As a boy, Batman was always my favorite superhero, hands down. I don't know what it was that has always drawn me to the Dark Knight over other superheros, but whatever it was, Matt Reeves apparently got his hands on the mother-load and mainlined it into the vascular system of his latest film, The Batman. First off, let me just say that this is not a kid's movie. There are F-Bombs, all kinds of other inappropriate language, frightening scenes, intense violence at times, and some sexual content surrounding corrupt politicians and young women who are not their wives. I will point out that this movie is not gratuitous, as all of this is central to the plot, yet it is still inappropriate for children in this dad's opinion.
I'm not going to beat around the bush. It's hard to say definitively, but this very well could be the coolest film I've ever seen. I am certain that many will disagree, but I truly felt that the cinematography was as mind-blowingly innovative as that of The Matrix. This film somehow managed to pull of the full, unadulterated cool factor of the Matrix without seeming the least bit pretentious. It pulled off a gritty film noir feel without feeling over-dramatic or contrived. This film took all of the right ingredients and knew exactly how much to add. It was somehow fantastical, romantic, surreal, and epic while at the same time, surprisingly humble and grounded.
I think a major contributor to that was the incredible cinematography. The first person-shooter style camera work, laced with stunning hero shots, at times seemed more like moving comic book frames than any sort of traditional movie scene. It somehow elicited the feeling of watching a comic book in virtual reality, or falling headlong into a video game.
The rest of this review will contain SPOILERS!!! If you have not yet seen The Batman, stop reading this right now and check your local movie times! SPOILERS AHEAD!!! Seriously, this is your last chance to avoid SPOILERS!
The acting in The Batman was exceptional. The portrayal of Batman as a detective grounds the Caped Crusader, and brings back so much of the hero's appeal that has been overshadowed for far too long by over the top villains and high tech gadgetry. Pattinson's Batman was the absolutely unstoppable force we all wanted to see, and Catwoman's effortlessly sexy anti-hero, the ever-on-the-verge-of-tears lonely girl who can take care of herself, but doesn't necessarily want to, was straight out of a graphic novel in the best way possible. The dynamic between the two was so satisfying, and felt absolutely right. Pattinson and Kravitz nailed it, and their chemistry was insane, from the kiss that came at the absolutely perfect moment, to the kiss that didn't come—also at just the right time—to the motorcycle ride out of the cemetery before each turning down their own path—everything about this was done very right.
The wardrobe, hair, and makeup styling was refreshing and inspiring—Selena Kyle's styling in particular. The visuals throughout were incredible, and delivered some of the most iconic moments I've ever seen on a big screen. This was a world I wanted to live in. The feel was moody and gritty and surreal, yet somehow tethered so firmly to reality. This iteration of Gotham City was absolutely stunning to look at, from start to finish. The only time I can think of feeling anything similar to this was watching The Matrix for the first time, and this film did more for me than that, and then some.
There are too many moments to highlight, but I'll hit the big ones. The absolutely coolest ones for me revolved around the Penguin/Batman car chase. When we first saw the orange and blue light glowing in the shadow, and the roar of an engine, I became a little boy again. The bat mobile lit up orange under the hood and blue from the jet engine mounted on its back, and I lost it. This absolute beast of a machine growled from the shadows, breathing fire like a dragon awakening from a deep slumber and planning on vengeance for breakfast.
The chase that ensued was chaotic, beautiful, and aggressive. Colin Ferrel's compelling portrayal of Penguin made this scene so much fun. His frustration, anger, and ultimately his gripping fear of his pursuer propelled this scene into the most iconic shot of the entire film: Penguin lying trapped, upside down in his flipped car as The Batman slowly exits the bat mobile and begins walking toward him, upside down from Penguin's perspective, an inferno behind him. Penguin had created that inferno himself, in hopes of killing the Batman, but the Batman not only survived, but emerged out of the air, unscathed, and absolutely destroyed the Penguin, flipping his car over and over again—we're treated to a backseat perspective of these destructive revolutions—and now all the Penguin can do is lie there and watch the shadow of vengeance march toward him, backlit by the blazing fire that—to the Penguin—rose downward as a blinding symbol of his own utter futility, burning as a backlight to the indestructible force that is The Batman.
