When the Riddler, a sadistic serial killer, begins murdering key political figures in Gotham, Batman is forced to investigate the city’s hidden corruption and question his family’s involvement. (from IMDB)
With Batman still being one of the biggest and most popular superheroes of all time, it’s really no surprise that Warner Bros. and DC continue to recast the character and bring new Dark Knight stories to the big screen. We last saw Batman in cinemas in 2017’s disappointing Justice League, played by Ben Affleck, with a sort of reprise of that performance in the re-cut 2021 release of Zack Snyder’s Justice League. The latest actor to don the cape and cowl is Twilight‘s Robert Pattinson, an actor who launched his career as a teen vampire heartthrob and has gone on to rebrand himself as an actor to be taken seriously (much like Leonardo DiCaprio). The casting announcement of Pattinson as The Dark Knight seemed ludicrous, and brought a mix of cheers and jeers from fans — much like pretty much any casting of the character has received since comedian Michael Keaton took over the mantle in the late 80’s. In The Batman, everything has been given an update – from Batman’s suit and the Batcave to Alfred, Gordon and Catwoman, and of course the iconic Batmobile. Composer Michael Giacchino even steps in as a first-time composer for the character (and does an excellent job). The end result is a much different kind of cinematic take on Batman, but with enough familiairity to still feel right.
From the start, The Batman is a grim, dark and eerie film. The violence is sometimes grisly, but seldom explicit, but this movie takes itself very seriously. While Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, which featured Christian Bale as the titular hero, was often dark in nature, director Matt Reeves proves with The Batman that the character can actually go much darker. I remember sitting in the theater and being unsettled by just how edgy and chaotic 2008’s The Dark Knight was. The Batman tries to bottle that feel and disperse it evenly throughout its near-3-hour runtime, with the film’s visual palette being dark and dim to match the heaviness of the tone and story. Revisiting 2005’s Batman Begins after watching The Batman, and before writing this review, was eye-opening in just how different these takes on the character are. Nolan leaned into the dark elements, but he wasn’t afraid to let some humor in and lighten the visuals. Begins is a far brighter production visually, and he anchored the story with depth and feeling. While The Batman may elicit a couple light chuckles during the movie, it’s almost completely devoid of heart. One scene that tries to inject some heart and emotion ends up feeling somewhat forced. But this lack of emotional weight is definitely felt. The movie makes an impression with its tone and memorable performances, but it leaves you with a disconnect from Pattinson’s Batman. Pattinson plays Bruce Wayne and his Batman almost exactly the same, with little distinction between the two, and it makes it all that more difficult to relate to his Bruce. I have to wonder how those without any previous knowledge or history of the character would respond to this Bruce Wayne. He isn’t charming, he isn’t emotional; he almost conducts himself in a constant state of tense anger and self-isolation. He barely even has a relationship with his family butler, Alfred.
Don’t get me wrong; Matt Reeves’ The Batman is actually a very well-crafted crime thriller. From the opening narration from Batman to the slowly revealed mystery that unfolds throughout the movie, there’s a distinct “film noir” feel here. If you ever loved the old mysteries of classic cinema, you’ll more than likely eat up what Reeves has served here. Batman has certainly had his chances to demonstrate his detective skills in previous movies, but The Batman goes all-in on this part of Batman’s persona. The plot aims to earn Batman his title as “World’s Greatest Detective,” as The Riddler’s clues and killing spree leave Batman with a murder mystery crafted for those who love a good mystery. While we know from the first scene who is behind the twisted events of the story, we don’t what he has planned or why, and Reeves makes it a fun and surprising puzzle to watch fall into place. Pattinson is best in the Batman suit, and the movie spends copious amounts of time with Bruce suited up; you won’t feel cheated with not enough Batman screentime. While Nolan’s trilogy focused a lot on Bruce and his personal story, Reeves’ first entry with Pattinson seems to be more about Batman than Bruce (although the two identities are a bit inseparable, I suppose). The cast surrounding Pattinson is also strong, especially Jeffrey Wright as Lt. Gordon, John Turturro as Carmine Falcone, and Colin Farrell in a surprising (and unrecognizable) performance as the Penguin. Paul Dano is