Long-awaited and as disconnected from the discordant DC Comics cinematic universe as you’d hope, Matt Reeves’ The Batman is very much its own beast. The world built around Robert Pattinson’s Batman is so grounded and true to what we know—injustices, class divide, and the cult of personality are all rife in Reeves’ Gotham—it’s hard to imagine what the existence of a Superman might mean. Reeves has crafted a meticulous character study of Bruce Wayne and grounded it inside of a noir Fincherian psychological thriller that is undoubtedly one of the most intimately crafted Batman films ever made.
Although Batman’s wearied origin tale plays a minor role during the film, Reeves deftly side-steps tugging on this worn-out thread and introduces us to a Bruce Wayne navigating his second year, and finding his footing, as Gotham’s watchful protector. He ventures deep into Gotham’s underbelly after a string of high-profile murders, accompanied by cryptic clues, lead him to revelations that serve to blacken the legacies of Gotham’s most rich and powerful, past and present. For those who read the comics, the threads plucked from Ego, Year One and The Long Halloween will be apparent, but Reeves neatly parcels it into a formative week that dissects and reshapes the duality of Bruce Wayne and The Batman.
The film wears its themes at surface level and while it does attempt to explore them at depth—the corruption in politics, classism and the balancing act of two great motivators in fear and hope—I feel like a lot of The Batman is laser-focused on building a foundation for the future of Reeves’ Batverse and it’s exciting to envision where the next instalment might take us.
Robert Pattinson thrives as The Batman—or at least this version of him. Cast in the role off the back of his performance as Connie in Good Time, Pattinson brings the same unhinged, self-destructive energy in what is a focused, one-step-short-of-nihilistic performance as a hero who desperately wants to believe that no one is beyond redemption. His reclusive Bruce Wayne might not be sailing shirtless on a yacht with a dozen supermodels like Bale’s—and he doesn’t smile much—but the gossamer-thin tightrope he walks throughout his crisis of identity makes for a terribly compelling performance that’s only made more impressive when you consider he spends most of the film masked.
Paul Dano’s Riddler is played to terrifying effect and is truly menacing. Unlike other interpretations of the character who are garishly dressed in spandex, Dano’s look is cobbled together out of cold-weather gear, cling wrap, and his signature bifocals. I loved what he did with a character who, for all of his methodical scheming, seemed like a scared kid who’d startle himself as much as his unsuspecting victim. I still can’t forgive the question mark latte art, which is perhaps the film’s most cartoonish moment, but Dano is electric.
The rest of the cast lose themselves in their respective roles. Zoe Kravitz shines as the sticky-fingered Selina Kyle, while Colin Farrell quite literally disappears into the role of Oswald Cobblepot under a mountain of prosthetics. The only role I felt was a bit of a waste was Andy Serkis as Alfred—the attempt to make him an emotional foil in Bruce’s narrative fell flat as he was simply used so sparingly, which is a shame for an actor of his calibre.
The Batman is superbly shot, and it has been done with a keen eye that has such a respect for the source material. Although it feels like every single one of its near 180-minutes, it’s a film brimming with soon-to-be-classic moments of cinema beyond the superhero genre. It’s a shame the money shot was spent up in the film’s trailer because the second-act car chase is one of the coolest fucking things I’ve ever seen in my life. From the moment the Batmobile roars to life, spitting blue flames from its exhaust and looking like Christine ready to devour all in its path, the next five minutes has got to be the finest five minutes of action in decades.
There’s a vocal minority who’ll forever pledge that the warehouse brawl in Batman v Superman is the best fight put to celluloid, but The Batman is unflinching in its brutality. Not only are the fights well-choreographed, but their rawness also serves to highlight the fledgling ability of this imprecise, raging bull crimefighter. It’s implied that this film’s Bruce was trained to fight by Alfred so, as such, he’s hardly a scalpel forged by the League of Shadows.
Michael Giacchino’s operatic score, like Bruce himself, dances the thin line between fear and hope. There’s the obligatory darkness in “The Batman” theme that feels like an accompaniment to Bruce’s pain and isolation, but there’s an unexpectedly sweet optimism that’s weaved throughout and it actually reminds me a lot of Giacchino’s work on Lost—one of my all-time favourite scores. It sounds like the polar opposite of any Batman theme we’ve had before, it’s full of pleasing major chords, it has a romanticism about it, and evokes a truly human response.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the director who helmed the sorely-underrated Planet of the Apes trilogy has created something truly special here. It’s the second-longest superhero film ever made and it feels like it, there’s no getting around that, but ultimately the stories told, as well as the stories set up, make the time spent in this sumptuously shot film worthwhile.
And if he hadn’t already—he had—Robert Pattinson proved that he’s more than Edward. He’s vengeance.
Beneath all of the performances, the stunning cinematography, and the film’s ink-black heart that is Bruce’s baggage, The Batman is an exceptional feat of filmmaking that serves as the ground floor for Matt Reeves’ saga. It’s violent and desperately dark, but The Batman has gone a long way to unseating The Dark Knight as my favourite Batman film of all-time.
A thrilling noir detective mystery
Tremendous performances from Pattinson, Kravtiz, and Dano
A masterclass of filmmaking full of instant classic Batman scenes