but if I’m being honest dear reader I am most assuredly wanting to spend a lot more time in the world of this film than just a few minutes shy of about three hours. On a scale of 1-5 I give The Batman “2022” a solid 4 out of 5.