The Batman (2022, Matt Reeves)

The first rule of the The Batman is the most interesting thing about Batman is Batman, so new Batman Robert Pattinson spends his time in the costume, with only a handful of scenes moping around as Bruce Wayne. The second rule of The Batman is “show, don’t tell,” which is strange since the third is “tell, don’t show.” But it works out; because Pattinson’s spellbinding in the costume. Pattinson’s biggest scene opposite supervillain Paul Dano—who’s also great, though not in his costume, a DIY number made out of green garbage bags apparently—is just eyes.

Heck, Pattinson doesn’t even do the Batman lip work. Back in the Forever days, some interviewer asked Nicole Kidman about Michael Keaton (who she wasn’t in a Batman with) and Val Kilmer (who she was in a Batman with), and she said the important thing is the lips.

Pattison and Reeves don’t worry about the lips. Pattinson does more with his jaw than the lips. Whatever else, The Batman’s an exemplar of person-in-mask acting.

For the story and tone, director Reeves and co-screenwriter Peter Craig pick and choose from the decades of comics, movies, video games, and seemingly Darren Aronofsky’s old Batman: Year One proposal. The ground situation is where the show, don’t tell, comes in; Pattinson’s been masked vigilanting for a couple years, long enough to become best friends with police lieutenant James Gordon (Jeffrey Wright). Wright brings Pattinson, in costume, to official crime scenes where a bunch of dude cops make fun of Pattinson, and then Pattinson finds some clue they’d all missed.

The Batman’s got a boy problem. None of the cops are women, and they’re all at least jerks, though we’ll find out a vast majority of them are murderously corrupt (Reeves and Craig rush through that story arc). But Pattinson’s Batman is another “this is my father’s house” Batman. Not only doesn’t he care about Martha, but she’s also a de facto Eve, whose personal failings led Papa Wayne to dishonor. Despite being a subplot, the parents aren’t significant, especially not after fellow orphan Dano’s soapboxing about what it must be like to be a billionaire orphan.

The movie’s A-plot is Riddler Dano, a TikTok serial killer terrorizing Gotham’s elite. Batman’s been on the job a couple of years and hasn’t done anything about them eating Gotham’s wealth and spirit, so Dano will have to do it. Reeves and Craig make some excellent observations about Batman and his resulting rogues, leaning in on the idea of anonymous power. They don’t end up amounting to anything because The Batman needs a disaster movie finale, but the groundwork’s solid, and Dano’s monologuing is fantastic.

There’s lots of great acting in The Batman. Dano and Wright without masks, Pattinson with, and then the unrecognizable Colin Farrell in prosthetics, showing off the potential for actors acting as someone else. The rest of the acting’s at least good. John Turturro as a mob boss, Andy Serkis as an utterly pointless Alfred, and, of course, Zoë Kravitz as Catwoman.

Kravitz figures into the A-plot through Farrell and Turturro; Farrell owns a club where the mob and the corrupt politicians play, Kravitz works there. When Pattinson goes to interrogate Farrell, he sees Kravitz and follows her for investigatory purposes. Pretty soon, they’re fighting bad guys together and getting horizontal under the proverbial mistletoe. They gaze at each other with common sympathy and bridled lust, which always comes with composer Michael Giacchino’s gentle but passionate love theme. Even with their finale sequence’s oddly bland visuals and Kravitz disappearing too long so Pattinson and Dano can play, The Batman does an excellent job with the romance.

When Kravitz isn’t runaway strutting past gross white guys at Farrell’s club, she’s mooning at Pattinson for one reason or another. She doesn’t get much of a story to herself. She’s got a missing friend, but it soon becomes part of Pattinson’s investigation, and her relationship with the mob bosses also ends up being for the big arcs. It’s okay; no one else gets much to themselves either. Mask-off, Pattinson’s a teensy-weensy arc about being ungrateful to Serkis. It won’t matter because Serkis is either shoehorned in or edited out. Not like a three-hour Batman needed more.

But the film also doesn’t explain Pattinson and Wright’s relationship; for the most part, Wright’s a true blue copper, only he knows most of his fellow officers are on the take, so he can only trust Batman. Does it matter? Yes and no. Or, yes, but Reeves, Pattinson, and Wright make you forget about it.

The big mystery’s okay. Dano leaves riddles at each scene, which Pattison usually figures out immediately until suddenly, he doesn’t, so there can be the disaster movie finish. It’s about the performances, the interactions, the mood. Pattison, Reeves, composer Giacchino, cinematographer Greig Fraser, and production designer James Chinlund create a mesmerizing film. Reeves cracks how to do a grim and gritty Batman in broad daylight, in crowds, and so on. The filmmaking’s never remarkable, but it’s never not consistent, confident, compelling. However, William Hoy and Tyler Nelson’s editing is closer to exceptional than not. Chinlund’s Gotham City is modern, Gothic, and humid, a dream turned nightmare.

If only Reeves and Craig hadn’t strung together two movies’ worth of A-plot (cutting the character development for time) to get it done.

But The Batman—thanks to Reeves and Pattinson (with help from Kravitz, Wright, Dano, Farrell, and the crew)—is the most special and successful this franchise has felt in numerous decades.