THE STORY – Batman ventures into Gotham City’s underworld when a sadistic killer leaves behind a trail of cryptic clues. As the evidence begins to lead closer to home and the scale of the perpetrator’s plans become clear, he must forge new relationships, unmask the culprit and bring justice to the abuse of power and corruption that has long plagued the metropolis.
THE CAST – Robert Pattinson, Zoë Kravitz, Paul Dano, Jeffrey Wright, John Turturro, Peter Sarsgaard, Andy Serkis & Colin Farrell
THE TEAM – Matt Reeves (Director/Writer) & Peter Craig (Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 176 Minutes
By Matt Neglia
Heavy rain falls on Gotham City. Crime is on the rise, and the people are as mistrusting as ever of their elected officials and systems of power put in place to keep them safe. Mirroring our own reality in many eery ways, director Matt Reeves (“War For The Planet Of The Apes“) has pulled Batman out of the D.C. Cinematic Universe, giving him his own standalone film, and the result is what might be the definitive Batman movie. Surpassing even Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy, “The Batman” is the bleakest, most realistic, and faithful Batman film ever committed to cinema. Fans of the iconic comic book character will be rewarded with a thrillingly unique adaptation that is as far away from what most other blockbusters are delivering to today’s modern audiences: a thematically rich, hard-boiled, three-hour-long detective neo-noir which happens to feature a vigilante named Batman, teaming up with the Gotham City Police on a manhunt for a serial killer in the world’s most dangerous city. Borrowing elements from “Se7en,” “Zodiac,” and dozens of police procedurals, “The Batman” is a masterwork of character, design, and mood, pushing audiences past their cinematic comfort zones and into the kind of storytelling that even Martin Scorsese would be proud of in today’s mainstream IP driven entertainment landscape.
It’s been two years since Bruce Wayne (Robert Pattinson) decided to use his family’s fortune to become the Batman, a character we’re all very familiar with but one we’ve rarely seen depicted in this manner. Calling himself “Vengeance” and striking fear into the hearts of small-time criminals everywhere with the help of GCPD lieutenant Jame Gordon (Jeffrey Wright), the Batman is still figuring out how to best serve the people of Gotham years after his crusading parents were murdered. A new serial killer nicknamed “The Riddler” (Paul Dano) has started targeting high-ranking Gotham City officials on Halloween night, leaving various clues and various puzzles behind to taunt Batman and the police. As the body count rises from the demented criminal mastermind and the people of Gotham are plunged into more fear and doubt as to the morals and ethics of their leaders, Batman forms an uneasy alliance with Selina Kyle aka. “Catwoman” (Zoë Kravitz), a nightclub waitress for the city’s most powerful crime lord Carmine Falcone (John Turturro). Together, Batman, Gordon, and Kyle all work together during a fateful week to untangle The Riddler’s plot and bring him to justice.
At 176 minutes, “The Batman” has enough story and characters to fill an entire miniseries. Still, in an age where audiences are looking for compelling reasons to go back to the movie theaters and receive as much rewarding content for their time and money, Reeves, co-screenwriter Peter Craig, the cast and crew have all banded together to deliver a richly satisfying epic blockbuster that functions not just as a piece of entertainment but a scathing takedown of political corruption, calling into question the true meaning of the word justice and if such a thing can even still exist in such a dark and unforgiving world. The film’s runtime works for the sprawling crime story Reeves wants to tell, not against it. Each character that populates the story, from the ones mentioned above to Bruce’s trusted butler Alfred (Andy Serkis) and Oswald “Oz” Cobblepot/Penguin (an unrecognizable Colin Farrell), are all given enough time to make their characters come alive in exciting and memorable ways, making this the finest ensemble ever compiled for a Batman film. Audiences may feel the three-hour runtime is a daunting chore to sit through, even if it is a film featuring Batman, Catwoman, and the Riddler, and that is understandable when the story and the characters are not working. However, the attention to detail from Reeves and Craig to ensure that Batman receives an appropriate character arc at this stage in his crime-fighting career and that the supporting cast is not left on the sidelines as the film spends most of its runtime with Batman and James Gordon solving The Riddler’s puzzles, analyzing crime scenes and putting in dedicated detective work to track down a mass murderer is precisely the kind of storytelling which elevates this adaptation to heights greater than the average comic book movie. All of this could not be achieved in a standard two-hour runtime, and “The Batman” is all the more richer and gratifying for it.
So how is Batman himself, you might wonder? Well, if I’m being sincere, I think Robert Pattinson is the best “Batman” we’ve ever had. There’s an intensity and intelligence behind his eyes when he’s wearing the black cowl, which I’ve never seen adequately expressed by anyone else before. Much was made of the fact that he didn’t bulk up for the role as others have done before him, but it was not a distraction once you see how Reeves chose to direct the fight choreography and how Pattinson fits in the suit overall. Pattinson’s internalized charisma and brooding nature are a perfect fit for this era of Bruce Wayne, too, one who recklessly does not care what happens to him and doesn’t fully understand yet what being The Batman means for himself and the people of Gotham. While “The Batman” appropriately features The Batman for about 80% of the film’s runtime, scenes of Pattinson as Bruce Wayne are a bit lacking as the sly wit, charm, and billionaire playboy machismo of Christian Bale is a bit missed. Whatever levity that could’ve provided this interpretation of the character is not cohesive with Reeve’s vision, one which only contains about three or four laughs throughout the film’s near three hours.
