Batman is a hugely popular, enduring character, from his early days as a comic book character (debuting in May of 1939) to his appearance on the campy Sixties television series starring Adam West, to his transition to the modern big screen in Tim Burton’s stylish classic Batman, starring Michael Keaton (1989).
What followed, in the same campy vein, were a short series of sequels starring Val Kilmer and George Clooney. And then came Christian Bale in Christopher Nolan’s definitive, dark trilogy that seemed untoppable in terms of seriousness, style and scope.
Audiences couldn’t seem to get enough of Batman. Will Arnett provided his voice in the Lego Movies. Ben Affleck portrayed him as an ensemble character in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) and Justice League (2017). He made a brief appearance in 2016’s Suicide Squad.
Even Batman villains found success being reinterpreted in their own, stand-alone movies as Joker (2019) proved.
There seems to be no end to Batman’s multigenerational appeal and his ability to successfully endure repeated reinterpretation over the years.
Case in point is The Batman (2022) starring Robert Pattinson, an electrifying addition to the Batman saga. It is a dark reimagining of the Batman story, dark both literally and figuratively. Deliciously dark.
While the Batman movies made a stylistic jump from comic book camp to graphic novel grit when Christopher Nolan took the reins, it still retained a visual slickness reminiscent of the Batman movies that went before. The eye candy element was still there.
Director Matt Reeves took a much different direction for The Batman, making it dark in both thematic terms and visual terms.
It is bold and edgy, pushing the envelope in a direction much like what we saw in the recent Joker movie. It is a grungier world of darkness, noticeably more disturbing than the Batman movies of the past.
It is a world of night and shadows and dreary, seemingly endless rain, akin to the depressing atmosphere Ridley Scott brilliantly created in Bladerunner (1982).
It’s a different world populated by different characters than the ones we’ve seen in the past. Robert Pattinson’s Batman is a lonely, troubled soul on an endless self-imposed mission to fight crime and make the world a better place. He senses he can never win.
Crime and corruption are everywhere in the world of The Batman. Nothing is what it seems. No one can be trusted.
The movie’s darkness extends deep into the souls of Gotham’s most respected politicians and police officials. The deeper you dig, the darker it gets, which makes The Batman more of a detective crime story than a superhero flick. It goes all in for classic film noire.
At the center of it all is a freshly revamped Riddler played by Paul Dano. He is more of a creepy, sadistic serial killer than the humorously deranged character we knew and loved.
Colin Farrell is The Penguin, not the clownish squawking, bird-man of the past, but a repulsive, underworld crime boss right out of a gangster movie.
Zoe Kravitz is Selina Kyle/Catwoman an attractive woman working as a sexy waitress in a crime infested nightclub when she’s not stalking the streets on her own mission to rid the world of evil.
In short, The Batman redefines the basic storyline and reimagines everyone in it. It’s refreshing. It’s entertaining. It’s brilliant.
What remains intact with the earlier movies is the offering of well-staged fight sequences and car chases. There are lots of motorcycle stunts.
The visuals are dazzling and intoxicating. Look for Oscar nominations for art direction and cinematography next year.
Other nominations might include director, screenplay, and editing.
The Batman is a powerhouse of a film. Its only sin might be that of self-indulgence. Like many films these days, it runs a little long, just shy of three hours. It works. But it might work even better with about 15 minutes trimmed out.
I have to admit that I was pleasantly surprised taking into consideration my misgivings about the casting of Robert Pattinson in the leading role. He makes it happen, on his own terms.
Curiously he bears a strong facial resemblance to Ben Affleck when he appears in costume, and I have to admit that Ben Affleck, despite all the criticism, really looked the part when he donned the bat suit.
While the trailers looked like a lot of flash and trash, the movie rolls out an intriguing story that is powerfully engaging and non-stop entertaining.
I think it’s fair to say that the ending, like much of the movie, is not what you expect. This Batman refuses to abide by the rules, right up to the end.
Yes, there is some setup at the end for a sequel. Batman’s other nemeses are always lurking in the shadows. For the record, shine the bat signal when the next installment is ready for release. I’m happy to pre-order my ticket right now.
The Batman is in theaters now.