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Riddle me this: Review on Reeves’ “The Batman”

Warner Bros. Pictures

A deeply depressed Wayne, one much less explosive in his anger than previous adaptations, presents a human side to a character that can easily become detached from viewers behind all the fortune, fighting, and fancy cars.

He is among the most identifiable caped comic book superheroes since 1939. He’s been adapted into 11 live-action films since 1966. He is the Dark Knight, the Caped Crusader, the World’s Greatest Detective. His name is the title of the movie. He is… vengeance?

Matt Reeves “The Batman” premiered March 4, 2022, and its street-level violence and detective-noir motifs define Robert Pattinson’s Bruce Wayne as a new-age Batman: younger, desperate and more tragic than ever.

Matt Reeves went out of his way to avoid having Bruce Wayne reference himself as “Batman” in his 2022 film, The Batman. What he did do is take the beloved character in a refreshing new direction, drawing inspiration from the 1987 four-issue run“Batman: Year One,”written by Frank Miller and illustrated by David Mazzucchelli. His movie takes its greatest strengths from the series’ younger, more reclusive Bruce Wayne.

It is safe to say Robert Pattinson was not on the slate for fan-casting of the next Caped Crusader. Upon his announcement, fans of “Twilight”and the “Harry Potter”series worried that the brooding teen vampire or scrawny Hufflepuff they knew would not live up to the physique and maturity of Batman. However, audience members will be pleasantly surprised by his transformation into the role, and the captivating performance he delivers.

As a young man, this Bruce Wayne grapples with the loss of his parents as if it happened moments before cameras started rolling. He juggles with grief clumsily, slipping into reclusion and fumbling through his first two years as a vigilante. He relies heavily on the only parental figures he has left, Jeffrey Wright’s Officer James Gordon and Andy Serkis’s Alfred Pennyworth. A deeply depressed Wayne, one much less explosive in his anger than previous adaptations, presents a human side to a character that can easily become detached from viewers behind all the fortune, fighting, and fancy cars.

But fans of that side of Batman need not be deterred! The film’s aesthetic is exactly that of his source material, with unrelenting long shots meant to mimic a comic book panel. The cinematography goes out of its way to create a visceral experience for the audience, with expansive rooftop landscapes of the city of Gotham, juxtaposed with claustrophobic underground club scenes bathed in neon lights.

And for those clutching onto their Hot Wheels and their Detective Comics #27, no need to worry; the batmobile gets its very own highway chase sequence.

Zoë Kravitz’s Selina Kyle is every bit as sympathetic as she is seductive. This iteration of the on-again-off-again love interest of Wayne stays true to her usual mystery in a latex bodysuit, with a backstory that is carefully revealed over the three-hour run time, and makes her actions feel naturally motivated.

Her character and costume design stray from the traditional hyper-sexualized femme fatale without sacrificing her femininity. Kravitz plays Kyle as a loose cannon who is always somehow one step ahead of the Batman and the Gotham City Police Department. Her performance is intoxicating and heartbreaking.

Kyle’s “thing for strays” is made clear through her habit of standing up for the silenced citizens of Gotham. Her arc throughout the film begins with a search for her missing possibly-more-than-friend Annika, but quickly spirals into a tirade against the crime bosses of the city, with a special hatred reserved for John Turturro’s Carmine Falcone. 

The tension between Wayne and Kyle is very characteristic of their source material. The developing connection is very convincing, as is their nebulous parting ways at the close of the film. However, the rushed romantic interactions the pair share are jarring and seem to come out of left field.

Had their climactic moment been the only romantic interaction the pair shared, it may ring truer to audiences. Instead, the first kiss sets the pair up on uneven footing, posing the question of if they are meant to be interpreted as a couple or a crime-solving team. Kravitz and Pattinson’s chemistry remedies this to the best of its ability, but a sense of hollowness taints the iconic duo.

Despite not being the primary villain, Falcone has his share of tricks up his sleeve. Turturro’s performance is shifty and manipulative, deceiving the city of Gotham and the audience all the same.

The Riddler, played by Paul Dano, is the answer to any comic book movie fan’s prayers for a truly terrifying super villain. In place of aliens or genetically-modified soldiers, here is a true serial killer on par with the horrors of his real-life counterparts. He is deranged and calculated, and his creativity is underscored by his use of new-age media to carry out his grand design.

His riddles keep the audience playing along throughout the film, making its three-hour run time rush by in a cold sweat. This may be the first superhero movie audiences have to watch through their fingers.

Despite his first few kills being incredibly unique and sadistic, The Riddler’s final act feels predictable and drawn out. The pacing of the film, given its length, is beautifully crafted and makes for an easy watch. However, it does come to a screeching halt in the final 30 minutes, when the true Riddler is taken out of play and replaced by a team of his followers.

If Dano had been allowed to shine fully unmasked, the extended final battle could have paralleled the test of intellect the Riddler and Batman had been locked in throughout the narrative. Having a body of unnamed volunteers as The Batman’s final boss seems lackluster for a film with such an innovative villain. 

The film features an original score by Michael Giacchino. L’Orchestra Cinematique brings the grandiose orchestra to climactic horror to urban noir themes. The only sourced pieces in the score are Nirvana’s “Something in the Way,” a second theme to Batman, and “Ave Maria,” the Riddler’s motif. The modernity of “Something in the Way” and the biblical tones of “Ave Maria” help to suspend the narrative in time, combining with Gotham’s architecture and underground scene to create what feels like an unplaceable period in the DCEU timeline. 

An unspecified character reveal in the final act of the film leaves critics of The Batman feeling like clowns, and holds the cell door open for an even more sinister sequel.

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