perfectly creepy and disturbing as the insane Riddler, to the point where he basically feels like The Joker here. The relationship he has with Batman feels a lot like the kind they had in The Dark Knight, with even some similar action playing out because of it (the more I think about it, the more the similarities become evident). I wouldn’t go so far as to call this movie a remake of The Dark Knight, but it definitely chases that dynamic and level of unpredictable craziness and takes it to the next level. Andy Serkis makes a pretty good Alfred (although who can beat Michael Caine’s outing?), but his limited screentime left me wanting to see more from him. Finally, Zoë Kravitz is okay as Selina Kyle / Catwoman, but I have to admit I’m not crazy about how she plays the character. Still, she and Batman have some good moments in the movie, and she seems to fit the universe Reeves has created here. (Can we all agree, though, that the mask she wears is pretty silly and a little too revealing for her face? But I suppose one could make that argument for Batman’s mouth and chin…)
The content for The Batman really pushes the PG-13 rating. I can’t imagine kids watching this movie. It’s dark, scary, and brutal at times. In the opening sequence, a man is bludgeoned to death with a metal tool and we see it lying on the floor covered in blood. Reeves does a very, very good job of showing some of the most disturbing violence out of focus, in the background, or just off screen a bit, which also makes it unsettling because it leaves enough up to the imagination. When this victim is found, his face is completely covered in duct tape and he’s said to have had a finger removed, but we don’t see the graphic wound clearly. Later, the severed digit is found, but the camera doesn’t focus on it, and it’s shown also somewhat out of focus and in dim lighting. Later, a person is said to have had their face chewed off by rats, but we do not see it, as we only see characters reacting to what we do not see. A photo of it is then shown to another character, but details in that moment are hard to make out (if any are visible). A couple scenes feature people receiving repeated blows to the head or face, but the camera focuses on the attacker, not the victim, and the wound is never focused on. Still, some blood is seen, whether splattered on nearby objects or people, or on a victim’s face, but it’s usually not over-the-top. Still, it’s grim violence that is no less intense and definitely something to be wary of when young viewers are considered. Language is the next offender, with 1 “F” word from a police officer, and almost 20 uses of the “S” word. There’s also an offensive amount of blasphemy in the movie that really dragged my overall impression of the movie down for me. At least 15 uses of Jesus’ name were used as profanity, as well as 1 with “Chr-st,” and a few separate uses of just “Chr-st.” There were also around 15 uses of “g*dd*mn,” 7 of “S.O.B,” and almost 20 uses of “h*ll.” It’s unfortunate that the studio and filmmakers know younger audiences will see this just because it’s Batman, yet still include lots of salty language (I mean, c’mon, they even chose to go for a PG-13 rating in an age where an R-rated version of The Joker was a huge hit). For sexual content, there isn’t really anything apart from learning that a government official had a girlfriend on the side from his family, and we briefly see Selina in a tight, form-fitting tanktop (that shows the shape of her nipples).
While the longer runtime does allow for ample character development and for scenes to breathe and the tension to mount, the movie still feels too long. A few scenes and moments do seem a bit superfluous (like a motorcycle scene near the end of the movie, for example), so I can’t help but feel like a little trimming here and there could have alleviated this some. Still, I have to give the filmmaking team props for cutting the movie in a way that it doesn’t feel rushed and remains engaging from start to finish.
As a film noir murder mystery, The Batman is a great blast-from-the-past. As a superhero movie for the family – this isn’t one. It’s dark, grim, grisly and profane. It’s a Batman movie for adults that just happens to be rated PG-13. Diehard fans of the Caped Crusader will probably love this entry–because it’s still a well-directed, well-acted movie. But The Batman lacks the heart and emotional connection of previous entries. Is it better than Christopher Nolan’s trilogy? Probably not, but compared to all previous big screen iterations of the Dark Knight, The Batman probably (surprisingly) falls next in line.
By the way, if you’re wondering about post-credits scenes, there aren’t any. There is just a minor second-long visual and textual callback to the Riddler, but it’s more of a fun Easter egg than anything important or pertaining to the future of the franchise.
