The Batman (2022) directed by Matt Reeves is what I have been looking for ever since I fell in love with Batman comics. Simply put, this is the closest any film has come to the actual comics and takes the legacy forward.
Until now, studios and film makers have focused as much on Batman, as on the jazz surrounding him i.e. the money, the bat-cave, the bat-mobile, the gadgets, the villains. These are all important pieces, but not essential. I know some people will say villains are essential but I beg to differ. Each villain has challenged Batman in their own way and he has been forced to evolve in order to counter them. However, if you break it down to the lowest common denominator, villains are nothing but metaphors - chaos, greed, fear, envy, corruption, power, or anything else mirroring the society that the Batman should overcome and grow through the process. Hence, they are the means to an end and should be seen in this light. This was my only limited issue with Nolan’s 'The Dark Knight' where Joker became the focal point of the entire film, over-powering everything else, including Batman. According to me, there are 3 things that are essential to Batman, far more than the villains.
Bruce Wayne & Batman and all their imperfections
They are not perfect, they don't always know what is going on or know the best way out of a problem. They are not indestructible, they can get hurt, they are afraid, they are men or rather 'a Man'. Mat Reeves showcases this beautifully and always goes for the subtle nudges rather than crude, in-your-face ones. The scene where Batman looks at the little boy across a room full of cops - you know he is seeing himself in that boy but nothing is said, no flashbacks or voiceovers to bring back memories of his past. Robert Pattinson brings pain and loneliness to his eyes and adds another dimension to this, making it so much more. Another beautiful scene is between Bruce and Alfred that brings forth Bruce/Batman's fear that he did not know existed - losing someone he is close to. In this dark & gritty avatar of Matt Reeves' Batman, there is no Rachel Dawes, no Robin. All Bruce has, is his relationship with Alfred, and he realises this the hard way. The film reminded me a lot of Batman Year 1 comic by Frank Miller in the way it handles the early days of Batman.
Batman - The Detective
The caped crusader had his debut in Detective Comics #27, and went on to be known as the 'World's Greatest Detective'. In fact, some of his key adversaries like Penguin, Riddler and Scarecrow, all made their first appearances in these comics. Never before has this aspect of Batman been in focus the way Robert and Matt bring it out in The Batman (2022). Honestly, the entire feel of the film has more in common with first-person noir detective mysteries than a superhero film. It starts off with commentary from the lead character on the current situation of crime and how he fits into all of it. The tone is quintessential noir, and what follows, further builds towards a detective procedural, with Batman and Gordon following the leads to uncover the mystery. Reeves stays committed to this approach right through the film and never gives in to grandeur or theatrics. So there are no over-the-top moments and no orchestrated crowd pleasers. A couple of comics that I reminisced on this element were The Long Halloween and Hush by Jeph Loeb. Both these story lines are iconic and depict 'Batman - The Detective' while circling through many villains - from Carmine Falcone & Sal Maroni to Riddler and Joker (never indulging in any single one at the cost of the narrative)
The last essential element to Batman, and one that is easily overlooked, is the depiction of Gotham City. If a film is unable to crack this, Batman's existence falls flat. Thankfully, Matt Reeves does a fantastic job with this as well and portrays a brooding Gotham, one that is crumbling under the weight of corruption, greed and violence. This is important because Gotham and Batman are symbiotic and feed off each other. Neither is the same without the other. The comic that came to my mind was Court of Owls. It is one of my favourite outings of Batman and showcases a similar Gotham that is broken by the wealthy, the powerful and the corrupt. The fact that The Batman (2022) hits all the right notes with the most important elements is proof enough that it will go down as one of the finest adaptations of the character.
On top of all this, there are a couple more unexpected delights. First of those is Matt Reeves 'The Poet'. On several occasions, Matt's vision exudes so much beauty in the frames that it feels like poetry in motion. The inverted camera scene with Batman walking on the backdrop of fire is pure bliss. Another instance is the voiceover - "They think I am hiding in the shadows, but I am the shadows". No Words! The other high point was James Gordan. I was so pleasantly surprised at how easily Jeffrey Wright was able to take up the role of James Gordan because he had very big shoes to fill (Gary Oldman). The chemistry that he shares with Batman on screen is instantly visible and adds so much to the narrative of the film.
The Batman (2022) is an exceptional piece of cinema that will attain cult status very soon. It will be the benchmark against which all adaptations, past and future, will be evaluated.