“The Batman” really leans into the darker aspects of the Batman mythos to create a compelling narrative that explores Batman’s role as a vigilante. The film also avoids many of the pitfalls that plague superhero movies like repetitive origin stories or building to another sequel. The central narrative is compelling and returns to Batman’s roots as the world’s greatest detective as the caped crusader chases down clues left by the enigmatic Riddler (Paul Dano).
The film shows a young Batman (Robert Pattinson), early on in his career as a vigilante crime fighter. This version of Batman is still quite new to the game and displays more violent tendencies. At the start of the movie, Batman claims to be vengeance, and initially, he is viewed by others and most of the police as a violent vigilante. While this interpretation of Batman is noticeably darker, Batman thankfully does not go full anti-hero and kill his enemies. His moral code about crossing the line from vigilante to murderer is still present in this iteration. However, the main character arc of this Batman involves examining what it means to be a vengeful vigilante and whether Batman can be a hero if he only inspires fear.
“The Batman” starts off strong with a compelling narrative centered around Batman chasing down clues in pursuit of the serial killer known as the Riddler. The film starts out dark, as we see the Riddler kill his first victim and leave morbid clues for Batman to follow. This case leads Batman down a rabbit hole revealing deep corruption within Gotham that also connects to his parents’ murder. We all know Batman’s parents are dead, and while they are a central part of the Batman mythos, the film thankfully avoids portraying their death again. In fact, the movie assumes that you know who Batman is. It starts out with Batman already being established in Gotham City and he is already partnered with Jim Gordon, played by Jeffrey Wright. It doesn’t rehash his origin or try to connect Batman to a larger universe. It is self-contained and assumes that the audience might know a little about Batman, and the movie is better for it.
The film also uses dialogue sparingly and often uses its action sequences for character development. For example, when we first see Batman fight, he takes a few hits from some random thugs. This shows that he is still relatively new to being a vigilante, as well as showing Batman as more human and not an unkillable superhero. There is still plenty of superhero style action, but it is more grounded than your typical CGI fights. The fight scenes are gritty and realistic, rather than cartoonishly ridiculous or extremely one sided. Robert Pattinson does a great job physically embodying Batman, but also gives a uniquely emotional portrayal of Bruce Wayne.
The physical performance by Robert Pattinson is amazing, as he can portray a variety of emotions through his body language alone and even behind the cowl we can see elements of his more emotionally scarred take on Bruce Wayne. Pattinson’s performance as Batman is broody and dark; he really gives his all in portraying Bruce’s emotional trauma. While Pattinson makes for a great Batman, the moodiness also leaks into his portrayal of Bruce Wayne, who noticeably lacks the playboy attitude or facade that has been present in previous live action iterations like Christopher Nolan’s trilogy. In fact, the movie focuses very little on Bruce, although it dives deep into his emotions and motivations, it primarily depicts Pattinson as Batman. To be fair, this film’s darker tone does not leave a lot of room for a billionaire playboy.
Joining Pattinson’s Batman is Zoe Kravitz’s performance as Catwoman. Kravitz has great chemistry with Pattinson, and the legendary romance between the Cat and the Bat takes a central role in the film. Their relationship is initially fairly creepy, as Batman investigates her connection to a person of interest in the murders by the riddler. However, Selina serves as more than a love interest, this Catwoman has her own motivation and story arc involving avenging her dead friend and finding out who killed her mother. Her character arc connects to Batman’s struggle with his own past as he questions his impact on the city.
The central theme of the film involves Batman straddling the line between vengeance and justice. The film draws parallels between Batman and Riddler, as Riddler only kills those who took part in a large-scale conspiracy. This interpretation of the Riddler is noticeably darker, as it portrays him as a serial killer rather than some of the sillier versions of the character (I’m looking at you Jim Carrey). But the film stays true to Riddler’s obsession with Batman, leaving him clues that he wants Batman to figure out. However, the film gives their relationship a unique spin as it portrays Riddler as truly being obsessed with and partially inspired by Batman’s crusade on crime. This Riddler sees himself as another masked vigilante unmasking a corrupt city rotten to the core. As Batman comes closer to finding Riddler, he sees more connections between himself and Riddler that cause him to reexamine his effect on Gotham City if he inspires mad-men like Riddler.
“The Batman” is a surprisingly complex Batman movie that avoids rehashing well known elements of the Batman mythos in favor of creating a character driven murder mystery that examines his motivations and actions as a vigilante. Fans will find a lot to love about the film, but its three hour runtime might turn off more casual viewers. However, those who do see the movie will find a compelling narrative that really feels like a Batman story, not just a Batman movie.