Review: ‘The Batman’ (the longer Halloween)

Aren’t we due for a reconstruction of the superhero genre?

In his second year as “The Batman,” Bruce Wayne (Robert Pattinson) lurks in the seedy the underbelly of Gotham City, choosing his targets in an urban landscape overrun with crime… because he can’t be everywhere at once. Working with Jim Gordon (Jeffrey Wright), The Batman is brought in on a new crime scene perpetrated by a purposed and media-savvy criminal — The Riddler (Paul Dano) — targeting ineffective politicians and leaving clues to an ultimate goal. Selena Kyle (Zoë Kravitz) crossses the path of “The World’s Greatest Detective” looking for a missing woman holding a vital clue to the killer’s identity and endgame, but her true agenda isn’t clear. As clues pile up only second to fresh bodies, Bruce will have to search for answers in the one place he fears to look: in the mirror.

Batman has become James Bond for Warner Bros., rebooting every few years with a new bat-guy and all his bat-trappings. Between television programs, animated projects, and even the Joker getting his own movie, viewers can’t help but wonder why we need more Bat movies following the Christopher Nolan trilogy and Zack Snyder’s Martha-loving Batfleck. There’s only so many times audiences will endure a broken strand of pearls bouncing off the wet pavement following two gunshots in an alley, so what more can director Matt Reeves do with Team Edward (ripping that bloody bandage off) that’s left to be done with The Dark Knight?

The Batman begins where the most recent Bat films end up — “I am the night! I am vengeance!” — pushing Bruce over the edge. In contrast, Pattinson’s Wayne is already there, brooding over the chasm with only Alfred Pennyworth (Andy Serkis) holding him back. In the same way it’s said “locks keep honest people honest,” fear only works on the fearful, and Batman doesn’t have the market cornered on eccentricities. Comics fans know much of the groundwork here is in line with Batman: Year One and Batman: The Long Halloween, showcasing Gotham’s changeover from mob bosses to costumed criminals. With a sweeping soundtrack, actual detective work, and a surprising turn by a capable Pattinson leading a great cast, this Caped Crusader is learning to be better than he was yesterday in a city losing hope.

Considering the cast of characters, one can’t shake the feeling of watching Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises — arguably the weakest and most bloated of the trilogy — and thought, “We can do better than this, can’t we?” All the same elements are in play, and yet even the quiet moments feel like something is happening. At nearly three hours including credits (and a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it post-credit beat), it doesn’t quite earn all of its runtime, but once the first half is in the bag, the second half flies by. Make no mistake: The Batman is a product of what has come before, and it claims its own territory as a direct result… something even the least-cynical Bat-fans didn’t expect. In the supporting cast, John Turturro takes an Uncut Gems turn as Carmine Falcone while Colin Farrell does a House of Gucci turn as Oswald “The Penguin” Cobblepot.

Speaking of James Bond, there’s a significant reduction in gadgetry for this Batman similar to Daniel Craig’s turn as 007. The new Batmobile is the most practical and believable version to date, designed for pursuit rather than military assault, and the 2022 Batman doesn’t rely upon Alfred or Morgan Freeman’s Lucius Fox for equipment. While the Nolan trilogy and particularly The Dark Knight set the bar for what Batman could be, it also embraced a significant truth: being whatever Gotham needs. In a post-COVID world with autocrats invading free countries, it’s time for shelving vengeance as the Defender of Gotham steps into the light.

The Batman is rated PG-13 for strong violent and disturbing content, drug content, strong language, some suggestive material, and still spying on women before sneaking in through open windows.

Four skull recommendation out of four

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