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The Batman (2022) By Matt Reeves - Movie Review

The Batman (2022) By Matt Reeves - Movie Review

The Batman 2022 Directed by: Matt Reeves Writers: Matt Reeves, Peter CraigBill Finger (Batman created by) Stars: Robert Pattinson, Zoë Kravitz, Jeffrey Wright, Colin Farrell, Paul Dano, John Turturro, Andy Serkis, Peter Sarsgaard, Jayme LawsonRupert Penry-Jones Runtime: 175min RatedPG (Alberta/British Columbia/Manitoba/Ontario/Saskatchewan - Canada) 14A (Maritimes - Canada) PG-13 (MPAA) for strong violent and disturbing content, drug content, strong language, and some suggestive material

Listen here for audio of radio interviews about films from a Christian perspective with Pastors Ted Giese and Todd Wilken on where Christianity meets culture. (This review contains some spoilers)

A darker caped crusader

When Mayor Don Mitchell, Jr. (Rupert Penry-Jones) is murdered, Lt. James Gordon (Jeffrey Wright) brings Gotham City’s cowled vigilante into the homicide investigation because a card addressed to “The Batman” (Robert Pattinson) is found at the crime scene. The card contains a cipher and a riddle which begins to unravel high-level corruption in the mayor’s office, the city police, the court system, and Gotham’s elite class, and criminal elements. More bodies crop up each murdered in grizzly horrific ways, each pointing to some kind of retribution for corruption, and each accompanied by riddles and ciphers addressed to The Batman. This detective serial-killer mystery is the backdrop for a darker grittier dive into the character of Bruce Wayne/Batman.

With The Batman director Matt Reeves, best known for directing War for the Planet of the Apes (2017) and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014), takes on the style of iconic director David Fincher making his film feel and look like a combination of Se7en (1995), Fight Club (1999), and Zodiac (2007) capping off the aesthetic with a soundtrack that references grunge and alternative bands like Nervana and Radiohead. Reeves, who began his film and television career back in the 1990s, has a history of working on diverse projects from his David Schwimmer, Gwyneth Paltrow romantic comedy The Pallbearer (1996) which he also wrote, to episodes of police and medical procedurals like Homicide: Life on the Street (1997), Gideon's Crossing (2000), and the college drama Felicity (1998-2001).

With decades of directing, writing, and producing Reeves has honed his skills and provides a well-crafted high quality Batman film but potential viewers will want to remember that just because a film is well crafted it still might not be to their liking. On the one hand audiences burnt out on dark moody violent films will want to steer clear of this version of Batman; on the other hand, there are some smart choices made that tidy up some of the sillier elements of the Batman franchise. For all its brooding intensity Reeves delivers a film with the look and feel of an R-rated film without the R-rated violence, nudity, and sex. Parents and the tender-hearted will want to keep this in mind as the film’s rating only tells half the story of what viewers will see as they settle into the theatre seats. If Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Batman trilogy seemed too dark and intense, and if the two Tim Burton Batman oddball circus-carnival-style Michael Keaton Batman films seemed too dark and intense, then this Batman film will be too intense—and then some. This is nowhere near the William Dozier 1960s KAPOW ZAP BAM BOOM Adam West, Burt Ward Batman TV series or even the Eric Radomski and Bruce Timm 1990s Batman: The Animated Series.

Mob bosses like Carmine Falcone (John Turturro) and his underling club owner Oz/The Penguin (Colin Farrell) have the look and feel of characters ripped from your average Coppola or Scorsese Hollywood gangster movie minus many Italian-American trappings. And the Riddler (Paul Dano), the central antagonist in The Batman, is something straight out of thousands of serial killer films and TV programs that have littered screens for decades. Unlike Jim Carrey’s over-the-top cartoonish-screwball-cane-twirling performance in Joel Schumacher's campy Batman Forever (1995) Dano plays the Riddler as an unhinged Unabomber/Zodiac killer type seeking justice against a system replete with what he sees as false promises of renewal. His enemies are liars and weak officials like District Attorney Gil Colson (Peter Sarsgaard) on the take and who too quickly fall in bed with organized crime and allow corruption. Reeves’ Batman has stumbled into something the 16th century theologian Martin Luther would describe as God punishing one criminal by means of another[1]. The question is whether the philanthropist Wayne’s family is party to Gotham City’s historic crimes. Lurking in the shadows is another question: Are Batman and the Riddler so different? Batman calls himself “vengeance” and the Riddler seeks the same. Reeves makes both men orphans who use methods outside the law to bring retribution on criminals positioning them as two sides of the same coin minted in a corrupt system. 

