Written by: Matt Reeves & Peter Craig
Starring: Robert Pattinson, Zoë Kravitz, Paul Dano, Jeffrey Wright, John Turturro, Peter Sarsgaard
As the 21st century has taught us, even with the threat of reaching a level of oversaturation for one character, there will always be a Batman film right around the corner. A character so beloved and instantly recognizable but if we will receive constant retellings of this story it surely helps to take it all in if the projects get put in the hands of the creatives behind The Batman. An incredible dive into the seedy underbelly of Gotham as it introduces us to a version of the caped crusader who stands out amongst the rest.
On Halloween night, the mayor of Gotham is found dead in his basement by a masked serial killer named The Riddler (Paul Dano). As the police investigate they see the serial killer taunting Batman (Robert Pattinson) in trying to uncover what will come next. It leaves Batman in a place to piece it all together as the Riddler’s body count continues to rise.
The last few decades have brought on so many different looks to the Batman character in his tone and demeanor, but one area where this feature stands out comes from how it establishes Gotham. Certainly not the Gothic city constructed by Tim Burton, the colorful kaleidoscope of Joel Schumacher, or the sleek metropolitan of Chicago by Christopher Nolan. This version of Gotham feels incredibly lived in and a place that demonstrates why people would gravitate towards it but also be repelled. A distinct seediness to it pushes the limits of what can be displayed in a PG-13 movie that adds a level of maturity. We most certainly receive the proper villain and overall tone to match it all.
When watching this film, it would be difficult not to think some inspiration came from Se7en in crafting this puzzling serial killer that plays these dark games, which makes it the perfect case for the world’s supposed greatest detective. This element really gets hammered down in this feature that no other Batman film has truly cared to explore. It limits the fantastical elements and seeks to be a down-to-Earth detective film with some brutal kills to boot as well. An added wrinkle also comes from this being a younger Bruce Wayne who does not have the experience of taking on these villains under his belt. He makes mistakes, he shows naiveite and it combines it all into such a glorious feature.
With its hefty runtime, this feature uses every second with stellar intention in how it wants to craft this new Gotham and all of the miscreants inhabiting it. We have more than just a head-to-head between Batman and the Riddler. There’s also an introduction to this iteration of Penguin portrayed by a wholly unrecognizable Colin Farrell. Seriously, even knowing the actor portrayed Penguin, in every scene he appeared I instantly forgot it was him under all of the makeup. So many sprinkles get layered throughout the feature that allows this to be standalone in its narrative but also build into a series of films that will continue to explore Gotham and all of the villains that make revisiting Batman stories so easy. Each villain feels textured with their own ideas and with the twist Reeves and the team took with turning Riddler from a goofball to a sadistic killer brings excitement to what he can do with others.
To accentuate this new Gotham City, the technical elements of this feature astound at every level, and when looking at the cast involved it comes as no surprise. Freshly coming off his impeccable work in Dune, cinematographer Greg Frasier decided that he will continue to demonstrate how blockbuster films can still look distinct and sharp. So many individual shots in this film could absolutely be framed and having this standout nature to them typically does not get associated with Batman films. The lighting and use of shadows shed light and allow for heroic moments to stand out even more. It allows the rainy nights in Gotham to feel incredibly lived-in and collaborates fantastically with Michael Giacchino’s incredible score. “The Batman” track alone goes a long way in creating a defining theme for this film and all of the subsequent ones but all of the compositions in this feature prove to be unforgettable judging by how they still ring in my head occasionally for months since seeing the film. Instantly iconic in that regard.
Somehow still fighting the stink the Twilight films put on him, casting Robert Pattinson as the caped crusader put some in a tailspin but showed the promise of what this film wanted to accomplish, and Pattinson certainly was not wasted. Handling both the physical attributes needed for the role as well as the necessary emotional work to show a young man on the brink of collapsing in nearly every scene he’s not under the cowl proved to be perfect for him. Coined the “Goth Batman” for actually acknowledging the makeup needed to put on the Cowl in a respectable manner, Pattinson brings his very own twist to Bruce Wayne with different layers to him but also a level of vulnerability made more dangerous by the Gotham he inhabits. An inspired choice and one that proved to be a home run.
So much of The Batman feels definitive with the level of confidence on display, which starts with Matt Reeves. Certainly, not a director to doubt, he manages to craft something incredibly dark but also brimming with hope in a manner that took me aback in moments. It takes the idea of this being a younger Bruce Wayne and Batman and allows it to serve as a story of growth and acceptance. Truly a magnificent feature film that gives you everything you could want from a Batman story. An awe-inspiring production filled with shots, moments, looks, and scenes that will remain embedded in my brain for the foreseeable future.