Michael Giacchino's score was phenomenal, and refreshing. While is was just as intense as you'd expect it to be, it was surprisingly hopeful and romantic, lending an optimism to The Batman that I've never felt in a Batman movie before. This was not the ode to a God-forsaken cesspool that you might expect to accompany your journey through Gotham City. This was an ode to the hand reaching down into that cesspool and hoisting out anyone he can. This was an ode to the orphaned boy who still believes he may be loved by someone. This was an ode to the lost girl, who is surprised to have suddenly stumbled upon the way back home. Don't worry, it's manacing and quirky and eerie in all the right places, but it is also beautiful and hopeful and sweet where you might not expect it.
The songs featured throughout the film added even more depth. The film opens on a throwback text displaying the words "The Batman", and a very unexpected song playing over it: Franz Schubert's "Ave Maria". This set a very interesting tone from the get-go, and I was immediately thinking, "okay, this is different." In our current reality overflowing with formulaic superhero movies and overdone origin storylines, different is good. The song is featured several times throughout the film and threads its way in and out of Riddler's macabre storyline. By the time the film is nearing its climax, Riddler has been captured, yet his cryptic words warn us that the threat is far from over. Riddler taunts the Batman with his own rendition of Ave Maria as the bat tries unsuccessfully to get more information out of his foe.
The other standout piece of the film was Nirvana's "Something in the Way". This is the song which introduced us to Pattinson's Batman, and the moment it began to play was the moment I knew this was a very, very different kind of Batman film. The song played three times throughout the film, each at very personal moments for Batman/Bruce Wayne. Kurt Cobain's haunting vocals crooned out The Batman's anthem like a ghost from the past—a ghost from Bruce's past as well as our own.
The true star of this film was the writing. There were so many great lines, though I've only seen it once so I won't be able to recall all of those that stood out, and certainly not verbatim. One that really stuck out to me, however, was when Batman finally succeeded in reaching Selena and talked her down from the metaphorical ledge. As Selena pointed the pistol at her father, saying "he has to pay," Batman wrestled the gun down. Selena struggled to keep control of the gun, but then Batman uttered this line: "You don't have to pay with him. You've already paid enough." At that, Selena surrendered the gun, as well as her well-intended, but ultimately misguided quest for vengeance—one of the most prominent themes of the film.
The script was an absolute masterpiece, and it was the message this world desperately needs at the moment. The amount of players Batman, Gordon, and Selena were forced to deal with was ambitious, and it made for a complex web of corruption that resembled America's perception of its own so-called ruling class. The Riddler's methods of exposing said corruption while simultaneously murdering the person's reputation, as well as the person themself, portrayed cancel culture, as played out to its obvious logical end. The social media mob that Riddler goaded on with his no-holds-barred flavor of social justice exposes the cancer within our own culture that has been allowed to metastasize unchecked for far too long.
The Riddler's goal is to expose the lies of Gotham's political elite. He is the poster boy for the misguided, yet cathartic idea that "your words are violence", so I'm now entitled to hurt/kill you, because my echo chamber and I have decided that "my violence is justice". He is cancel culture incarnate and taken to its extreme, and just like in real life, it's a movement that spreads by the end of the film, leading to an interesting case in which the big bad of the movie has already been captured and incarcerated before the climax even happens. It's not the Riddler, but his social justice mob that end up being the real threat, and the one that brings Batman closest to his demise.
When The Batman hears one of the social media mob repeat his own line back to him, "I am vengeance", Batman finally sees the error in this system of exacting vengeance on whoever he deems worthy of it. He recognizes it for the cancer it is, and that he, not the Riddler, was the one who stated its spread—first to the Riddler, then to his online social justice warriors. He decides that fear and intimidation are not the answer.
With that, the bat starts looking for people to help. He frees a group of trapped orphans and leads them to safety, holding up a torch as he wades through the darkness, a new generation following in his path as he lights the way to safety, the way forward out of this mess he's created. These are the images that are going to stick with us and make a difference in our cultural subconscious.
