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You’ve seen a loads of movies, but you still need to steel yourself for the darkest Dark Knight yet. Starring Robert Pattinson as DC’s Caped Crusader, 2022’s new movie The Batman is out now, only in theaters. From its to the , it’s an intense, apocalyptic cinematic experience.
Following the murder of his parents (you know that bit), Bruce Wayne is two years into his crusade against Gotham City street crime. He’s formed an alliance with upstanding cop Jim Gordon, but nothing prepares them for a chillingly planned series of atrocities by a macabre masked murderer who leaves fiendish puzzles with each victim. As Batman unpicks the cryptic clues, the investigation peels away a greater conspiracy. But the real riddle is how the ranting killer’s twisted motive ties back to Batman himself.
As that synopsis suggests, The Batman is barely a superhero movie. , who co-wrote the script with Peter Craig, shovels previous Bat-films into one roaring furnace: There are notes of Tim Burton’s gothy angst, Christopher Nolan’s criminal politics and , plus the psychological backstory, vaguely timeless design and layers of dark irony.
But it’s also more of a detective mystery than previous Bat-flicks, borrowing in particular from David Fincher’s serial killer chillers Seven and Zodiac. And it’s a gangster movie. Also a ’70s conspiracy thriller. And a relentlessly bleak film noir.
Most of all, though, The Batman is a horror movie.
In 1989, pearl-clutching parents were shocked and appalled by Tim Burton’s Batman. The tights-wearing funny book hero who biffed, powed and zapped cartoon villains was replaced by a traumatized weirdo in black rubber fetish gear, trading blows with a giggling, acid-scarred psychopath. In Britain, they even had to for the movie.
Let’s not get into the perennial argument among fans about whether superhero movies should be for kids or for grown-ups. You absolutely 100% can’t show The Batman to a child. This new flick is PG-13 in the US, but it’s on a whole other level to the relatively bloodless Dark Knight movies — and on a different planet from any Marvel film — immersing you in a nerve-shredding three hours of escalating dread and simmering pain garnished with some astonishingly nasty touches.
This explicitly scary Batman film opens with a sinister scene of jaw-tightening suspense, adding serial killer scares and even a few dashes of torture gay porn. The people of Gotham are introduced as a swirling crowd of faceless, Halloween-masked figures. Jagged horror movie strings and Michael Giacchino’s relentless score ratchet up the tension. There aren’t any baddies plundering diamonds from charity galas, but a ghoulish serial killer who plunges the city into a simmering cauldron of creeping panic. Batman himself stalks from the shadows with a heavy tread and heavier fists, meting out pitiless vengeance with a chilling lack of affect behind his mask.
Pattinson’s Batman (Battinson? Pattman?) is a lank-haired mess, a world away from Christian Bale’s slick professional or Ben Affleck’s graying grump. Hunched in the basement listening to Nirvana with mascara running down his face, this younger Bruce Wayne is unformed and yet already unraveling, muttering a Taxi Driver-esque voiceover as he drowns in a filthy tide of lawlessness and degradation. Pattinson genuinely inhabits the Batman, expressing despair with just his perfectly angled jaw and soulful eyes staring from beneath the black mask. Still, you could probably shave down the epic two hour and 47 minute runtime if there was a bit less of Batman slowly… walking… and… meaningfully… staring…
For all his formidable fighting skills and detective prowess, this Batman is barely holding it together. And that gives the film a vital charge.
As Selina Kyle — the Catwoman to Pattinson’s Bat — Zoë Kravitz is eminently watchable. But the film struggles to get under the character’s masks, piling on schlocky twists rather than exploring character with any depth. The same is true for Jeffrey Wright’s buddy cop Jim Gordon, given the thankless task of standing next to Batman and frowning as they growl exposition at each other. The bad guys clearly have more fun: a barely recognizable Colin Farrell channels Robert De Niro’s Al Capone from The Untouchables, and John Turturro’s purring menace recalls Brando in The Godfather.
So if you were wondering whether there’s any room for a fresh take after 14 movies, it’s actually surprisingly invigorating to see a Caped Crusader who’s more human — not just Bruce Wayne, but as the Batman himself. This Batman doesn’t magically disappear from a room, but has to run for his life sometimes. One of the highlights of the film is when Batman does something we’ve seen the character do a million times, but it’s clear from Pattinson’s little wince this is the first time he’s done it. Suddenly a superhero cliche becomes a genuinely perilous and thrilling moment.
While the sleuthing drives the story, the action scenes really are hair-raisingly exhilarating. The fights unfold as long lingering shots and show the Batman wading through each fight with economical ferocity. The use of light and shadow adds to the drama of the punch-ups.
Perhaps most thrilling of all is an apocalyptic car chase. Instead of a glossy high-tech speedster or city-conquering tank, Pattinson’s Batman drives a car that’s as unhinged as he is. This Batmobile is a demonic hot rod snarling with rage as it races to devour its prey, lit only by blood-red taillights and infernal flame. It’s an incendiary highlight in a deliriously intense film.
There’s a lot to unpack in The Batman’s psychological and political leanings, not least the film’s treatment of women. There aren’t many, despite the sprawling cast. The plot hinges on the grisly-sounding murder of a woman, which is replayed more than once. A fairly major twist introduces a horrific backstory for a significant woman in Bruce Wayne’s life. Selina Kyle is a driven badass, but she’s still introduced with a lingering pan up her stiletto boots to her tight skirt, before the camera (and Batman) voyeuristically watch her undress.
Batman is clearly linked to the Riddler’s voyeurism and violence, questioning his methods more than previous films. The level of moral ambivalence is much closer to the darkly ironic Joker film. When Batman first appears, for example, a mugging victim sees little distinction between his attackers and this demonic figure who savagely beats them. It’s also the first Batman film to engage with the revisionist take that Bruce Wayne is a wealthy man whose hobby is hospitalizing poor people. Like the Joker movie, The Batman explores the radicalizing effect of inequality on a repressed populace. But Joker focused on a villain, and so the ironic conclusion required you to be in on the joke. The Batman, meanwhile, focuses on a hero — a conflicted, dubious hero, but still — and so there’s opportunity for a more hopeful moral underpinning buried under the crushing gloom.
It’s long, it’s frequently slow and it’s crushingly bleak. But The Batman deserves that definitive article. It’s “The” Batman because it evokes many previous incarnations of the Caped Crusader while still bringing something distinctive. This darkest Dark Knight may not be for everyone (and certainly not for kids), but it’s a gripping and nerve-shredding Bat-thriller.