– John DiBiase (reviewed: 3/4/22)
4K UHD Special Features Review
The Batman is out now in 4K, Blu-Ray, DVD and through digital retailers. The Blu-Ray special features, and iTunes digital copy, include the following:
The Batman in 4K UHD – I did end up seeing The Batman twice in theaters. I think it’s a solid Batman movie, and a great noir throwback, but the frequent profanity/blasphemy and excessively dark tone do hinder my enjoyment of it. I think it could have definitely been cut back on the runtime, too, and had a stronger finale. But Pattinson does make for a great Batman (albeit a lackluster Bruce Wayne), and Colin Farrell’s transformative portrayal of the Penguin is worth watching this movie for alone. I’m interested in seeing further installments of this version of Batman, but I’m worried it may go even darker or push the social politics into even crazier directions for the sake of being edgy. I guess we shall see.
As for the 4K UHD transfer, it’s good. The movie is visually so, SO dark, though — which makes me think of SOLO: A Star Wars Story — to the point that it makes it tough to really appreciate the 4K clarity. However, the clarity IS still there in many scenes. There’s some great contrast in the color, and the red/orange soaked scenes really pop, but there’s also some really noticeable grain in scenes like the epic Batmobile chase. Overall, I’d say it’s a good 4K transfer, but I wouldn’t ever consider it to be a great visual example of the best of the format.
This set boasts over 2 hours of extras on the Blu-Ray disc and the iTunes digital copy. Looking for Vengeance (4:58) features Robert Pattinson talking about how Bruce wants to recreate the night his parents died when he fights his foes. And he wants to dish out his idea of what vengeance is. This featurette also talks about how Alfred taught Bruce to fight and an idea had been kicked around in the film’s early stages that would’ve shown that Alfred and Bruce would spar regularly. The segment covers stunt coordination and offers some great rehearsal footage. They also talk about the uniqueness of this Batman’s fighting style.
The Batman: Genesis (6:09) – Director Matt Reeves was approached about this project around 2017 while he was in post-production on War for Planet of the Apes. We see some cool test footage and screen tests for the main cast, which gives us some insight into how the casting came together. When writing the story, Reeves did a deep dive into the Batman comics to really get a handle on the character. He ended up comparing Batman to Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain and likened Bruce Wayne to a rockstar of Gotham. He closes the segment sharing a story of when he first heard Michael Giacchino’s Batman theme, which was fun to hear.
Vengeance Meets Justice (8:05) is dedicated to the clash between Paul Dano’s Riddler and Batman. Dano talks about Riddler’s thirst for justice, his character’s childhood trauma and him being fed up with the corruption in Gotham and wanting to do something about it. (1 “h*ll,” 1 “S” word, 1 “J-sus,” 1 “g*dd*mn”)
Becoming Catwoman (8:37) is about Zoe Kravitz’s Selina Kyle and her rise to being Catwoman. We see a chemistry read between Zoe and Robert, and learn that the two had been friends already for years. The filmmakers loved the idea of Zoe for Selina because they felt she already looked like the Catwoman from the “Batman: Year One” comics to them. They also cover her fight training, her character’s humble beginnings, and the design of Selina’s apartment. (2 “h*ll”)
The Batmobile (10:51) is a comprehensive look at the creation of the latest iteration of the beloved Batmobile. Personally, I was underwhelmed when I first saw a photo of this Batmobile, but I really loved its on-screen presence in The Batman. And after the mediocre vehicle used in the Zack Snyder movies, it was nice to see something really fierce for Batman again. To craft this new Batmobile, they built it from scratch and designed it to be strong–like a battering ram. They even painted it to look used and battle-worn. They actually built 4 different cars to be used for different jobs. (1 “Oh my G-d”)
Anatomy of the Car Chase (6:09) – This segment gives us a look into how they pulled off the Penguin / Batmobile car chase. We learn that they enlisted an ex-British Rally Champion to do the stunt driving for the movie. They tried to design the chase realistically with realistic traffic on the roads, and filmed some of it using rigs and screens with digital effects allowing for full flexibility.
