Director Matt Reeves is a master puppeteer for reboots. The Batman is one such interpretation tied to Reeves’ careful fingertips. Each string constantly fiddles as Reeves meticulously plays around with what came before. Its nearly three-hour long tale roams around the dance hall without a care for DC’s previous formulas. A heel might accidentally kick DC’s extended universe of metahumans in the shin. A cold shoulder moves past Tim Burton and Joel Schumacher’s row of rubber Batsuits. Winks shoot across the hall, reciprocated by Christopher Nolan blushing on the sidelines.
Audiences benefit from seeing a Batman film groove to its own beat again. A rhythm forms into a meticulously crafted serial killer mystery. The iconic Dark Knight finds a tone as he shuffles down Gotham’s dirty gravel. Viewers walking away from The Batman’s credits might be lost for words at first. Instead, most of the uproar comes internally. Phones might instinctively light up to Google the confirmation of a sequel. This is the impact which comes from a new guilty pleasure like The Batman. It will spite audiences with another pitch of a gritty reboot. But seduces viewers by an incredible show of confidence throughout. Viewers leave with faith in major studios finding new ways to salsa.
The Batman was bound to happen sooner or later. It’s the fourth major time Warner Bros hit reset for DC’s caped crusader. But something feels “coarse” here. As if The Batman’s shine and polish were done with calloused hands. I struggled to find much made-for-the-sake messaging in my viewing. But creative freedom is a hot commodity this Batman absolutely bathes in. This phenomenon sees Warner Bros tossing their keys to directors like James Gunn for The Suicide Squad. Passing on the puppet strings clearly works. Matt Reeves opens up his own batwings and runs around his own sandbox with joy. WB watches from a distance at their window, cradling a hot mug of trust and profits.
“The Batman succeeds because it’s not (mostly) framed as a superhero movie.”
Pardon my manners for digging WB’s indie approach with directors. The Batman succeeds because it’s not (mostly) framed as a superhero movie. Reeves clearly knows that song was sung by directors before, even if he takes some notes from Christopher Nolan. The Batman doesn’t waste time with meta humans, bicep curls, dead parents or dodging laser beams. It’s an unwinding serial killer manhunt in the likes of Zodiac (2007), Seven (1995) and a bit of The Silence of the Lambs (1991). Bruce Wayne/Batman (Robert Pattinson) is thrown into investigating a series of murders. Brilliantly, The Riddler (Paul Dano) leaves a series of clues to grab his hero’s attention. Batman follows each clue across Gotham City’s underworld as killings of elite figures escalate.
The Batman plays out as simply as that. Without spoilers, its tone is easily the biggest rug pulled under audiences’ feet especially for viewers expecting a campy bam and ka-pow film. That traditional Batman can be found in Dawn of Justice or The Dark Knight. As watchers are thrown off, they’re caught in Bruce’s rabbit hole of catching a killer. The film greatly scales Batman’s identity back into a street-level detective. But saves some of his brawn for selectively sprinkled action scenes. Matt Reeves deserves credit for keeping The Batman tonally consistent through its slow burn.
The tone reflects Gotham City itself. It’s a dump, an absolute cesspool where criminals are more sincere than its citizens. Reeves captures just enough on-camera scum for viewers to understand Batman’s modus operandi. This is the type of Gotham City some fans have been waiting to be immersed in. Reeves’ Gotham is complete with a second-guess in your list of fictional places to visit. Asgard is still a first for me.
Year One (1987) and The Long Halloween (1996) – two of Batman’s best comic stories – are blended together well. Reeves captures each arc of a mystery novel that explores The Dark Knight’s fractured faith in Gotham. This depressing tone from The Batman makes every punch a satisfying blow. Each bit of narration by Bruce is a valid call for justice. His neo-noir detective story only deepens with sharp delivery. It goes without saying Robert Pattinson is the least glamorous version of Bruce Wayne I’ve ever seen. He’s wearing black eyeliner under his cowl.
But also sports introversion and suppressed tears with it. Surprisingly, Pattinson’s version of Bruce Wayne might be the most believable one yet. His chameleon-like portrayals from The Lighthouse, Twilight and The Devil All the Time help justify his seat at the Wayne’s table. It’s on-brand as Pattinson plays dual roles throughout.
“Robert Pattinson will leave a lasting impression on Bat-flicks to come.”
Robert Pattinson will leave a lasting impression on Bat-flicks to come. As much as I’m selling Battinson, it’s him averting this higher-than-life image of Bruce Wayne that won me over. He’s not meant to be as likeable, charismatic or classy as past Waynes. Instead, viewers see a man’s mind and body contorted by his alter ego. The Batman does wonders in showing what two years of brutal vigilantism will do to a regular person.
This comes with seclusion, barely eating and being alienated by Gothamites. Specifically, someone embracing the Batsuit’s lonely husk. The “creature of the night” motif suits Robert Pattinson so well, viewers will start to savour those rare Bruce Wayne scenes. One including an interaction between Bruce and local mobster Carmine Falcone (John Turturro), who doesn’t exactly come off as an imposing figure Gotham paints him to be.
You read that right: Batman actually has more screen time than Bruce Wayne. It’s an odd, but welcome balance Matt Reeves brings to the mix. The film accepts there’s not much to see in Bruce Wayne, who’s practically dead on the inside. For once, I became invested in his alter ego. He’s also smartly used to push along the second and third act. But this Bruce doesn’t exist according to his own namesake. Rather, as the vengeful Batman who’s consumed most of Bruce like an obsession.