This is a familiar theme in the Batman franchise but Reeves pushes it further by explicitly bringing in the Biblical Old Testament concept of “the sins of the father.” Christians watching the film, or anyone for that matter, wanting to engage The Batman from this Biblical vantage point, should have a good grasp on how this is expressed in Scripture before determining how well Reeves uses it. The Bible makes it clear that God is the one who punishes the children of the father for the father’s sins. In the Ten Commandments God warns idolaters who worship false gods that He visits the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate Him (Exodus 20:5). This ominous promise is reiterated at the end of the giving of the Law when The LORD passed before Moses and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation” (Exodus 34:6–7). However, it’s important to remember that vengeance is in God’s hands not in the hands of men. In fact, for the legislative law of the people vengeance is curbed with the command that, “Fathers shall not be put to death because of their children, nor shall children be put to death because of their fathers. Each one shall be put to death for his own sin” (Deuteronomy 24:16). Even in the ritual Levitical Law of the Old Testament the LORD teaches “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD” (Leviticus 19:18).

Within Christianity it is important to remember that while God allows suffering He doesn’t actively will it; His nature is gracious and merciful as well as righteous and holy. Yet even though His patience is long-suffering His love for the oppressed and downtrodden—those abused by criminals and people misusing the authority He gives them—will cause Him to act on their behalf. In The Batman both Batman and the Riddler must face the fact that they have, from the shadows, personally taken on the common idea of the role of God becoming judge, jury, and executioner albeit without the mercy, love, and forgiveness. Saint Paul in his New Testament letter to the Christians in Rome provides a different approach for anyone tempted to take vengeance into their own hands: “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ To the contrary, ‘if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:19–21). By the end of The Batman Bruce Wayne is beginning to learn this lesson saying “vengeance won’t change the past. Mine or anyone else’s. People need hope.” He sees they need more from him than vengeance. The Christian view would be that people still need vengeance just not vengeance in the hands of the wrong people, or people for whom such authority has not been given. Even those who have received such authority need to both fight the temptation to misuse it and constantly turn the vengeance back into God’s hands. Anyone interested in what that looks like would be well served by reading the Biblical account of the life of King David especially in light of the Psalms that he wrote.[2] If the idea of Batman becoming a symbol of hope versus a crime fighter criminals fear is intended to move Batman toward being more like Superman then Reeves doesn’t get who Batman is supposed to be. Having Batman, for the purposes of dramatic tension, struggle with vengeance and hope may be a fruitful direction for the character when a second Reeves Batman film is developed. Here’s hoping they lean into that struggle and don’t just turn Batman into a woke parody of himself or attempt to make him into something he was never intended to be. Reeves’ promised “embodiment of hope” approach if pressed too far will be as much trouble to maintain as the idea of Batman simply being an embodiment of vengeance.    