Anatomy of the Wingsuit Jump (6:29) – For the wingsuit jump, the crew had to figure out how it would work in a realistic way and so they designed it to be part of his cape. They ended up using a drone and some real footage and rigs with 360-degree screens around the actor and stuntmen! (2 “Oh my G-d”)
Vengeance in the Making (53:40) – This is a pretty extensive and beefy near-hour-long feature about the making of the film and the challenges they faced once COVID hit. We see costume tests for Batman and Catwoman in January 2020 as they talk about trying to do something different and distinctive with this movie. We see the first days of shooting and hear about how they wanted to go full-on into a noir style and focus on Batman’s detective origins in “Detective Comics.” The focus then shifts to the Riddler as we see lots of great behind-the-scenes footage. We’re given a detailed look at the scene where the car crashes through the funeral crowd before they shift the focus to having to shut down production for 6 months during COVID. When shooting resumed, they moved to Liverpool and the filmmakers talk about casting Falcone and the Penguin. They created their version of Gotham Square in Liverpool and dressed the set for Halloween. Reeves shares that the production should have taken 5 months, but it took a year and a half. (2 “d*mn,” 1 “Oh my G-d,” 2 profanity bleeps, 3 “h*ll”)
Unpacking the Icons (5:47) is all about the costumes and gear in The Batman. Their goal was to ground these characters in reality and make them believable, so they quickly outline Batman’s tactical suit and “drifter” outfit. For the Riddler, they talk about how they designed it with the idea that he could have bought any of it at a nearby store. They also show us the ledger (book) prop that had been written by hand by an artist. For Catwoman, they focus on her whip, which is made out of a contemporary bike lock, and they talk about how she’s not really quite “Catwoman” yet in this movie. Finally, for the Penguin, they went for 40s and 80s suit attributes for his attire and also show some of his jewelry up close in detail.
A Transformation: The Penguin (7:59) shows us how Colin Farrell was transformed into Oz, AKA The Penguin. It’s absolutely incredible the transformation Colin underwent to become Oz. We see the prosthetics being applied and hear from the art designers who designed his look and makeup. Colin shares about how instrumental the makeup was in bringing out his acting, and get a peek at some of the first times he acted as the character after putting the makeup on. (There are a few bleeped out cuss words from Colin here)
Deleted Scenes (7:47) – There are 2 deleted scenes with a Play All option and optional commentary from director Matt Reeves. The first one, “Scene 52 Joker / Arkham” (5:54) was a full scene cut out of the movie that takes place after they find the man whose face had been eaten by rats. Batman goes to Arkham and asks the Joker for his input on what kind of foe he’s dealing with. Here, the Joker – who is in jail after an unseen previous encounter with Batman – is played over-the-top and “squeaky” by Barry Keoghan. I really don’t care for his performance here or Matt Reeves’ interpretation of the character, but Reeves says in the commentary that this Joker is deformed because of a disease he has, and it’s before he eventually becomes the character known as the Joker. I can’t say I’m a fan of Keoghan as an actor (Eternals didn’t help), so that may have something to do with my feelings on this scene, but I really just didn’t care for this scene at all; it’s definitely good that Reeves cut it out. (1 “h*ll”) The only other deleted scene, “Scene 56 Selina Gets 44 Below Keycard” (1:53), is a good exchange between Selina and Oz. I actually liked this scene.
– John DiBiase, (reviewed: 5/24/22)
Parental Guide: Content Summary
Sex/Nudity: We learn that a government official was seen with a woman that wasn’t his wife; Bruce watches Selina with binoculars as she changes into her Catwoman outfit. We briefly see her in her panties and a form-fitting tanktop that shows the outline of her nipples.
Vulgarity/Language: A mostly accurate, semi-rough estimate – 1 “F” word, 16 “S” words, 18 “h*ll,” 15 “J-sus,” 1 “J-sus Chr-st,” 14 “g*dd*mn,” 2 “a**h-le,” 2 “a” words, 2 “Chr-st,” 3 “G-d,” 7 “S.O.B.,” 1 “d*mn,” 1 “pr*ck,” 1 “b*stard,” 1 “fr*ggen”
Alcohol/Drugs: There’s an illegal drug that is taken via the eyes with eye drops, and we see some people taking them. We also see people drinking in clubs; Batman stumbles upon a few strung-out people that apparently take the drops.
