Review: “The Batman”—A Carefully Crafted Ode to Detective Noir

A strikingly shot homage to ’50s film aesthetics, Matt Reeves’s “The Batman” uses the dark backdrop of Gotham to craft a stylish detective noir with a complex and diverse cast of characters. While the long runtime of 175 minutes is a detriment, Bruce Wayne’s (Robert Pattinson) journey to becoming a better hero is one ultimately worth watching. Released in March 4, 2022, “The Batman” follows the iconic protagonist as he tracks clues to unravel the truth behind a series of connected murders—a journey that eventually leads him into the depths of Gotham’s criminal underworld. As the mystery starts getting close to home, Bruce discovers a whole new layer of corruption within the heart of the city. Warning: spoilers ahead.

Like any other film featuring the iconic superhero, “The Batman” rides or dies with the portrayal of its title character. As a character-centric narrative, the film needs Batman to be likable and interesting to push forward the rest of its plot, a goal successfully achieved through the superhero’s unique characterization and development. In this movie, Bruce Wayne is barely a person, unlike past iterations. With Ben Affleck’s Bruce frequenting galas and Christian Bale’s running Wayne Enterprises, Pattinson’s version seems to pale in comparison to their charisma and congeniality. He scarcely appears out of costume, with evident discomfort when he does. Even the detailed production design takes care to clearly characterize Bruce as trapped and traumatized—his giant manor is decorated like a cage, and with spikes and sharp edges in all the rooms, his life never feels luxurious or fulfilling. 

The film’s decision to lean into the edgier, darker side of the iconic Batman story also brings about a sophisticated development arc for Bruce as well. At the start of the movie, Batman is driven by anger and a desire for vengeance—showcased in a brilliantly simple scene where Batman stares at a recently orphaned child with pain and fear in his eyes, clearly seeing a reflection of himself within the kid. The film chooses to explore that trauma in greater depth as the event that both set him on the path to seek justice and caused him to spiral into rage, obsession, and moral-grayness. Throughout the film, Bruce’s coping mechanism is to weaponize his pain and use it to instill fear into the hearts of every criminal in Gotham. However, it becomes all too apparent through the movie that his ‘vengeance’ is part of what causes the city to be as crime-ridden as it is. He realizes that to truly aid his city, he needs to move on from seeking to ‘right’ the ‘wrongdoing’ of his parents’ murder and become a symbol of hope for the people of Gotham. 

But Bruce Wayne is not the only highlight of this movie; he is also joined by an expansive array of famous characters from his franchise, including the Riddler (Paul Dano), Catwoman (Zoë Kravitz), the Penguin (Colin Farell), Alfred Pennyworth (Andy Serkis), and lieutenant Jim Gordon (Jeffrey Wright). All of these characters receive a good amount of screen time, with the exception of The Riddler, who could have had more development as the main antagonist. The character’s biggest point of appeal is not his brains, but rather the duality of him and Bruce Wayne. They were both orphaned, but while Bruce grew up with money, the Riddler grew up homeless. From The Riddler’s perspective, he was working with Batman to bring the corruption of Gotham to light, all while singling out Bruce Wayne—who he had yet to associate with the identity of his vigilante idol—as one of his main targets. Although not as prominent, the Penguin also served as a fantastic secondary antagonist due to the hilarious and campy writing, combined with a committed performance by Colin Farrell. Aside from Batman’s antagonists, his allies also delivered engaging performances. For instance, Jeffrey Wright’s Jim Gordon had a great buddy-cop relationship with Batman. Overall, roles both big and small were developed with care and complexity, making for an exciting cast of characters to follow. 

“The Batman” does not just excel because of its writing, though. The film-noir inspired cinematography establishes the unsettling tone of the movie. Cinematographer Grieg Fraser artfully creates a red-orange aesthetic that complements the darkness throughout the film, a choice that highlights Gotham’s dynamically dangerous nature. In the car chase scene between Batman and Penguin, explosions of red and orange were used to heighten the suspense. Additionally, many of the camera angles were attached to the moving vehicles, immersing the audience within the danger of the scene. 

However, the lack of a well-built conclusion makes the movie feel lackluster, especially after  its three hours of runtime. A series of convoluted events finally leads up to the reveal of The Riddler’s long-running plan to flood the city, but this climax is far from well-established. His ‘master plan’ doesn’t feel rooted or developed within previous events of the story, and it comes about way too late in the movie. While this situation may have served as a good catalyst for Batman’s character to grow, it felt more like a second act; Batman didn’t have any more time to fully grow into his role as a hero, and at that point, the movie was already three hours long. Many of the detective rabbit holes that Batman and Gordon fell into could have easily been replaced by developing The Riddler and the arc that led to the climax, giving this movie the well-deserved conclusion that it lacked.

Despite the long runtime and jarring conclusion slightly hindering its quality, “The Batman” featured excellent characterization, evocative acting, and a masterfully grainy visual presentation of Gotham with beautiful cinematography and lighting; consequently, this movie receives a 4/5.