It’s always hard to take on a character as beloved as Bruce Wayne, but I think Robert Pattinson was easily one of the best casting options Matt Reeves could’ve chosen for this film—same with Zoë Kravitz and Colin Farrell, all gave fantastic performances. Despite this amazing/unique cast, they each seemed to be fighting an uphill battle in terms of trying to make the script work. Some aspects were extremely underdeveloped. While the plot definitely introduced some interesting arcs (Batman going from vengeance to hope etc.), Reeves didn’t really explore this potential in a satisfying way, making it hard to really connect with any of the characters; even Paul Dano’s captivating performance as the Riddler seemed to only be interacted with on a surface level. I was a fan of the slow-burning detective story the plot shaped into, and appreciated how the film made reaches towards what could be called a sociopolitical critique; but its insistence on conflating petty crime with political corruption—maybe because we’re grounded in the myopic viewpoint of someone who “must’ve grown up rich,” to quote Catwoman—led to an underlying politics that might be just as problematic as that in Nolan’s The Dark Knight. This being said, it does a decent enough job of complicating this, and is also a fun ride for fans of the character.
Though I wish the fight scenes were choreographed with a bit more inspiration, the action sequences overall are soooo nicely lighted, often by neon signs, gunshots or explosions—which highlights how seedy and dangerous this city is. Unlike Nolan’s version of Gotham (which many have described as ‘just, like, Chicago’), the set design here was fantastic. Reeves’ version of Gotham looks like it came straight from the pages of a comic book. The sound design was also great and managed to give the batsuit/catsuit a tactile feel that just brings viewers that much more into this world; and don’t get me started on that score! Despite all these pros, however, I do think the film’s politics are worth examining more deeply (as this blog is known to do).
While viewers have always been aware that we’re seeing the world filtered through the eyes of Bruce Wayne, one of the wealthiest people in the city, this issue of class has perhaps never been interrogated more deeply than in Reeves’ 2022 revival. From the aforementioned Catwoman quote to Riddler saying no boy in a billion-dollar tower could ever possibly know what it means to be a ‘real orphan,’ this new trilogy seems to problematize the economic issue at the heart of Batman in an unprecedented, unflinching manner. However, while the film certainly highlights economic/political corruption—sometimes a little too obviously—it does so in a reductive way, essentially saying it’s no different than looting, which is almost a kind of equivocation, since the two have nothing to do with each other. One is a kind of rebellion against a victimizing system, a means for the marginalized to survive amidst crisis, and the other is the continuation of this very system/crises. I don’t think this issue in the film’s morality is so black and white, though. The Batman definitely goes out of its way to highlight the fact that there are still ‘good cops,’ but it also asks viewers: when the system itself is rotten to the core, what does that really mean?
As we see tons of non-corrupt police officers lined along the street ready to protect justice, knowing the scale of the systemic issues that loom in the background, knowing how little of a difference their individual actions can make against a system literally-flooded with such intense corruption, viewers are forced to ask: does it matter how nice the cops are as individual people? Does it really make a difference if one-single rich person is charitable enough to set up a ‘Renewal Fund?’ When they die, or maybe even when they’re alive, these nonprofits will just be used as another means of money laundering. For Gotham to truly recover, it needs a grassroots, people-led movement, not a masked billionaire. To paraphrase the mayor, the people of Gotham have to learn to trust each other. This certainly could have been explored more deeply—along with the characters themselves—but for the start of a new trilogy, it left me curious to see how future sequels will handle these politics and the people they inhabit. Watch it, I say it’s worth the three hours!