Release Date(s)2022 (May 24, 2022)
Studio(s)DC Films/Warner Bros Pictures (Warner Home Video)
- Film/Program Grade: B
- Video Grade: A+
- Audio Grade: A+
- Extras Grade: B
[Editor’s Note: The film portion of this review is by Tim Salmons. The disc review portion is by Bill Hunt.]
For better or worse, the DC Extended Universe has had its share of critique since Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel debuted in 2013. The film ushered in a new incarnation of the franchise and delivered strong box office returns, but never fully satisfied the majority of its audience. Despite the character’s appearance in the subsequent Dawn of Justice and Justice League, fans were craving a solo Batman film that was actually in development at the time, with Ben Affleck set to return as both the titular caped crusader and the director. Unfortunately, when Affleck stepped down from both roles for personal reasons, Matt Reeves—who had previously directed 2008’s Cloverfield, as well as the rebooted Planet of the Apes sequels—took over with an entirely new and non-DCEU approach. The result, The Batman, finds a younger Bruce Wayne/Batman fighting crime in a more menacing version of Gotham City than we’ve previously seen.
In this story, a series of murders is occurring in Gotham attributed to a figure known as the Riddler (Paul Dano), who leaves clues at the scene of his crimes addressed directly to the Batman (Robert Pattinson). The police regard the Batman as an outsider and vigilante, but Lieutenant Gordon (Jeffrey Wright) brings him into the investigation anyway hoping to solve these crimes, which appear to be targeted at Gotham City officials and law enforcement officers. Meanwhile, Selina Kyle (aka Catwoman, Zoe Kravitz) is attempting to discover what happened to her missing friend and roommate by infiltrating the Iceberg Lounge, an underground nightclub run by the nefarious Oswald Cobblepot (aka Penguin, Colin Farrell) and owned by mob boss Carmine Falcone (John Turturro). So it’s not long before the Batman and Catwoman cross paths, challenging the former’s moralistic views, as the Riddler’s reign of terror continues.
Stylistically, The Batman has its roots in the New Hollywood films of the 1960s and 70s, Taxi Driver among them, and it gives Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight trilogy a run for its money in terms of darkness and grit. (Though in fairness, Nolan’s films were about grounding Batman in the real world, while Reeves works more to capture the darkness of society’s underbelly.) The Batman borrows obvious story elements from The Long Halloween and Dark Victory graphic novels, the former of which was already referenced in Nolan’s The Dark Knight (particularly with regard to the character of Harvey Dent), though Reeves supplants the killer in that story for the Riddler while drawing heavily upon Selina Kyle’s narrative. The director’s faith in Robert Pattinson’s ability to wear the cape and cowl was likely justified by his work in The Rover, Cosmopolis, and The Lighthouse, and the actor was certainly the right choice, though his take on Bruce Wayne would have benefited from more screen time to develop the character’s relationship with Alfred (Andy Serkis).
Although The Batman was a financial success, earning nearly $800 million dollars worldwide, it also received its share of criticism, with everything from the film’s length, to its final act, and even the lack of secondary character development having been called into question. While it’s true that at least half an hour could have been trimmed from The Batman’s running time, a superhero film that develops its story more slowly and methodically is not necessarily a bad thing, and no doubt sequels are planned that will explore the supporting characters more thoroughly. But some critics have also attacked The Batman for its tone, claiming that Batman films are “no longer fun,” which—the 1966 and Joel Schumacher films aside—seems to miss the point of the character entirely, particularly as he’s depicted in the comics.
Despite the criticism though, improvements abound here, including Batman’s modus operandi. His detective skills, which were only hinted at in previous films, are front and center here. This is also one of the only Batman films in which the character actually saves the people in front of him instead of helping them indirectly. In the opening of Tim Burton’s Batman, for example, the character witnesses a mugging and then goes after the muggers—not to stop them or retrieve stolen valuables, but to hurt and scare them. But in The Batman, a group of people are trapped under scaffolding in flooded waters, and Batman steps in to save them. That moment, and others that follow, suggest we might see a different Bruce Wayne and Batman in the sequels—someone who’s on the ground, helping those in need. So while The Batman represents a bit of a rough start for this new incarnation of the character, with ample room for improvement, it’s a good one nonetheless.
The Batman was captured digitally in a variety of formats (at 4.5 and 6K) by cinematographer Greig Fraser (Dune, Rogue One, Zero Dark Thirty) using Arri Alexa LF, Mini LF, and Sony CineAlta Venice cameras with a host of Arri, Cook, and Canon anamorphic lenses. The film was finished as a native 4K Digital Intermediate at the 2.39:1 aspect ratio. For its release on Ultra HD, that source has been graded for high dynamic range (both Dolby Vision and HDR10 options are included). The result is a highly cinematic yet moody image, definitely one that lives and breathes in the darkness. So it’s truly surprising how much detail is visible in the 4K presentation—a genuine credit to Frasier’s photography. The HDR adds pleasing subtleties to the color palette, and strongly benefits both shadows and brightly-bold highlights alike, resulting in a remarkably deep and dimensional looking image. And those with Dolby Vision capable displays will be glad to have them. Simply put, this is a gorgeous and beautifully-textured presentation, delivered in reference-quality 4K.
