By Bradley Lane
Superheroes rule Hollywood. The biggest films released every year are comic book films, and for better or worse they aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. So the question then becomes, how will these films grow and evolve as the times change? The answer is by borrowing the aesthetics from other genres of film and applying them to the superhero framework. Jon Watts’ previous three Spider-Man films borrowed heavily from the teen dramas of legendary 80s director John Hughes and his era defining run of teen film like The Breakfast Club and Sixteen Candles. Similarly, 2022’s The Batman draws influence from the era of thrillers from the early 2000s, best described through the works of David Fincher like Se7en and Zodiac.
Like these films, the plot of The Batman concerns a series of violent murders revolving around a political conspiracy. But deeper, and what sets it apart most from previous incarnations of Batman films is how Bruce Wayne comes to grips with, not only his purpose for fighting, but the meaning of the Batman as a symbol to the people of Gotham. Of course Batman isn’t alone in this fight against the mysterious Riddler, various series staples like Catwoman, Commissioner Gordon and Alfred are all here and given new life thanks to great writing and stellar performances.
The real standout of the cast however is Robert Pattinson as Batman. Not only is the film focused on his growth just as much as the mystery at hand, but Pattinson is under a mask for a vast majority of the film, so he is forced to emote almost exclusively through his eyes. This gives way to jaw-dropping moments of performance that are just as technically impressive as they are emotionally moving. Pattinson’s portrayal of an orphaned billionaire is more emotionally stunted than any other version we might have seen before which seems to be more in line of a person who thinks the best allocation of their time and resources is to dress like a bat and punch criminals. The broken character of Bruce Wayne looking for healing, or at least a reckoning with his past, is a large part of what motivates him throughout the film’s three-hour runtime.
This lengthy duration might be a turnoff for others, but the film was well structed and paced quickly enough that it was never a problem for me. This, along with the film’s ultra-stylized, gritty visual language made every scene a standout moment. Despite the overwhelming praise I have for the film, upon reflection the ambitious storytelling does leave some moments in the third act feeling underdeveloped or rushed.
That being said, I would much rather a film take risks and come up short of perfection than play it safe and regurgitate the same film over and over again with a shiny coat of paint on top of it. The Batman is a breath of fresh air in an increasingly homogenized genre and an experience well worth the time. – 4/5 stars