Every nerd’s favourite butler, Alfred Pennyworth (Andy Serkis) makes the obligatory appearance in The Batman. His stoicism sticks from previous actors. But Serkis happily delivers on a figure who’s done with Wayne’s crap. Both are estranged with every chat. Here, The Batman chucks Michael Caine’s inspirational words away and carefully treads into dysfunctional parenthood. It works well enough, thanks to the film’s generous length.
The real chemistry comes from Jim Gordon’s (Jeffrey Wright) budding relationship with Batman. He’s at the point of parading his new accessory around the GCPD. Wright does a great job of playing a cautious lieutenant. He knows his new friend is a legal time bomb. Viewers will especially be delighted to see Gordon keep Batman from decking sharp-tongued cops in the face. He goes a step up from other Gordons by exercising his own detective skills. Even impressing Batman a few times as they dive into The Riddler’s clues. In The Batman’s street-level crime story, Wright raises a bar by actually following leads and recalling details.
“Matt Reeves deserves credit for keeping The Batman tonally consistent through its slow burn.”
Selina Kyle/Catwoman (Zoë Kravitz) returns to spice things up for The Bat. She finds her cool through growing up in Gotham’s underworld. The street-smart incarnation neatly fits into The Batman’s setting. But her subplot, along Batman’s investigation, quickly spirals into an identity crisis. Kravitz works to become an antihero, her own symbol of vengeance and a love interest for Batman. As Catwoman constantly switches up her motives, the story struggles to keep up. Her rare interactions outside of Batman ramp up the plot, but a twist in its third act isn’t enough to make jaws drop.
The story also stumbles over Colin Farrell, practically unrecognizable as Oswald Cobblepott/The Penguin. His prosthetics outshine his short screen time, which is surprising considering The Batman’s investment on crime. Impressively, he adds some comic relief under his hammy mobster facade. It’s an unsurprising stereotype which goes into overdrive when he eventually faces Batman. Reeves makes an effort to channel fear through Penguin, which is diminished with a loud (but entertaining) CGI chase.
Riddle me this: what’s green, not a bore and makes me want to lock my door? The answer is one of my favourite versions of Riddler (Paul Dano). The Batman surprises the most jaded viewers with an absolute show stealer. This comes in part of Dano’s ability to channel unpredictability. His identity is also shrouded behind a mask like Batman, but embraces his “real self” to kill. He likes to play more games than any other live-action iteration before. But Dano is more than ready to make viewers uncomfortable during the opening sequence. Children and parents at this PG-13 showing might question how The Batman kept its rating. But Reeves fires on all cylinders for this Riddler’s creepy effect. Save for its one free F-bomb, The Batman barely saves itself an R-rating by filling time with flashier superhero shots.
As shown in the trailers, Dano’s version is clearly reflective of real-life serial killers. He can stay collected like Mindhunter’s Ed Kemper. Then speak with a frustrated tone, spurred by a sense of urgent thoughts. Dano’s unfiltered performance fuels every sinister presence. Especially as audiences see victims fall into his traps. One particular sequence left me on the edge of my seat as Batman races against time to save a victim. But I leave that for viewers to unpack. In true fictional serial killer fashion, The Riddler harbours a twisted purpose.
It’s something he tries to project through social media and unsettling intentions. Reeves creatively uses The Riddler’s compulsive need for attention throughout Batman’s investigation. One sticking plot device includes written cards. Surprisingly, it’s fun to guess the answer and watch Batman and Gordon at work. But The Batman is carried by Riddler, whose presence pulls a nearly three-hour long mystery back to the ground when things veer off.
“For what The Batman is worth as a crime thriller, it’s still deft with action.”
For what The Batman is worth as a crime thriller, it’s still deft with action. Reeves easily puts Batman to work through some grounded fight sequences. This iteration throws more raw punches compared to his predecessors. Like Marvel’s Daredevil, Reeves subjects his hero through plenty of fisticuffs. A bonus comes from seeing Batman going back to basics. No alien warlords, Superman or ninjas. Just underpaid mobsters, politicians and trigger-happy cops. Batman is best when his abilities match believable threats. Reeves adds a refreshing sense of realism back to The Batman, until things go slightly off the rails at the climax. Viewers might groan at Reeve’s urge to close off The Batman with an epic battle for Gotham’s soul. But it’s a cliché that shows what Battinson can really do ahead of greater foes.
The Batman overstays its welcome in a seemingly drawn-out crime thriller. But Matt Reeves is given all the time and space he needs to build a fitting world for Robert Pattinson. Its greatest character includes Gotham City itself, which puts our hero back in his brooding element. Viewers might come to appreciate The Batman freeing itself from its own identity at times. Then unapologetically crafting an image for itself. Out are the CGI driven spectacles in Snyder’s era. Sidelined are Burton and Schumacher’s reliance on colourful comic panels. Preserved is Nolan’s edge for a grounded human vigilante. The Batman goes a step further by tossing much of that magic utility belt out. In its place comes a Dark Knight who brings more mud, blood and gravel under his boot.
Welcome to the circus, Robert Pattinson. It’s great to have you.