'The Batman': A Dark, Thrilling, and Excellent Take on the Caped Crusader
At a time where many moviegoers are feeling a bit of superhero fatigue from all of the comic book based films that have been released over the past several years, I wouldn't put it past someone to approach Matt Reeves's The Batman with a bit of skepticism. In addition to how comic book movies have saturated the market as of late, the most recent portrayal of the Caped Crusader didn't exactly hit with audiences. Ben Affleck's take on Batman has its defenders, but the general public wasn't exactly begging for him to continue playing him. It doesn't help that DC has had a rough decade, as many of their films have received a harsh critical reception and left a sour taste in many people's mouths. It was clear that DC needed to do a bit of an overhaul, which saw them steering away from building an extended cinematic universe a la Marvel, and opt for more standalone films that reflect the main character's sensibilities a bit more. This is probably the best decision they could have made, as it allows them to stand apart from their biggest competitor, and create films that feel more unique and individualized.
But still, when DC announced that there was going to be a new Batman movie, it was greeted with a rather mixed response. This isn't particularly surprising given that it's basically the same way people react when all of the other iterations of Batman have been announced. There is some excitement because a new Batman movie is on the horizon, but also some worry that the movie will be bad. The discourse is typically dominated by the actor who is cast as Batman, as every actor from Michael Keaton onward has received quite a bit of backlash after it is announced that they will don the cape and cowl. This was definitely the case when it was announced that Robert Pattinson was cast. While Pattinson has gone on to give several great performances since then, some people still associate him with the Twilight movies, and were doubtful that he would be a good Batman. It would make sense if any of the above would give you mixed feelings towards The Batman, but what Matt Reeves and company accomplish with it is daring, fascinating, and a boldly unique take on the Dark Knight.
Looking back on the various iterations of Batman on the big screen, it's fascinating to see how the films seem to be getting grittier and darker with each new release. We are so far removed from the goofiness of Batman (1966) and the blend of camp and seriousness that we see in Batman (1989) and Batman Returns. Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy feels like a more decisive turning point in having the character lean into darker territory, which continued with the Zack Snyder directed films that feature him. The Batman carries this on, and is arguably the darkest of any of the Batman films thus far. However, the film isn't just a dark superhero movie that plays it by the numbers. It feels much more rich and unpredictable than any other comic book movie in recent memory, and is a genuinely well-made film.
Perhaps the wisest choice that the film makes is that it diverges from the formula used by most comic book movies, and functions as more of a detective movie. Much of the film is devoted to Batman trying to solve the mystery at its core, and feels more like a neo-noir film, as opposed to a comic book movie. It wouldn't surprise me if this was influenced by the films of David Fincher, especially Se7en and Zodiac. It feels similar to these films in both aesthetic and narrative, yet it doesn't feel like a total rip-off of them. It allows the film to feel more like Batman is hunting a serial killer rather than a standard villain. This touch makes the film all the more intriguing, and engrossed me far more than I was expecting it to.
I feel that Matt Reeves deserves a lot of credit, as he is able to pull off some incredible things from a directorial standpoint. The film has such a consistent tone throughout, and is a great example of how to craft an intriguing mystery. He is able to blend this with what audiences have come to know and love from the Batman franchise rather well, and provide a film that breaks away from the norm while still honoring its source material. As a result, the film feels more grounded in reality than any of the previous Batman films. The script, from Reeves and co-writer Peter Craig, is also to thank for this, as it gives the film some high stakes, and allows Batman to feel more human than he ever has. There is also some small bits of social commentary in regards to the justice system, as well as incel culture. The film might not go about them in the most nuanced of ways, but they do make a fair point nonetheless. If nothing else, they at least feel natural in the context of the film, as opposed to being shoehorned in. The script is much more solid than I would have imagined, and the twists and turns that the narrative takes are rather effective. It feels like such a fully realized take on Batman, and its assured vision translates so well to the screen.
