“The Batman” soars above the competition


Seth Martin | @seth.mart

“The Batman” soars above the competition

For as long as I can remember, Batman has been a character that I have always been obsessed with. There’s a depth and darkness to Bruce Wayne that isn’t usually explored in traditional comic book stories. Peter Parker, Tony Stark and Clark Kent, just to name a few, all have struggles with their identities and their purpose/role as heroes. At the end of these stories, they always persevere and find their way, continuing to be a paragon of virtue in the world, but that isn’t typically true for most Batman stories.

At his core, Bruce Wayne is a deeply broken character who is constantly battling with the trauma of his family history and his purpose. In most popular interpretations of the character, there is no moment of him “getting over it” or becoming fully sure of himself. While some stories may give him the happy ending, his trauma remains inescapable. This idea is at the core of why I love the character so much more than other heroes and why I find “The Batman” to be the most successful on-screen interpretation to date.

In May 2019, it was officially announced that actor Robert Pattinson would take over the role of the Caped Crusader. He would be joining director Matt Reeves, most known for his work on the 2014 “Planet of the Apes” franchise. The film went through a significant amount of production troubles and myriad changes since its conception as the first live-action standalone Batman film since director Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight Rises” in 2012.


The film was originally intended to be the follow-up to actor Ben Affleck’s portrayal of the character in “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Justice League.” Affleck was also attached to direct the film at the time of announcement. Following the mixed reception and financial letdown of the two films, Affleck initially stepped down from the director’s role on the film, but still intended on playing Batman. However, he left the project completely shortly after, seeming to retire his take on the character. This is when Reeves took over the project and was given the task of casting the next Batman.

The film was later announced to be completely disconnected from the current DC Extended Universe (DCEU) which encapsulated most of the DC films at the time. This absolved the film of constraint from the current canon; it also removed any obligations to include characters outside of Batman and his rogues’ gallery of villains and supporting characters. Pattinson taking over the character seemed to be the final clear identifier that this would be Reeves’ uncompromised vision, which was immediately very exciting for many people like myself, who had been let down by most of the recent DC films.

This is not to say that there weren’t many detractors from the decision to cast Pattinson. A lot of fans were worried that he was not the right fit for the role, as he is known almost exclusively for his work on the “Twilight” films. But, in the last decade, Pattinson had silently been building an impressive list of excellent performances, often in smaller independent films, including “Cosmopolis,” “Good Time,” “High Life” and “The Lighthouse,” which were undeniable proof of his abilities as an actor outside of “Twilight.” However, fans remained skeptical.

After numerous delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with Pattinson himself contracting COVID-19 during filming, “The Batman” was finally released on March 4.

Unsurprisingly, I, as well as many movie-goers, were extremely excited for the film, and held some impossibly high expectations for it. But I will gladly state now that it met, and even surpassed those expectations.. “The Batman” is a near perfect take on the character and represents everything that I love about the best Batman stories.

Right from the start, the film takes a lot of inspiration from writer Jeph Loeb’s “Batman: The Long Halloween”, a 13-issue comic book series that has become the blueprint for most modern, realistic takes on the character, most notably 2008’s “The Dark Knight”.

The Batman begins with a genuinely frightening sequence, as actor Paul Dano, takes his first victim, as the Zodiac killer-inspired villain, The Riddler. The opening scene quickly establishes this Batman movie as unlike any we’ve seen before.


It often borders on being a horror film anytime The Riddler is on screen, but horror is not the only genre the film dips into. “The Batman” takes on many roles, but it uses devices from the noir, crime thriller, mystery, and detective genres. One thing that I absolutely loved about the film is its portrayal of Batman as a detective before anything else. It might seem crazy to think that this side of Batman had been mostly neglected in previous films, considering one of his titles is “The World’s Greatest Detective” and is under the Detective Comics (DC) umbrella.
This crime noir tone fits the world perfectly and within the first 15 minutes of the film I knew Reeves had made something special. The film’s moody atmosphere jumps out from the start and remains consistent throughout. The rainy, grimy, dark and scary world of Gotham City is as much a character as the Bat himself.

Batman is more concerned with the variety of villains and crime that create Gotham, more than any one specific bad guy, which most previous interpretations tend to focus on. This helps make Gotham feel like a tactile, real place, which has also yet to be explored since director Tim Burton’s take on the fictional city.

This aspect makes The Batman feel more akin to a self-contained epic than an entry in a franchise. This is becoming a large issue with the Marvel franchise, where each film feels like an “episode” or merely a piece of a larger narrative and removes each film’s ability to stand on its own. This is avoided in the film and its nearly three-hour runtime is a clear example of this.

The movie has a story it wants to tell about Batman and his relationship with Gotham, which likely couldn’t have fit into anything less than three hours. Admittedly, there were moments I found myself feeling the runtime, but I was never bored and was always fully invested in the events of the film. Its slow burn pace allowed for the mystery at its core to really breathe and unfold. It also allowed for beautiful moments of worldbuilding and character development.

