Directed by Matt Reeves (War for the Planet of the Apes) — Screenplay by Matt Reeves & Peter Craig.
I was elated when Robert Pattinson was announced to play Batman. Pattinson’s work in independent films had impressed me so much, and I thought he was a pretty obvious choice for the role. However, as many people know, Batman movies always lead to premature casting criticism (people were critical of Heath Ledger, Michael Keaton, and Ben Affleck long before they had even seen them in their respective films). I remember receiving rude comments about my excitement for Pattinson as Bruce Wayne. After having finally seen the film, I can honestly say that I feel vindicated. Pattinson is great and Reeves has once again made an outstanding blockbuster film in a vastly popular (and, to some, tired) franchise.
Matt Reeves’ The Batman takes place only two years into Bruce Wayne’s vigilantism as the titular Batman (played by Robert Pattinson). He strikes fear in criminals far and wide but the Gotham City Police Department mostly don’t trust him. However, Lieutenant James Gordon (played by Jeffrey Wright) trusts him implicitly. On Halloween night, Gordon signals for the Batman after Gotham City’s mayor has been brutally murdered by a serial killer known as the Riddler (played by Paul Dano). To protect Gotham, Gordon and Batman must now team up to decipher the killer’s codes, which take them right into the seedy underbelly of Gotham City where they’ll uncover just how corrupt the grimy metropolis is.
An aspect of the Batman comic books that I don’t think has been communicated well enough on the big screen is that Batman is known as the World’s Greatest Detective. Matt Reeves, perhaps more than any other filmmaker before him understood that aspect of his assignment. This is a hard, dark, and cold detective crime thriller. Reeves marries the anger, the horror, the anxiety, and the knowledge of the Dark Knight with his distinctly different take on the character, which I’ll discuss further later in the review.
At the same time, he does an incredible job of building the world of Gotham City and Batman’s rogues’ gallery. The city feels alive and lived in. The characters feel like they’ve always been there. Gotham hasn’t been this well-realized in decades, and it is one of Reeves’ film’s major achievements. The opening of the film does a terrific job of reintroducing us to comic book’s most famous city. I also want to highlight that the film deserves a lot of credit for one location’s incredible gothic interior design. It is a perfect choice for Bruce Wayne, Batman, and Gotham.
The first hour is particularly jaw-dropping and hair-raising. You feel it in the unique use of music, the terrifying scenes with the Riddler (and, in one scene, seeing things from his perspective), the use of an opening voice-over for Bruce Wayne (it feels very much like a Batman-film’s version of Paul Schrader’s ‘God’s lonely man’ trope), the stripped-down and unrefined nature of the Batcave, Batmobile, etc., as well as the sometimes quite dark and grimy visual aesthetic, the use of orange and red to accentuate certain scenes, the unforgettable musical theme. From the look of the film, the design of the world, the pace, and the mood; It’s so precise and it evokes memories of Se7en and Zodiac, which brings me to the fact that this may very well be the least-kid-friendly Batman film yet.
West. Keaton. Kilmer. Clooney. Bale. Affleck. And now Pattinson. Cinema has had its fair share of live-action Batmen, and, like I’ve suggested in the past, Pattinson, the independent filmmaking favorite and former sparkly Vampire heartthrob in the Twilight-saga, suits this film quite well. He, and his intense eyes, fits like a glove, and he could easily portray the billionaire vigilante for several years. However, Reeves’ film asks something of Pattinson that other Batman directors haven’t previously asked of its leading men. Pattinson is terrific from start to finish. Pattinson’s Bruce Wayne is a recluse who is ill-suited for the spotlight. His is a Bruce Wayne for the generations that grew up with grunge and emo rock. Reeves’ film uses a Nirvana classic as one of its core musical themes, and it really fits with Bruce Wayne’s rock star appearance. When he isn’t donning the cowl, Pattinson’s Bruce looks like a mixture of Kurt Cobain and Jared Leto circa 2005.
Perhaps more than ever before, it feels right to say that Bruce Wayne is the real mask for the Dark Knight. Pattinson’s Batman, not quite a rookie but only in his second year all in black, already knows his code, but perhaps he doesn’t yet understand the meaning of the Bat-signal nor of vengeance, even though he plays along. Over the course of the film, he has to learn that his signal is more than a call and a warning (Reeves’ film does a fantastic job of showing how the Bat-signal is Gotham’s main deterrence against crime). He has to understand that it is also a beacon of hope for normalcy and safety in a deeply corrupt metropolis.
Pattinson is also surrounded by a uniformly great supporting cast. Jeffrey Wright reshapes Gordon and turns him into more of a partner to Batman than he has been before. Zoë Kravitz perfectly captures her character’s alluring persona, and, from the looks of things here, Kravitz definitely has it in her to become the definitive live-action Catwoman. You can’t take your eyes off her. Paul Dano’s Riddler is completely divorced from the cartoonish take on the character once played by Jim Carrey in Joel Schumacher’s Batman Forever. Dano’s character is terrifying, mysterious, vicious, and smart. He’s clearly modeled after the serial killers from David Fincher’s oeuvre. I could go on and on because even John Turturro, Colin Farrell (who is unrecognizable and surprisingly funny), Peter Sarsgaard, and Andy Serkis have scenes where they leave an impression. They don’t all make the characters their own, but some members of the supporting cast, including Dano, do.
It isn’t a perfect film, though, and the one major drawback that most people will agree on is its excessive runtime. It doesn’t necessarily need to be basically three hours long, though I’m not sure what I would cut. It feels a little bit long around the two-hour-mark, give or take, but then the film swept me away again and spellbound me all over again. As I’ve stated, this is a thriller, and it may even be right to classify it as a slow-burn detective thriller. That may take some getting used to for audiences used to modern superhero action formulas. Personally, I think it has maybe one too many endings (there is ascene that should’ve been a post-creditts scene instead). I also think that the film’s sense of momentum suffers somewhat from the fact that its villain doesn’t really figure into the most of the action of the third act.
With The Batman, Matt Reeves has put the ‘detective’ back into DC Comics (i.e. Detective Comics). It is a dark, grimy, and hard-hitting new beginning for the iconic Caped Crusader, who has here been returned to — and refamiliarized audiences with — his World’s Greatest Detective-nickname. Reeves’ film was clearly heavily inspired by David Fincher’s filmography, as its villain is equal parts Zodiac, John Doe (the antagonist from Se7en), and a content creator, and several scenes in The Batman capture a similar aesthetic as those aforementioned films. It is a film that has a lot of pent-up anger and pain about the legacy of corruption baked into it. On the whole, it is an outstanding superhero thriller, even if it is a little bit too long. It’s not your typical superhero movie, it isn’t action-focused, but I haven’t been this impressed by a Batman movie since 2008.
9 out of 10
– Review Written by Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.