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‘The Batman’ Review

‘Batman Begins,’ again.
March 4, 2022
‘The Batman’ Review
(Composite by Hannah Yoest / Photos: GettyImages / Shutterstock)

Plot points from The Batman are discussed in this review. Spoilers, etc.

Here’s the image that has stuck with me from The Batman.

Batman (Robert Pattinson) has scaled to the top of a skyscraper and jumps off of it to avoid capture, popping out little not-quite-wings like he’s a BASE-jumping flying squirrel. It’s a daring escape and he looks incredibly cool making it. As he’s gliding through the air he deploys a parachute in the hopes of landing smoothly onto a speeding vehicle but the parachute catches on a bridge and he jerks backward, then sideways, then slams into the street.

It’s an embarrassing gaffe by a Batman now in his second year on the job, one that makes him look kind of foolish. But then, director Matt Reeves seems to be suggesting, isn’t Batman, well, just kind of foolish? Isn’t this whole thing a little silly, this guy who calls himself “Vengeance” when he’s singlehandedly taking down a gang of punks? Doesn’t he need to be taken down a peg?

My issue with The Batman isn’t that it feels as though it’s a rehash of Batman Begins (it’s not quite a straightforward repeat, though it hits many of the same beats—right down to the hint at the end that a certain Clown Prince of Crime is showing up in the sequel—and has a similar obsession with subverting the Wayne family’s efforts to rebuild Gotham). And it’s not that it’s overly long (it is, although, to the film’s credit, I was rarely bored) or that it has three distinct endings (it does, but again, so did Batman Begins). It’s that The Batman sometimes feels slightly … I dunno, embarrassed to be a movie about The Batman.

Part of that embarrassment stems from the fact that there’s no way you’d get nine figures to make a socially conscious neo-noir, which is what The Batman wants to be. Have you ever hoped to hear Selina Kyle (Zoë Kravitz) lecture Bruce Wayne about white privilege while trying to solve a series of murders plotted by a too-online memer? Have I got a three-hour movie for you!

The murderer in question is the Riddler (Paul Dano), real name unclear, style tips from the Gimp in Pulp Fiction or Machine in 8mm slightly clearer. In the opening moments, he kills the city’s mayor. Additional targets include the police chief, the district attorney, and other members of the city’s elite. At each murder scene he leaves a little puzzle for Batman, causing Jim Gordon (Jeffrey Wright) to call the Caped Crusader in for his help.

Those who have been clamoring for a movie about the World’s Greatest Detective will find much to enjoy, though it’s not a really a whodunit so much as a whydunit, and Reeves takes his time unspooling the mystery. Given how languorous the film is, it’s still weirdly messy and feels like it’s missing scenes.

For instance: the thing about everyone sarcastically calling Batman “Mr. Vengeance.” It makes sense that a video of his self-declaration might go viral, as we see him beating up some kids prone to videotaping their knockout games. But we never actually see, say, the Penguin (Colin Farrell) being made aware of such a viral video. Without spoiling too much, this undermines the efforts made by Reeves and cowriter Peter Craig to comment upon the double-edged nature of using social media and terror as weapons with which to change the world for the better. The lapse is indicative of the film’s effort to offer up social commentary in the shallowest way possible, right in line with revealing nothing more about the city’s political savior (Bella Reál) than the fact that she’s young and African-American.

Pattinson is brooding and moody; one gets the sense that he would unironically quote the Fall Out Boy line “I’ll stop wearing black when they make a darker color” if he didn’t consider Fall Out Boy to be pop-infused sellouts who make music for tween girls. Dano plays the Riddler as if he’s channeling Heath Ledger’s Joker, all wild mood swings and vamping for the camera. This makes sense, since he’s more or less written to be Ledger’s Joker, with his terrifying selfie videos, his overly complicated plans, and his last-minute effort to destroy the soul of the city. Wright is stuck as Batman’s straight man, his Gordon often reduced to simply repeating what we’ve just seen onscreen in case we didn’t quite understand what we just saw.

Kravitz and Farrell are the standouts here. Kravitz’s Selina Kyle is lithe, dangerous, and smoldering; she plays the cat thief with an aggressively and unapologetically sexy gait. Farrell, meanwhile, delivers the funniest performance in the movie as the Penguin, his understated frustration shining through. And it should be noted that for a picture that I’ve seen described as humorless or unrelentingly grim or darkly emo, The Batman is often quite funny. (Then again, you should perhaps take this with a grain of salt, since I found both Christopher Nolan’s and Zack Snyder’s takes on the character to be leavened with a darkly comic sensibility.)

All in all, I don’t think The Batman works. But I’ll almost certainly buy a ticket to see it again in theaters next week at some point just to be sure. Perhaps my actions speak louder than my words. Which leads me to my parting riddle: Stated I mean little; revealed I mean more. What am I? The answer may give you better guidance as to whether or not you should see The Batman than the preceding review did.

Sonny Bunch

Sonny Bunch is the Culture Editor of The Bulwark. Before serving as editor-in-chief of the film site Rebeller, he was the executive editor of and film critic for The Washington Free Beacon. He is currently a contributor to The Washington Post and his work has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, National Review, Commentary Magazine, The Weekly Standard, and elsewhere. He is a member of the Washington Area Film Critics Association