Blood/Gore: A man hits another man repeatedly over the head with a metal tool. We then see it fly across the floor into the foreground with blood on it. The killer retrieves the tool and we see that it left a bloodstain on the floor; The police find the body with its thumb cut off and missing, but we don’t see the wound in great detail. We do see blood on the top of the man’s head, but not the wound from the beating. We then see the aforementioned bloodstain on the floor, as well as a child’s bloody footprint; A severed thumb is found and it’s held up for another character to see. It appears out of focus the two times we see the severed finger; A man is attacked while in his car and hit repeatedly (shown out of focus), there’s some blood visible from the attack; We see scars on Bruce Wayne’s back when he removes his shirt; We see blood dried on a man’s head and face as he stands with a bomb strapped to his neck; We hear that a man’s face was eaten off by rats, but we don’t see it. Gordon and Batman go to the morgue to look at the body, and we only see their disgusted reaction to it. The body is shown very briefly out of focus in the background at one point, but we don’t see any detail. Later, Gordon interrogates a thug and shows a photograph of this to him, but we don’t seem to see detail in the photograph; A dead person is found in a duffle bag with their eyes wide open and some blood on their mouth; A woman scrapes a man’s face with her long fingernails and we see some blood; A man is shot from a distance and killed. We see some blood splattered on his face, but not the wound; Batman repeatedly punches a man in the face off screen, but we don’t see the direct impact. He then removes the man’s mask and we see his face is reddened and his nose appears broken and his mouth beaten (but he’s alive); Batman shoots his grappling gun at a thug and we see the grapple go through the man’s clothed leg and he’s then hung by it. (It’s not bloody, though, and very brief); A woman is shot and we see a little blood as she holds her hand over the wound; We see an older man in a hospital bed with bloody scrapes on his face.
Violence: Some SPOILERS ahead … We see a kid pretend to stab and kill a man, but he gets back up and hugs his son. He was just playing with his son as he’s dressed up for Halloween. (Some might not realize it’s fake at first.); A man knocks out a man by hitting him on the head, then he proceeds to hit him on the head repeatedly with a metal tool, killing him. (We see this out of focus). The police find the body with duct tape wrapped around his face and his hand missing a thumb (we don’t see it in explicit detail.); A man is attacked while in his car and hit repeatedly (shown out of focus), there’s some blood visible from the attack. The attacker then makes them hold still as a device is strapped on him (we don’t see what that is); A car crashes through a church during a funeral, nearly hitting a bunch of people; A man gets out of the car with duct tape on his head and arm. A bomb is strapped to his neck; A bomb explodes, throwing Batman backwards, knocking him out; Batman fights some police that want to unmask him; Batman punches a man in the face to escape custody; Batman fights a group of thugs in a subway who are threatening a man. He defeats them all in a brutal fistfight; A bomb goes off, throwing a man backwards. We later see the damage caused by it and learn the victim was hospitalized; During a car chase, fire engulfs a vehicle, but we see it emerge from the flames. A car crashes and flips multiple times, but the driver survives; A woman scrapes a man’s face with her long fingernails and we see some blood; A man holds a woman down on the floor and tries to choke her with a pool cue (someone stops him); A man is shot from a distance and killed. We see some blood splattered on his face, but not the wound; We hear a disturbing recording of a woman arguing with a man and then being killed, most likely by strangling. We hear this once again during a news report that plays it; We see phone camera video of Riddler with a man whose head is locked inside a cage with a couple rabid rats. He frantically writhes as the Riddler taunts. We later learn the man’s face was eaten off by rats, but we don’t see it. Gordon and Batman go to the morgue to look at the body, and we only see their disgusted reaction to it. The body is shown very briefly out of focus in the background at one point, but we don’t see any detail. Later, Gordon interrogates a thug and shows a photograph of this to him, but we don’t seem to see detail in the photograph; Several vehicles explode, causing damage around them; Waters flood parts of the city, causing mass panic; A person is arrested and their head is slammed down onto a counter as they’re handcuffed; A stadium is filled with people taking refuge from the flood. A person is shot; We see a group of masked people with guns taking shots into the crowd. Batman attacks them and they shoot him as they fight back. He punches and hits them too as he tries to disarm them. Batman is shot close-range with a shotgun; A woman is hit and attacked by a thug. Batman injects himself with a syringe; We see Batman repeatedly hitting and punching a man in the face (the victim is just off screen) before he’s forced to stop. We then see the man’s beaten face; and other action / comic-book-style violence.