The Batman is phenomenal. Clearly taking inspiration from the films preceding it, especially Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy, The Batman also pushes into new territory for the caped crusader. We’ve never seen this version of Batman on screen nor have we ever gotten a portrayal of Bruce Wayne like the one Robert Pattinson delivers. Director Matt Reeves’ vision for Batman/Bruce Wayne and the city of Gotham is steeped firmly in the history of the comics and focuses firmly on one of the character’s oldest epithets; World’s Greatest Detective.
The Batman is a detective story through and through. Set in the vigilante’s early years on the job, this Batman has a close relationship with Detective Gordon — an incredible Jeffrey Wright — and an insatiable appetite for vengeance and revenge.
In this version of Gotham, the criminals have already won. The streets aren’t safe and life is cruel and difficult. It’s here that Bruce Wayne has become hardened and sharpened and lost nearly every ounce of his humanity. He does want to save Gotham but he’s not yet the man to do it.
The Batman Review
The Batman opens in the midst of a mayoral election campaign and the incumbent mayor is brutally murdered by a killer who leaves behind cryptic clues, riddles and messages addressed to ‘The Batman.’ These early scenes quickly and seamlessly establish Gordon and Batman’s relationship as well as the wariness of the Gotham PD of the latter’s assistance. It also sets The Batman’s tone. This film may be a comic-book movie and it may be borrowing heavily from what Nolan did but it also looks beyond its own genre and cribs from other greats. Most obvious is the inspiration of David Fincher’s Se7en.
Much of The Batman is set at night and in the rain. We rarely get to see daylight in Gotham and when we do, it’s dirty and loud, overrun with people and problems. Like the daytime, we rarely see Bruce Wayne in this film too. He’s not the playboy we’ve seen before and instead is a recluse from Gotham at large. Pattinson infuses Wayne/Batman with a fury and passion, one that borders on obsession, that sets him apart from other filmic depictions of the Dark Knight. Pattinson also may be younger and less physically imposing but his Batman is terrifyingly brutal.
Fight scenes are explosive and wince-inducing as Batman uses ferocious efficiency to dispatch witless goons, mob enforcers and more. You feel the hits and the anger behind the mask with each punch and understand the this Batman may be the one closest to breaking his rule.
Setting The Batman as a neo-noir psychological crime thriller is a masterstroke by Director Reeves who pulls out all the stops to make the case and the detective work the main draw. Watching Batman and Gordon work so closely together is a dream come true and to see the former actually investigate crimes as ‘The World’s Greatest Detective’ is something comic fans have been hoping for, for years. Wright is the standout of the supporting cast but it’s a tough call as each and every actor in this film gives a sublime performance.
Zoe Kravitz’s Selina Kyle has the perfect blend of vulnerability, desperation and anger and stands toe-to-toe with every actor she shares a scene with. Alongside Gordon, Catwoman is the heart of The Batman and puts a human face on the pain and suffering of the citizens of Gotham. An unrecognisable Colin Farrel as Penguin is incredible and a perfect foil Batman, Gordon and John Turturro’s Carmine Falcone.
Many other Batman films have included elements of Gotham’s mob families but only ever in superficial ways. In The Batman, the crime families are part of the fabric of the city and are every bit as important as the rogue’s gallery, Alfred or Arkham Asylum. John Turturro’s performance as Carmine Falcone is slick and scary. Like a shark, circling its prey, Falcone is calm and cautious until he strikes. You can almost see his eyes turn black in those moments.
Finally, Paul Dano’s Riddler is something altogether new. It’s an interesting take on the character and certainly one I wasn’t expecting. Rather than being played for laughs or as a man intellectually sparring with Batman, this version of Riddler is an outlier. A 4Chan dwelling troll who’s gone all the way down the QAnon rabbit hole and come out the other side. It’s a chilling depiction of the character as it hits particularly close to home, echoing the attacks against New Zealand Muslims by Australian terrorist Brenton Tarrant. It’s difficult not to feel squeamish as Dano fully embodies a person fully devoted to fringe ideas and the notion of setting things right.
The Batman also flirts with the idea that Batman himself, while doing good for Gotham, is causing the insanity. It’s become a touchstone for Batman in recent years but here, it’s more prevalent than ever. Would Riddler have become what he is if not for the Batman? The film never answers the question and it’s one that’ll linger with you.
Running at nearly 3-hours, The Batman is a dense and long film but it never feels that way. Reeves cleverly uses time and space to allow moments to breathe and properly establish the city of Gotham. The final act does stumble a little as it seems to rush in the final minutes, however, it’s a minor detraction from an otherwise incredible film.
Visually gorgeous with an amazing score (the use of Nirvana’s something in the way is superb) and plenty of references for fans (Hush anyone?) The Batman is every bit as good as The Dark Knight and sets a new standard for comic-book movies.
Leo Stevenson attended a review screening of The Batman as a guest of Warner Bros and Universal Pictures.