The line between where Bruce Wayne ends and Batman begins in Reeves’ film is particularly blurry. He is almost the same whether wearing the bat suit or not. This is something the new film has in common with the old 1960s TV show, however here the director presents a Batman who internalizes the pain and suffering of the people of Gotham rather than the campy wisecracker portrayed by Adam West. Where Reeves plans to take the character remains to be seen but Robert Pattinson’s version is certainly compelling albeit mopey and downbeat by comparison with other renditions of Wayne/Batman. If people are looking for a Biblical analogue this Bruce Wayne/Batman is more in keeping with a judge from the Old Testament book of Judges: noble, violent, desirous of justice for an oppressed people, yet personally flawed. While he is a man of constant sorrow, Batman is no Christ figure. Even though Wayne/Batman repeatedly risks his life to protect others he does not suffer crucifixion, death, and righteous resurrection for the salvation of others like Christ Jesus. (Symbolically Batman does have a kind of Hollywood baptism/death rebirth moment in an arena flooded with water but this isn’t enough to make him a Christ figure). Ultimately, Jesus resolves the problem of the sins of the fathers and the sins of all people by taking the sins on Himself. He becomes sin who knew no sin of His own (2 Corinthians 5:21) taking the wages of those sins, which is death, so that His righteousness can be applied to the sinner by grace. The Riddler wants someone to pay for the lies, pain, and suffering and he thinks he knows who that should be and it’s not Jesus. The Riddler tries to play God and fails because he doesn’t understand mercy; Batman discovers he needs mercy because he can’t singlehandedly save Gotham.

If relating these characters and their motivations to Biblical themes and theological ideas like sin and vengeance seems a stretch, consider how Reeves repeatedly uses the familiar Roman Catholic sung Latin prayer Ave Maria — a plea for mercy by sinners in need of rescue from their sins in the face of death prayed to the Virgin Mary the mother of Jesus. While not all Christians pray to the Virgin Mary it is certainly a Christian theme in prayer to plead for mercy while seeking forgiveness in the face of death.

Woven throughout the film is the relationship between Selina Kyle/Catwoman (Zoë Kravitz) and Batman. Through the course of his investigation of the murdered mistress of the murdered mayor Batman meets Selina Kyle/Catwoman because the murdered mistress is her friend and she has connections with Gotham’s criminal underbelly. This film provides a grounded and believable reason for Batman and Catwoman’s relationship and while there is some flirting and a couple kisses their relationship is not hyper-sexualized. Sometimes Catwoman goads Batman, sometimes Batman protects her from doing the wrong thing, yet there is a fair amount of give and take between the two making this is a welcome addition to the canon of Batman/Catwoman film storylines. Selina Kyle/Catwoman spouts some woke bits of dialogue but for the most part Batman doesn’t engage her idealism even turning down her anti-capitalist invitation to run away together and rob the rich and powerful. Of the film’s African American characters hers is the most developed and realized. Other characters like Lt. James Gordon and mayoral candidate Bella Reál (Jayme Lawson) are essentially virtue-signalling placeholders without much development or back story; they simply act as a foil to the corrupt powerful rich white men targeted by the Riddler. Another underutilized character is Wayne/Batman’s butler Alfred (Andy Serkis). In this film he is reduced to a plot device and general reminder of Bruce Wayne’s past. Hopefully Reeves will do more with the character moving forward.

The Batman may not be the Batman everyone wants right now. If a dark and gritty film noir version of Batman with an R-rated David Fincher look and feel is not going to be enjoyable perhaps revisiting some of the earlier more lighthearted Batman material is in order especially for younger viewers. Also, being a Batman fan doesn’t mean that a person is required to see every film or watch every TV show in the franchise. Nostalgia alone should not drive viewers to the theatres. Film makers still need to produce worthwhile projects without banking on built-in fan audiences.

Rev. Ted Giese is lead pastor of Mount Olive Lutheran Church, Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada; an award-winning contributor to The Canadian Lutheran and movie reviewer for the “Issues, Etc.” radio program. Follow Pastor Giese on Twitter @RevTedGiese. Check out our Movie Review Index!

[1] The Seventh Commandment, Part 1. The Ten Commandments, Luther’s Large Catechism: Concordia The Lutheran Confessions, A Reader’s Edition of the Book of Concord, Concordia Publishing House 2005, Pg 540 [245].
[2] An example of how King David prayed putting vengeance in God’s Hands, “Break the arm of the wicked and evildoer; call his wickedness to account till You find none” (Psalm 10:15).