One of the things I love about Batman, is its grounded nature allows for a lot of hard-hitting issues to be tackled within a fantastical setting. The core of the film questions the ethics of vigilantism, corruption, classism, terrorism and trauma. This seems like a tall order to fit inside of a single superhero film, but miraculously, The Batman never felt overstuffed or in over its head.

The true villain of the film is really the corrupt politicians and governmental figures within Gotham. It presents the question of what creates people like The Penguin or The Riddler.

Gotham isn’t a cesspool of crime and evil because of them, but rather the system in place that created them. The same could be said for our heroes too, Catwoman and Batman themselves retreat behind a mask in order to do what they think is right, but which the law can’t accomplish themselves. The film often shows Batman directly at odds with the police and, aside from Lieutenant James Gordon, they have a general distaste for Batman and his vigilante justice.

The Riddler’s purpose in the film is to uncover the lies and deceit in the Gotham justice system, through a series of murders and terrorist acts, which all are involved with major corrupt politicians. These sequences are very indebted to films like “Se7en”, “Zodiac”, or even “Saw”. Paul Dano gives a terrifying and amazing performance as The Riddler and truly feels like a real psychopath you might see on the internet following some horrific event.

The performance is also very similar to those of actors Heath Ledger and Joaquin Phoenix as The Joker, but still manages to feel distinct by the end of the film. He completely demands your attention anytime he’s on screen and manages to be just as captivating in his loud and hostile moments, as he is in the more quiet and subtle ones. The character becomes even more terrifying when noticing the clear parallels between The Riddler and recent events involving alt-right fringe groups.

The movie’s third act comments on and critiques the internet’s ability to create communities for even the most evil and deplorable acts, particularly mass-shootings and acts of terrorism. The layers go even deeper when considering that in 2012, a mass shooting took place during the premiere of “The Dark Knight Rises”. This all creates a genuinely disturbing image of The Riddler that taps into things we have come to fear in our day to day lives, although I never found any of it to feel exploitative or disingenuous.

This brings us to Batman himself, as Pattinson gives an excellent performance as Bruce Wayne and Batman in one of the darkest versions of the character we’ve seen yet. We find him in a state where he is completely detached from reality and is a complete reclusive outcast that has lost all ability to live a normal life outside of Batman.

This is one of the first times a Batman movie has really dug into what this kind of lifestyle would really do to one’s psyche. It brings Wayne’s trauma and his guilt in relation to his parent’s death to the surface and why he does what he does.
Pattinson feels like a truly disturbed and tragic hero, which only upholds the themes of the movie even more. He portrays Batman as on-edge, irritable, and nervous, which helps establish that this Batman is new to the game and hasn’t really figured everything out yet.

Pattinson shines behind the mask and manages to use its restrictions to give a very nuanced physical performance. He uses his eyes and movements to convey emotions and even in action sequences he moves differently depending on the context of the scene. The final fight scene in which he’s racing against the clock, he is noticeably more hurried and frantic in how he fights, which is remarkable and really sets him apart among the other actors to don the suit.

A question the film also poses is whether or not Batman existing in the first place encourages his villains. Would they do what they do without him dressing up and fighting crime first? This layer of guilt and responsibility placed on Wayne continues to bring forth more of what makes the character stand out for me. It makes the hero and villains alike more compelling when faced with this moral dilemma.
The supporting cast is just as impressive, with actors Colin Farrell, Zoë Kravitz and Jeffery Wright all bringing their own unique take on their iconic characters.

On a technical front, The Batman is masterful. Its cinematography is emotive and excellently done. Every action scene had my jaw on the floor and pulls off some spectacular stunt work.
When compared with films in the MCU or even the DCEU, which often rely on CGI in action scenes, “The Batman” puts them to shame. It uses CGI very sparingly and mostly for environments rather than anything in the foreground. Reeves focuses on use of practical effects and makes the film much more grounded and tangible.
The sound design made every engine rev and nose-cracking punch feel real and immersive. The score, by composer Michael Giacchino, is equally impressive and the main theme for the film hasn’t left my mind since leaving the theater.

“The Batman” has quickly become my favorite Batman movie of all time and feels like the first adaptation in recent years that truly handles the character with expertise and care. While many point to Nolan’s “The Dark Knight” as the best comic book film of all time, I think it finally has found some decent competition and I believe “The Batman” surpasses it. With a sequel likely to follow, I, for one, am anxiously awaiting what Reeves will achieve next.

“The Batman” is in theaters now and will be released on HBO Max April 19, 2022.

Staff Reporter Zaden Dennis can be reached at [email protected] and you can find his other reviews at letterboxd.com/Zadenator

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