Review: ‘The Batman’ Is a Caped Crusader Classic

The Batman


We’ve had a lot of good Batman films over the years, but one criticism I always hear from Batman fans is that none of these movies explore the Caped Crusader’s famed sleuthing skills. In the comics, Batman is known as “the world’s greatest detective”, but the films always seem more concerned with Batman the superhero than Batman the detective.


Well, that criticism can officially be put to bed with The Batman. Fans eager to see Batman solve some clues will love this film. By pitting the Dark Knight against a very gritty version of the Riddler, Batman is forced to go up against a serial killer who is always one step ahead of him, solving clues one step at a time at the killer’s behest just like the best detectives. As the Riddler himself puts it at one point, his strength is his brain; this is not a villain who Batman can beat by simply smashing his face in. He has to be the villain’s intellectual equal.


I was particularly reminded of Se7en while watching The Batman, as the caped crusader is made to play catch up throughout the film, solving one riddle after another just to keep up with the killer. Unlike that detective noir classic though, The Batman has a larger mystery surrounding the Riddler’s motivations that peels back layer after layer with each new victim. It’s fascinating to watch unfold, but in the end, I didn’t feel like the big reveal quite lived up to the two hours of buildup that preceded it. The journey is fascinating, but the revelations are far more interesting in what they mean for Bruce, rather than the villain himself.




Bruce Wayne has an interesting arc in this film. He’s been Batman for two years at this point, and while he’s thrown himself into his night-time vigilante work, he cares for little else. This is a very different Bruce Wayne to the one we see in the Nolan trilogy or Zack Snyder’s films. Robert Pattinson’s Bruce is not a celebrity playboy by day and certainly hasn’t figured out how to balance his twin lives; instead, he’s reclusive and rarely seen in public. He doesn’t do anything in the way of philanthropy and actively doesn’t care about Wayne Enterprises. This Bruce is socially awkward and filled with rage.


While director Matt Reeves wisely decided against showing us the death of Martha and Thomas Wayne, their legacy is a key part of this film. Bruce is overcome with rage as he predictably struggles to process his grief over the loss of his parents. He tells himself that he became Batman to try and make Gotham a better place, but it’s clear that he’s more concerned with making criminals pay for their crimes than he is saving people.


Early on in the film, a thug asks Batman who he is, and he simply replies: “I am vengeance.” This tells you all you need to know about Bruce’s psyche. He’s not concerned with being a hero and all that comes with it; he just wants to make criminals pay for their crimes and doesn’t particularly care what the public thinks of him. As a result, not many people know he’s a force for good. When he saves a man from being beaten and potentially killed by a group of thugs, the man pleads “don’t hurt me” instead of thanking Batman for saving him. To most, Batman is just another dangerous nutjob out to hurt people.


Bruce Wayne’s arc in this film is learning what it means to be a hero. In order to become the savior that Gotham needs, he has to understand that he has to become a figure of hope and protection, rather than simply someone to fear. It takes Bruce on a journey that is new to most fans, and as a result it’s fascinating to watch unfold as he realizes what he needs to do to be better than the villains he’s trying to stop.


Catwoman and Batman


Similarly, Selina Kyle’s journey in this film is interesting and surprisingly emotional. Though we do see her trying to rob a safe early on in the film, this is clearly an early version of the character who’s not quite graduated to diamond thief yet. I was surprised by just how closely she’s linked to the central storyline, rather than just a distraction or love interest for Batman. She is emotionally tied to the central mystery in more ways than is initially apparent, and she and Bruce have to deal with some surprisingly similar issues along the way.


This makes Selina far more than just a love interest in this film. When she does kiss Batman, it’s very much her decision, and Bruce seems taken aback when she does it, as intimacy is very much outside his comfort zone. Selina does this as an action of empowerment; not because Batman’s story demands a love interest.


I wasn’t quite sold on this romance though. While Selina is plenty flirty and seems to find Batman attractive (she views him as a “stray” like herself and the many cats she owns), Bruce treats her like a tool to be used from early on in the film and doesn’t give her much of a sign that he cares about her. It’s a wonder she’s still so keen on him going into the film’s final act.


Zoë Kravitz is spectacular in the role, conveying Catwoman’s traditional seductive energy and charisma while also portraying her more vulnerable moments in a sympathetic and believable manner. Honestly, I’m surprised HBO Max aren’t doing a Catwoman spin-off show instead of The Penguin.


Speaking of The Penguin, Colin Farrell portrays a very entertaining villain, providing important moments of levity in some dark moments as you’d expect of a classic mob boss. Again though, this is early on in Oswald Cobblepot’s criminal career so he still answers to a higher power. As such, he’s not the main villain by any stretch of the imagination and provides an entertaining sideshow when the film does decide to give us some action.


Colin Farrell as The Penguin in The Batman


The Batman spends so much time deciphering the Riddler’s breadcrumbs that any action beats almost come as a surprise, which is a welcome change for a superhero property. When they do come, they are visceral and unforgiving. They’re even tinged with horror at times, as the film does an excellent job of building the Dark Knight’s introduction and letting us see the terror from his enemies’ eyes. The car chase between him and Penguin is even more entertaining than it seems in the trailers, with so many collisions and more dangerous near misses on the streets of Gotham that I often found myself instinctively turning away and using the corner of my eye to look at the screen.


The score is excellent during these moments as well, as it is for the rest of the film. Batman’s theme is particularly memorable, starting out subtle at first before pounding out the same three notes by the end of the film. I found myself vigorously tapping my foot in time with the score during the final act, so captivated was I by the bombastic theme.


The Batman is one of the great Batman films, with a fantastic story, interesting characters, entertaining action, and a wonderful score. Its neo-noir detective genre means it feels very different to previous iterations, and as such it’s difficult to say if it is the best Batman film of all time. The Dark Knight looms large in any comparison, but The Batman certainly runs it very close.


This latest Batman story is definitely the smartest and therefore the hardest to follow — you need to pay attention if you want to understand every development as the big mystery is solved — so The Dark Knight probably edges it for that reason alone. If you’re willing to put the time in though, you won’t come away disappointed.