I was roughly 10 minutes into The Batman when I knew this was absolutely my shit. Before the Nirvana needle drop and before Robert Pattinson emerges vengeful in the suit, there’s a voiceover. A moody, angsty, noir-y voiceover. Amazing to see a Batman movie wholeheartedly embrace the voiceover when The Lego Batman Movie parodied it into oblivion. This Batman narrates like a hardboiled P.I. This Batman journals to his black heart’s content. In an internet age of blogs and YouTube channels and podcasts, this RULES.
Yes, here we go again with Bruce Wayne, Gotham, and the Caped Crusader’s iconic rogues gallery. The Batman reuses characters you’ll recognize from previous iterations, but the intoxicating thing about director Matt Reeves’ vision is how he makes it all his own.
Where Tim Burton saw Gotham as a gothic nightmare, and Christopher Nolan saw a modern-day cityscape, Reeves envisions a cesspool caught in a never-ending downpour. Stylistically, this Gotham resembles the unnamed metropolis of David Fincher’s Se7en, as many have pointed out. The mood board of The Batman alone is both stunning and lurid. The Riddler’s murder plot has shades of Zodiac revolving around a game of ciphers; the ensuing investigation involves a corruption scandal in Gotham’s municipal sectors à la Chinatown and L.A. Confidential, and the deliberate pacing of the central mystery harkens to something more recent like Denis Villeneuve’s Prisoners. These cinematic aspirations are key to this pulpy version of Gotham because it helps Reeves and co-writer Peter Craig’s script break the mold of what came before.
Because this Bruce Wayne has zero interest in anything except being detective Batman. (Sadbois will literally dress up as a bat instead of going to therapy, etc.) Diehard fans can rest easy, Robert Pattinson is in the costume for ¾ of the movie, though Twihards might want a word. If the murder of Wayne’s parents is the wound that will forever define him, then Reeves treats the Batsuit as the scar that formed over. Or the transformation that took hold. This Bruce hates having to be a Wayne and committing to any social function where he can’t wear the eyeliner.
Since Pattinson is in the suit for most of the movie, he can only express himself in the exposed parts of the mask. And I gotta say, he’s got the most expressive eye and mouth acting I’ve ever seen in the cowl. (As a Keaton-Batman stan my whole life, I am in shambles.) Pattinson is gripping in any given moment, whether he’s brooding in the Batcave or being an inept human in the public eye. He’s also got some of the best slow-walking ever committed to film since Ryan Gosling in Blade Runner 2049.
They say heroes are only as good as their villains, and Paul Dano rises to the challenge. He is wonderfully creepy and upsetting as The Riddler. His trade as an actor (or curse) is that he has the face of a little boy, so every outburst is on the level of a universe-ending tantrum. We only see the Riddler via FaceTime or YouTube videos, and these modern-day tools slyly give the Riddler a movie monster effect. We see him the way we would see him if the Riddler was terrorizing our news feeds. His presence looms large in every frame even though he has the least amount of screen time in the cast.
Jeffrey Wright just might be my favorite interpretation of Jim Gordon yet. There’s a forever world weariness in Wright’s voice, and the script has a great deal of fun with him as the gruff veteran to Batman’s hotshot rookie. Zoe Kravitz, who’s not yet going by the moniker of Catwoman, is sultry and electric as Selina Kyle. Though her character disappears for longer and longer stretches, Selina has her own bare-bones vengeance quest that parallels Batman’s crusade against Gotham’s underbelly.
Elsewhere in the cast, John Turturro is quietly menacing as Carmine Falcone, hiding a sadistic edge behind the glasses. Colin Farrell, buried in prosthetics, is clearly having a ball as Penguin. I don’t think there’s a line in this movie Farrell doesn’t shriek, and this makes Turturro’s restrained performance all the more compelling.
Cinematographer Greig Fraser shoots the moody hell out of this seething crime saga. Street-level, The Batman feels like a nihilistic horror movie. Frames are either funneled down alleyways or flanked by pillars confining you to the madness, while interiors feel grimy and haunted. It’s hard to follow up Wally Pfister’s compositions in The Dark Knight Trilogy. Pfister gave Nolan’s movies an epic scope rendered in shades of blues. Fraser, on the other hand, goes for deep shadows and silhouettes – an elegant and grimdark mosaic where the piercing gold of streetlights or the red beacon of flares provide a fleeting hope. Midway through the movie, there’s a wowser of a Batmobile chase that’s visually plucked out of Roger Deakins’ playbook. (Also, Batman’s ride gets a sweet SWEET introduction.)
I’ll go right ahead and say it: there’s never been a bad Batman theme. From Danny Elfman to Hans Zimmer, to Hans Zimmer’s revamped Batman score for the Zack Snyder era of DC, the Caped Crusader has never lacked a memorable theme, and composer Michael Giacchino lives up to his predecessors. At once moody and ethereal, to propulsive and unbearably Western, Giacchino delivers the fullest superhero suite in years aided by blaring horns and melancholy strings. The symphonic buildup to Batman’s first crime-fighting appearance is just masterful. Catwoman gets a soulful tune in the mix, while Giacchino cuts loose with the Riddler’s more operatic theme – a wicked leitmotif revolving around “Ave Maria.”
My one reservation with The Batman is that at 3 hours, it’s definitely unwieldy for casual viewers. (That’s the thing about slow-walking; it takes time!) For some, Riddler’s game of municipal rot won’t quite sustain Batman’s endless searching for clues— whereas a Batman dweeb such as myself is freakin’ GAME. The mystery, too, might be a complicated yarn to untangle, but this is still a Batman movie so the labyrinth can’t be too complex outside of an HBO miniseries. Perhaps a Riddler chase through a rundown building could’ve given the mystery an adrenaline shot. Reeves, however, can’t risk speeding things up because this Batman has to see the hard way that the fight for justice isn’t so black and white, nor is it limited to rain-soaked brawls in the streets. It’s a slow-burn realization for the character that requires patience. And yes, I am further torn on the runtime after that deleted scene with The Joker came out because I would’ve been perfectly fine with that in the movie. (I’m a sucker for Manhunter/Silence of the Lambs vibes.)
Initially, I had issues with the film’s third act. Having watched The Batman a few times now, I firmly believe it’s earned the right to be as batshit as it is. If you think of the movie as a bow cocking the entire time, then the last act is a mighty release of swift spectacle. This is a Batman movie that’s remarkably light on action. Some might lament the serviceable action beats (and this might be the point in a superhero era of the bloated CGI finale) but visually, the final act is a stunner to behold.
I don’t know how they got me excited for another Batman movie but they did. And I don’t how they pushed the grittiness and realism after Christopher Nolan’s gritty reboot concluded 10 years ago, but they did that too. Matt Reeves crafted a Batman for millennials and anybody who sung their heart out to My Chemical Romance.
The Batman leaves Gotham in a worse state than when we’re reintroduced to it, yet I’m shockingly hopeful for this character and this franchise’s future. And so I find myself eating crow, or bat. I constantly worry about superheroes creating a monoculture in media, that these are the only movies that get people to go to the theaters, etc. Call me one of Gotham City’s hypocrites because The Batman got me out of my own cave and had me putting up my own Batsignal. I didn’t know it at the time, but my high school years of Hot Topic expenditures have been preparing me for this. Gimme a trilogy and all the spinoffs centered in this dark and stormy Gotham. I am all in on this era of emo Batman.
5 CrEePy RiDdLeS out of 5