When I saw The Dark Knight in theaters, then The Dark Knight Rises in theaters, at the time when a storm was brewing in the minds of the American public, I remember loving both films, but in both cases thinking "oh, no." The reason being that art imitates life, and life imitates art. Films like this are a gauge for the subconscious of the culture—where we are at in our attitudes and where we are going as a nation. The questions raised by Christopher Nolan's trilogy—in particular the third film—were the right kinds of questions for that time, questions that we were all struggling to answer in our own subconscious minds. The foreboding kind that really brought to light the mistrust of our institutions and the feeling that, perhaps it would be better to dismantle entire systems, occupy entire cities, and build a new and better world from its ashes.
This was the undercurrent of our culture at its 2012 release, and over the next decade, that current swelled into a tidal wave of twitter mobs, social justice warriors, organized riots, burning down of cities, police forces succumbing to citizen mobs occupying "autonomous zones", meme stocks and the takedown of hedgefunds by organized Reddit trolls, meme coins going to the moon, the exposure of corrupt individuals and institutions, as well as hoaxes, collusion, and conspiracies to fabricate false charges of corruption for political gain, that came crashing down on us hard in the end. It brought a lot of filth to the surface, which is good, though it also caused a lot of pain and hardship. It goes without saying that the past two years in particular have been especially difficult for all, save for the ruling class, who essentially created a world-wide sales funnel and named it COVID-19, which became the mechanism for a monumental transfer of wealth from the bottom of the economic ladder straight to the top.
First, art imitated life. The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises were mirrors reflecting our own subconscious struggles and asking our own subconscious questions. Then, life imitated art. It was all too satisfying to watch Joker dismantle institutions, to watch Gotham's D.A. Harvey Dent abandon the institution of justice as a whole, to hear Catwoman's scathing rebuke of the elite, and to watch Bane occupy Wall Street and dismantle the Police. These ideas marinated in our minds and began to surface shortly after. It didn't take long for these romanticized evils to saturate our everyday lives, then take our lives over completely.
The problem was that for every corrupt elitist that was cancelled and removed, there was a corrupt elitist wearing the "right" colored jersey ready to fill that vacuum, a fact that Selena Kyle points out at the end of The Batman. She warns Batman that he can't change it, and that it will kill him eventually. After all of that social justice, the only thing accomplished is a complete and inadvertent surrender of your own freedoms to a new regime—because those wolves wore the right color jersey and spoke the right language, so those demanding change trusted them.
Ten years after The Dark Knight Rises, The Batman's Riddler is playing a similar game, but it's no longer as romanticized as it once was—not by a long shot. This film exposes these ideas for the misguided and evil delusions that they are. Again, I believe this is a case of art reflecting life. Though there are many who won't see it this way, there is no denying that there is a shift in the current, and the social justice warrior way of doing things is no longer as palatable as it was a few years ago. Even to those who once supported these ideas, they've grown tired and distasteful.
We don't agree on much, but we agree that we no longer trust those who would seek to rule us. We've been trying out opposing methods of dealing with that for some time now, and fighting has only dug us all a whole lot deeper. It's allowed the wolves to grab onto power, lock us in our homes, and take away our livelihoods until we inject our children with state-approved drugs so the elite can profit.
We can agree that our rulers hate us, and we can agree that fighting with each other is not the answer. We know that there's a torch to be lit, a light to follow, a path through the darkness to a better way of life.
Art imitates life, and these are the ideas now brewing beneath the surface of our culture in 2022. It gives me hope that soon, life may in-turn imitate art. We don't have the answers yet, but we're searching for them, and we know now what they don't look like. Perhaps in the next decade we'll see these more reasoned and constructive ideas bubble up and begin to surface, then swell into a tidal wave of hope that crashes over us and washes us clean of the mess we've created for ourselves. Maybe that's a foolish hope, but it's hope nonetheless. In my opinion, a foolish hope beats a misguided sense of vengeance any day of the week.