Perhaps the most surprising thing about 2022’s THE BATMAN is how little screen time Bruce Wayne gets. This might be an angle of criticism for some – but it’s also kind of the entire point. We don’t see the traumatic episode that made Batman who he is – an origin story that nearly everyone knows – even those who have never read the comics – yet the toll it left on Bruce can clearly be felt throughout the film – an open wound that he can only fight by channeling a nocturnal animal – as he immerses himself fully into becoming a creature of the night that he calls Vengeance – recording his every move patrolling the mean streets of Gotham at night using a retinal camera. He channels his anger into tracking down the city’s most violent criminals and then the next day, relives his experiences as he watches the video feed for clues.
It’s been nearly five years since Gotham City was last on the big screen – and nearly a decade since the Nolan trilogy concluded, with this being the third incarnation, and yet there’s still something comfortably familiar about all of it. There are echoes of Christopher Nolan’s dark vision – and some cleverly subtle ways in which this film pays tribute to its predecessors, and yet manages to break new ground in such a way that it seems like the next logical step rather than a retread. The original Tim Burton film and the first of the Nolan reboot both included the inspiration for a bat signal – and by the end of each respective film, the city has come to rely on Batman’s help – using a functional signal to summon the vigilante turned hero when needed.
The Bat signal is already up and functioning – sometimes a call for help, sometimes just a deterrent against evildoers – but the Batman here isn’t exactly a hero who’s won the trust of the city. Rather, the city has run out of people to trust – a situation made worse as the Riddler gladly brings all the dirty secrets of the city’s elected officials to light after slaying them. An element that its predecessors have often struggled with has been determining how to portray the villains – and it can easily turn comedic by having all of Gotham’s rogue’s gallery occupy the same space – but in this nightmarish city with its relentless nightly rainstorms and foggy streets shown up close with GoPro lenses, the Penguin, the Roman and Riddler all somehow seem right at home among the city’s criminal underworld – ghosts from a foreboding past that the city must come to terms with if it’s going to actually clean itself up.
Most superhero films make an effort to replicate the comic book medium with mixed results – but here, where so much of the action happens inside Vengeance’s head until he meets Selina Kyle, who like him, has been cursed with the life of a vigilante in order to survive, Director Matt Reeves has come the closest to the experience of reading a Batman comic – with visuals that look like they could have been drawn by Jim Lee, leaping off the page and haunting internal monologues. Perhaps the most frightening part of Reeves’ success is that it feels as though you never leave Gotham after the film is over.