As I mentioned before, the supporting cast brings their A-game to these magnificently defined and well-known characters. Zoë Kravitz embodies the grey shades of Selina Kyle’s character perfectly, and her chemistry with Pattinson is extremely steamy, for when the two lock eyes under their respective masks, you want nothing more than to see these two broken spirits find a way to be together. Paul Dano has a history of playing creepy characters before (“There Will Be Blood” and “Prisoners”), which makes him a wise and suitable choice to play a version of The Riddler, who is more of a mentally deranged but highly intellectual terrorist, rather than a theatrical, charismatic showman. Much like the serial killers from David Fincher’s films, the unknown Riddler is a loner with a high degree of cleverness but lacks social skills, making him a terrifying incel who uses social media and the internet to his advantage to “unmask the truth” about Gotham City. Jeffrey Wright brings his exceptional observational skills and subtle nuance to Gordon, making him more than just a secondary character next to Batman (who we know is the world’s greatest detective). The mutual respect and admiration the two men have for each other despite Gordon not knowing Batman’s identity almost makes “The Batman” a buddy-cop movie at times, adding further to the “Se7en” comparisons as the two put their minds together to uncover The Riddler’s plan. John Turturro has more to do than I initially expected with surprising ties to both Selina Kyle and Bruce Wayne, which only helps further to deepen the characters and the story’s themes, while Andy Serkis has one particularly striking conversation with Bruce Wayne at a hospital highlighting his dramatic range even with very minimal screentime (mainly because this movie features very few scenes with Bruce Wayne). Colin Farrell, though, is an absolute blast to watch in this as he hams up the tough-guy persona of The Penguin (which some call him due to his disfigured face, but he’s not the prominent crime boss we know quite yet). If I did not know already that was Colin Farrell under the pounds and pounds of heavy makeup and prosthetics, I would never have been able to guess as he also hides his specific Irish accent under an Italian-American one. Some may feel his stunt casting leads to an overblown performance. Still, given the nature of the character and when the story takes place, it’s a proper and fun piece of work from an actor we have rarely seen let himself go this loose since his last comic-book villain performance as Bullseye in 2003’s “Daredevil.”
I may be making it sound like “The Batman” is all riddle solving and dialogue-heavy scenes, but there are also some action sequences as well. While not as grand in scale as what we saw in Christopher Nolan or Zack Snyder’s Batman films, there are many elements of Reeve’s film which feels like they’re going back to basics as the reset button has been hit on this character and this world with an all-new cast and canon outside of any other previously produced film featuring Batman. In that regard, the action scenes feel stripped out of Tim Burton’s “Batman” films but upgraded with modern visual effects, and harder impact as Batman brutally attacks various thugs, drives ferociously through the dim, rainy streets of Gotham in pursuit of The Penguin and various other crime-fighting activities only Batman could find himself in with no superpowers other than his strength, mind, and will to defend the people of Gotham. Even The Riddler’s ultimate endgame is one that is based in some form of reality, giving the final ambitious setpiece a degree of dangerous stakes and escalating tension not seen since Nolan’s “The Dark Knight.” The Burton comparisons are also helped by the film’s modern but rundown and gothic production design and Michael Giacchino’s haunting and grand score. More orchestrally sounding like Danny Elfman’s work for Tim Burton, instead of using digital synthesizers as Hans Zimmer did for Nolan’s films, Giacchino’s score is his best since his Oscar-winning work on Disney Pixar’s “Up” as it’s filled with unforgettable themes (the inclusion of “Ave Maria” for The Riddler is an evocative and atmospheric choice) and soaring melodies. Greig Fraser also continues to prove why he’s one of the most extraordinary cinematographers working in the business today as he successfully finds a new look for the world of Gotham City, one that can distinguish itself from what came before while balancing Reeves’ grounded vision for the story and finding light within the darkness.
“The Batman” is the kind of cinematic triumph that doesn’t feel possible anymore in a world so reliant on already established properties to get buts in the seats and sell tickets. Yes, it will likely do just that because it’s a character and a world we’re all familiar with. However, instead of taking the easy route to give audiences a crowd pleasing mainstream blockbuster that could follow a simple winning formula and guarantee itself a billion dollars at the box office, Matt Reeves respectfully and boldly has challenged audiences with his innovation and filmmaking prowess to deliver what may be the best Batman film yet. Audiences might balk at its nearly three-hour runtime. Still, once they’re hurled into Gotham’s thematically textured dark world, with characters worth caring about and a fully realized new take on Batman, one steeped in the pitchest black imaginable, Reeves will likely prove that which many of us in the industry already know, however, audiences are sometimes forgetting. There is room for more than one type of blockbuster in the theatrical experience.
THE FINAL SCORE
THE GOOD – Dark, sprawling and fully realized down to the tiniest detail, Matt Reeves has made the definitive Batman film, one that is distinctive compared to previous films, challenging and highly rewarding. Robert Pattinson is the best Batman we’ve had yet. A rich supporting cast. Michael Giacchino’s grand and haunting score. Excellent crafts all around.