Fueled by an intricate script, memorable characters, and spurts of thrilling action, The Batman belongs in the highest echelon of Dark Knight movies.
Bruce Wayne’s either forgotten to insert his cufflinks or he’s decided not to wear them.
Peering at a large monitor for possible clues to Gotham City’s latest murder mystery, it’s only natural that accessories are the last thing on Bruce’s mind, but lifelong billionaires don’t need reminders about formal attire, and a man concerned with keeping up the appearance of one wouldn’t show up to a public event looking so disheveled. But by this point — year two of his career as a freelance neighborhood watchman — it’s clear that Bruce isn’t your typical billionaire. And, 20 years after the murder of his parents, he’s too preoccupied with his own trauma to worry about how he looks to anyone but his enemies. For now, he’s trading in one black suit for another because he’s got to attend a funeral for a slain politician — or, as he puts it, because serial killers enjoy seeing the aftermath of their killings, and showing up to the public memorial service could mean a fresh lead.
The chance to fight crime is the only thing that can get the reclusive Bruce out of the house in The Batman, a sophisticated crime thriller that renders the vengeful caped crusader in all of his neo-noir glory. Fueled by an intricate script, the movie (which is out in theaters starting today) puts the spotlight on Batman the detective while reinforcing the comic book mythos and reinventing others. At almost three hours, it runs the risk of slightly overstaying its welcome, but with memorable characters and spurts of thrilling action, The Batman belongs in the highest echelon of Dark Knight movies.
The film, which was written and directed by Matt Reeves, follows the exploits of a younger Batman (Robert Pattinson) who’s just getting his bearings as a vigilante detective when a terrifying, Zodiac Killer-esque villain called The Riddler (Paul Dano) begins murdering powerful citizens of Gotham City.
From the beginning, Reeves sets forth the darkest of Gotham City atmospheres, with packed crowds, shadowy crevices, and the criminals who want to take advantage of them. Shining above the city is the Bat signal, which as Batman says, isn’t just a signal, it’s a warning. Fluttering strings, foreboding horns, ominous bells and screeching tea kettle whistles color heightened tensions as would-be evil-doers find themselves in the presence of The Dark Knight, whom Robert Pattinson renders with menace and the subtle empathy of someone gradually transforming their quest for vengeance into a hero’s journey. While Reeves compares Pattinson’s portrayal to Kurt Cobain, Pattinson’s sullen stares and reserved demeanor feel more like an extremely emo, but heroic version of Euphoria’s Nate Jacobs mixed with Dirty Harry’s stoicism and quiet, contained viciousness.
Unlike previous films, this movie sees Batman flex his detective muscles at almost every turn. With a casual glance, he determines that one dead man’s partial dismemberment began while he was still alive, using the condition of the visible blood to make the determination in just a few seconds. In another scene, a passing glimpse at a pair of boots in a picture help him tie one aspiring cat burglar to a greater city-wide conspiracy.
Aiding Batman in his war on crime is his souped-up Batsuit. While most iterations of the costume are bulletproof to a degree, The Batman’s suit eats automatic artillery with ease, truly coating Bruce in a suit of armor. You could argue that making Batman nearly invulnerable almost defeats the purpose of having a human become a superhero despite his physical limitations, but in today’s world of Dracos and A&R 15s, having a lengthy crime fighting career without some heavy duty protection just isn’t realistic, and that’s what Reeves’ film aspires to be.
Batman also uses a more expansive cache of tools that hadn’t previously seen on the big screen. There’s a built-in flight suit equipped with a parachute in his costume, and he’s got contacts that record everything he, or anyone else he wants to wear them, sees during nights out on patrol. We’ve seen the Batmobile before, but this one drops the tank appearance and opts for something sleek and furious.
As is the case in many comics, Gotham Police Department Lieutenant James Gordon, portrayed with righteous, everyman conviction by Jeffrey Wright, operates as Batman’s unofficial partner, helping keep skeptical cops at bay while aiding the Dark Knight in his detective work. Then there’s Selina Kyle (Zoë Kravitz), a robber and waitress who’s as skillful as she is fierce. Batting her eyelashes, Zoë Kravitz emits playful seduction, but with an intense death stare and a weapon in hand, that quickly turns to murderous resolve and a fiery instinct to stand up for those who can’t do so for themselves. Her chemistry with Pattinson is palpable, and that, combined with her own self-contained dramatic gifts, position Kravitz as perhaps the definitive Catwoman.
The Riddler was originally one of the corniest members of Batman’s rogues gallery, but over the years he’s grown more menacing as comic book writers have fleshed out more dynamic ways to depict him. With a seeming quasi-omniscience, endless cleverness, nearly unpredictable motives, and a flawlessly executed interpretation of an actual serial killer, The Batman’s central villain is downright terrifying and nearly as magnetic as Heath Ledger’s Joker. It’s clear Dano took the Zodiac inspiration to heart. Speaking to viewers as he livestreams his atrocities, The Riddler peppers long, drawn-out rhythmic sentences; his pieces of dialogue sound very similar to the Zodiac’s alleged phone call to a Bay Area radio station over 50 years ago. In some moments, he resembles depictions of the BTK Killer as he moans after the thrill of a murder.
Also turning in standout performances are Colin Farrell and John Turturro, who play The Oswald “Oz” Cobblepot (aka, Penguin) and Carmine Falcone, respectively. Farrell, in particular, truly does disappear into the role of Penguin, a grotesque, yet charismatic mid-level gangster with ambitions to rule Gotham.
With decades of interpretations, it’s hard to address all, or even most aspects of a superhero’s mythology in a single production. And after releasing five Batman-starring movies over the last 17 years, the questions only continue to mount. How do you present Batman the detective with Batman the human and Batman the hero? If you manage to accomplish those three things, will there be room for Bruce Wayne? After using all of Batman’s most memorable enemies in previous films, how do you present a truly original villain, and how do you make them compelling? Matt Reeves’ The Batman answers almost all of those riddles.
Peter is a writer and editor who covers music, movies, and all things dope.