What surprised me the most about The Batman is how legitimately great the performances are across the board. Don't get me wrong, I was fully aware that the film has a stacked cast, but everyone involved brings their A-game here. Robert Pattinson will hopefully silence all of his critics with his take on both Bruce Wayne and Batman, as he is simply phenomenal here. He gives us a more sensitive, humanistic portrayal of Wayne, while still being tough and intimidating as Batman. It's a much different version of both Bruce Wayne and Batman than what most people are accustomed to, but it helps the film significantly. This is clearly a younger Batman, and because of this, we get to see him dealing with internal struggles that we don't really see with other versions of the character. Throughout the film, Bruce Wayne is reckoning with what it means to be Batman, and Pattinson does a great job of portraying this.
Zoe Kravitz is also great as Catwoman, and gives the character a much needed sense of agency. She's able to play into the femme fatale qualities of the role, but it's used much differently here compared to other versions of the character. Pattinson and Kravitz also have spectacular chemistry together, and you can feel the intense attraction between them anytime they share the screen. Some of the film's best moments take place between them, and their dynamic is one of its greatest assets.
I often find that when some actors play characters that require them to wear prosthetic make-up, they struggle to act through the prosthetics. This is not the case here, as Colin Farrell gives an electrifying performance as The Penguin, and the prosthetic make-up used for him looks fantastic. He is unrecognizable here, and the make-up looks highly realistic. It's such a great take on The Penguin, as Farrell brings both menace and humor to the role. He's the true scene-stealer of the film, and it's clear that he had a ball playing the character.
I was also highly impressed by Jeffrey Wright's take on Jim Gordon. It's one of the subtler performances of the film, but I admired the quiet confidence he brought to the role. It's a rather meticulous performance, and it keeps Gordon from feeling generic.
But the MVP of the film is none other than Paul Dano as The Riddler. Most people, myself included, likely think of Jim Carrey in Batman Forever when they hear anyone mention The Riddler. I would be willing to bet that this will change once more people see Dano's portrayal. He is absolutely terrifying, and the introduction to his character feels like it is straight out of a horror movie. Dano makes such smart acting choices here, and wisely avoids overplaying the more unhinged nature of the character. It feels so authentic as a result, which only adds to how scary he is. He is so fully committed here, and he gives easily one of the best villain performances in any Batman movie.
The film as a whole is a great technical achievement in many ways. This might be one of the better uses of Gotham City across the franchise, as it feels like an actual city, and not just the approximation of one. It feels much more specific and textured, and the film is all the better for it. The production design in general is great, and fits the film's grimy aesthetic perfectly. This feels like a much different Gotham than what we've seen before, and it is so striking. Part of this is due to Greig Fraser's cinematography, which utilizes shadows and a darker color palette. It gives the film such a distinct look, and evokes an unsettling, mysterious mood. The action sequences are also captured nicely, and are thrilling to watch. There is a big car chase nearly halfway through the film that is spectacular, and culminates in one of the film's best shots. The close combat scenes are also quite exciting, and are rather well-choreographed. The action overall is a breath of fresh air compared to the CGI-heavy sequences we've been getting from other comic book movies, and is stunning to watch.
I was also pretty taken with the film's use of music. Nirvana's Something in the Way bookends the film, and sets the mood nicely. There is also a recurring motif, which I won't spoil, but suffice to say that you might have a hard time hearing it the same way after watching the film. But the true standout is Michael Giacchino's score, which simply blew me away. It is bold, haunting, and features one of the most memorable themes for any Batman movie. It does what all good scores should, which is to stand out just enough to notice it, but feel so ingrained into what we are seeing that it isn't distracting. It's an early candidate for my favorite score of the year, and it fits the film perfectly.
The Batman is an epic blockbuster that grabbed me from the beginning and didn't let go until the end. It may be nearly three hours long, but it goes by so quickly, and makes great use of every minute of it. It is quite layered, and there is a lot happening all throughout the film, but as a whole, this may be the most definitive Batman film to date, and one that represents a big step forward for the character, while still staying true to him. I appreciate the bold choices that the film makes across the board, as it makes for such a fascinating experience. It is easily among the best of the Batman franchise, and is hands down the best comic book movie of the past several years.