Audio-wise, the primary sound experience is an excellent home theater port of the film’s theatrical Dolby Atmos mix. It should be noted that this is not a bombastic surround mix, though it certainly flexes its muscles during set pieces. What impresses here is the sheer variety of sonic environments, not to mention the near-constant overhead channel activity, and the subtle sound cues that can be heard even in the film’s quietest moments. The dialogue is clean and easily discernible, composer Michael Giacchino’s brooding score is presented with lovely fidelity, and the action sequences deliver plenty of bluster. The throaty growl of the Batmobile’s engine has pleasing low-end bite. The overall sense of immersion generated here is remarkable, making this Atmos mix every bit a match for the visuals. Additional audio options include German and Italian Dolby Atmos, English, French, German, Italian, and Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital, English Descriptive Audio (both US and UK versions), and German Audio Description for the Blind. Subtitles are available in English for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, French, German for the Hearing Impaired, Italian for the Deaf, Spanish, Danish, Finnish, Norwegian, and Swedish. (For the record, the regular Blu-ray in this package includes audio in English Dolby Atmos, English 5.1 Dolby Digital, and English Descriptive Audio, as well as French, Spanish, and Portuguese 5.1 Dolby Digital, with optional subtitles in English for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, French, Spanish, and Portuguese.)
Warner’s The Batman arrives on 4K Ultra HD as a 3-disc set. The first two discs include the film itself in 4K on UHD and HD on regular Blu-ray with no special features, while the third disc is a Blu-ray dedicated to them. Those features include…
- Looking for Vengeance (HD – 4:57)
- The Batman: Genesis (HD – 6:09)
- Vengeance Meets Justice (HD – 8:04)
- Becoming Catwoman (HD – 8:36)
- The Batmobile (HD – 10:51)
- Anatomy of the Car Chase (HD – 6:08)
- Anatomy of the Wing Suit Jump (HD – 6:29)
- Vengeance in the Making (HD – 53:41)
- Unpacking the Icons (HD – 5:47)
- A Transformation: The Penguin (HD – 7:59)
- Deleted Scenes (HD – with optional commentary by Matt Reeves)
- Scene 52 Joker/Arkham (HD – 5:53)
- Scene 56 Selina Gets 44 Below Keycard (HD – 1:53)
In all, the content adds up to nearly two hours worth of material and it’s all refreshing, not quite in-depth yet still interesting because each piece is focused—getting right to the heart of the film’s concepts. There are featurettes on the fight choreography and its in-universe thematic origins, as well as the casting of the lead actors (and the hiring of Giacchino). Each member of the Rogues Gallery and their unique motivations is explored in dedicated segments. Batman’s new ride and its insane/bespoke engineering is examined, as are a couple of the key action set pieces, and each character’s iconic costume and equipment. The best of the lot is Vengeance in the Making, which is a thoughtful 53-minute “making of” documentary that examines the actual production effort. It starts with the first day of filming, including camera tests of the actors in their costumes, then takes us behind the scenes. We learn about the origins of the film and Reeves’ involvement, the various sources of inspiration he drew upon, the way the director and his team have justified their choices and reenvisioned the characters, and the effort though which they’ve tried to present a new cinematic take on the material. Everyone you’d wish to hear from gets a chance to speak and share their insights. And we see the filmmakers struggling with COVID production shutdowns too, which made an already difficult task almost Herculean. The disc also includes a pair of good deleted scenes, one featuring Barry Keoghan as Joker and the other an extra bit of character-building with Penguin in the nightclub. What’s great here is that there’s no fluff, no filler, no marketing pablum. It would be nice to have galleries of concept artwork, but you do get to see lots of that art in the featurettes. Trailers and an audio commentary would have elevated these extras to the next level (Reeves does comment on the deleted scenes), but make no mistake—this is very good special feature content. And of course, you also get a Digital Copy code on a paper insert. [Editor’s Note: There IS a director’s commentary available, though irritatingly it’s only on the iTunes Digital version.]
The Batman is overlong, a bit indulgent, and could stand some focusing in the edit, but it’s well grounded and successfully brings the character back to its hard boiled/noir detective roots. What’s more, Warner’s 4K presentation is reference quality and the bonus features here are among the best we’ve seen from a major Hollywood studio in some time. The UHD format truly does The Batman justice. Both the film and this disc are highly recommended.
- Tim Salmons and Bill Hunt