Matt Reeves’ rendition of the infamous superhero, announces its arrival directly from the horse’s mouth. Robert Pattinson, who plays the shadowy Gotham City superhero is heard before he actually appears; not like lightning but like the shadow that he claims to have become. He also introduces us to the array of rats, scums, and delinquents that have managed to rack up the crime rate of the city. He, like a good samaritan who has some personal issues with the low-lives, is trying to keep these people off the grid and clean up the streets.
But he isn’t the only justice seeker in town. There’s also the mysterious masked man who we first see in the opening moments of The Batman. He is out for blood and when the Mayor of the city is brutally killed, Batman meets Gotham’s greatest and possibly only honest detective James Gordon. However, this isn’t their first meeting. In fact, none of the initial proceedings in The Batman are first-offs. Reeves cleverly subverts the obvious inklings of an origin story in exchange for a broadening and bleak bat-noir that reinvigorates the cape crusader.
So, The Batman, in this universe has been active for a few odd years. He has nothing to do with Todd Phillips’ mid-budget Joker (2019), or the many other mega-budget DCEU Snyder outings. In fact, there’s a huge chance that this specific Batman story is fresh out of Reeves’s own cinematic oven. The obvious inspirations from Frank Miller’s “Year One” from the late 80s aside, this is a true blue (or a true black) serial-killer procedural that will remind you more of David Fincher’s “Zodiac” and “Se7en” than it will of other, more grounded portrayals like Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight Trilogy.”
Anyhow, a killer is on the prowl and he is leaving little notes for Batman. With every murder he commits, he leaves a token of his obsession for the superhero. The news finally names him The Riddler, and both The Batman and James Gorden are unable to pinpoint why these killings are taking place. The masked criminal is not out for the blood of the low-lives, but the criminally corrupt. Those ones who plague the rotting center of the city.
There’s an obvious intrigue here that keeps the audience invested. Firstly, Batman as a character is broken and distraught like always, but this emo-version of the hero is steeped in the bleakness. So much so, that even his unmasked personality as Bruce Wayne has retorted to keeping a low profile. Secondly, unlike the other version of the hero, the stakes here feel pretty personal with The Batman serving more as a cloy and a detective, and less as a hero who is there to save the city. Also, he is a moody character who is perpetually pissed off because he is always one step behind when it comes to saving his city.
Thirdly, since Reeves has clearly no interest in giving us an origin story, his focused eye keeps this noir channeling on a firm and grounded framework. He cleverly plots this supreme detective tale around Batman and his group of allies and foes. The fact that each one participating in this narrative plays a part and isn’t there just for mere distraction is another solid reason why this version really stands out.
Basically, this is a straight-out self-realization coming-of-age narrative steeped in a dark crime noir. The director doesn’t pay heed to what the predecessors have set out for the superhero and instead, makes a really busy film that, in spite of clocking in at 176 minutes, truly earns its slow burn. The action set pieces here are also not extravagant. Even the chases are a mere escape tool and not something grander. While this may upset some fans, the reason for choosing a rather psychological way out makes The Batman a somewhat scary tale.
As far as world-building is concerned, Gotham looks like the one geeks and long-time fans would remember from the Arkham city games. It is inviting, deranged, and screams of losing control at every hook and corner. The grim atmosphere is far away from cheery, and even the sure-shot reverse-jokes are delivered with morse, straight-faced undertones; making the overall vision feel like a genuine power struggle for a city drowning in corruption and mob bosses shenanigans.
Thus, it is only right that Reeves channels this vision through Pattinson. The young actor perfectly fits into this vessel that the director has devised for him. His Batman is more elusive, secluded, and intense. More so, his Bruce Wayne is the kind of alter-ego that hasn’t seen the light of the day for years. Whenever he emerges from the rubble that is his home, he feels like a nocturnal, introverted soul who would need to put on sunglasses even if a small glimmer of light passes through. This moody and grim take on the superhero feels fresh and exciting in ways that made me want to sit for another 3-hour long re-run as soon as this one ended.
As far as Batman’s allies are concerned, Zoë Kravitz as Selina Kyle (a.k.a Catwoman) is sexier than most of the versions played by actresses throughout history. While the chemistry between Batman and Catwoman doesn’t feel too organic, the actors manage to make it work in spite of a rather underdeveloped character arc. Jeffrey Wright and Andy Serkis’s Alfred are fairly reliable to the story, but the fact that co-writer Peter Craig doesn’t really offer them anything more concrete does make them feel like wasted opportunities.
As far as his foes are concerned, Paul Dano as The Riddler is the right amount of menacing. When he does actually show up in the 3rd act, you can’t help notice his villainous streak that feels like something that comes out of years of frustration. He channels a kind of vulnerability and rage that doesn’t topple The Riddler into one of those over-the-top portrayals of Batman villains, making his act truly stand out. Colin Farrell’s Penguin is weighed down by a heavy bodysuit, but the actor is the only one who sort of lightens things up in this otherwise desolate fable.
Another noticeable thing about “The Batman” is the terrifying score by Michael Giacchino. While the main theme does sound eerily similar to Darth Wader’s theme, I think Giacchino does that intentionally to provoke a reaction from the audience. His music greatly compliments Reeves’ vision and Greig Fraser’s gorgeous cinematography.
Overall, “The Batman” has to be one of the more intelligent and well-made superhero movies in the last decade or so. It does have its shares of grievances, but it takes the character into the right path and DC fans can finally rejoice at that.
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