‘The Batman’ Reminds Moviegoers Just How Phenomenal Comic Book Stories Can Be On The Big Screen – Review
The comic book movie genre has reached a new peak over the last few years. With one massive blockbuster event after the other, and now a streaming series to fill in every single gap in between, there’s never been more “content” to choose from. And yet, very few projects are able to stay relevant outside of this endless flow. Even the most dedicated fans would agree that keeping up with everything is starting to get tiresome due to this feeling of sameness and lack of individuality. Sure, you may often hear that so and so comic book film is the “next big thing,” but that’s quickly disproven once it’s simply played its part to only make room for what’s next, and then it’s just rinse and repeat. Well, without any exaggeration, The Batman is the exact opposite – this is the next great comic book phenomenon that is here to stay.
Matt Reeves of Planet of the Apes and Cloverfield notoriety steps up to the plate to bring in the latest interpretation of the famed Caped Crusader. Where other studios are keen on keeping their franchises as interconnected as possible, Warner Bros. has opted for a more free reign approach with DC, allowing filmmakers to focus on more standalone epics without the chains of franchise fulfillment and setup. Not that there’s anything wrong with building a universe, but in all honesty, it’s created more roadblocks (as of late) for most films than anything else; especially in terms of actually telling a story that can truly stand on its own over the course of time. The Batman, although clearly inspired by the legends before it, is a beast of its own nature. It features heroes and foes that we’ve all come to know very well by now, though you’ve never seen them like this.
The Batman kicks off in the early years of Bruce Wayne’s turn as a vigilante. He’s young and naive in believing that he’s really mastered all there is to know about keeping a rough exterior – one that can take hit by hit, bullet by bullet as he sweeps the streets of Gotham every night. The inspiration from the death of his parents is mentioned enough, but rest assured that we’re not seeing the Waynes die in another alleyway. The Batman has learned how to effectively instill fear into the city’s crooks, making them flee like rats at the sight of the bat signal in the night sky. However, this doesn’t mean that he’s gained the trust of the innocent people he’s saving. His inner struggle is that of vulnerability, where he doesn’t know how much of his true self to expose through the cowl for the sake of his crime-fighting. It’s this exact weakness that’s targeted by The Riddler, a new serial killer who plans to expose Gotham’s dirty skeletons, including those tied to the Wayne family legacy, for the “good” of the people.
Robert Pattinson’s take on Bruce, both in and out of the costume, is impressively nuanced. In tune with Matt Reeves’ grungier, juvenile interpretation of the character, Pattinson’s performance is more revealing within the eyes and most precise facial expressions. Even when he’s brooding and stern on the outside, as is expected from any Batman outing, there’s so much clear and defined pathos on display. Pattinson nails this novice version of the hero, and just how much he’s able to open himself up with only his body language—either when he’s beating goons to a pulp or solving the Riddler’s various puzzles—is outstanding. As the Riddler pushes Bruce to his physical and mental limits, you genuinely feel as if you’re growing with the character through every up and down. By the end, you’ll come to fully know this Batman’s persona inside-out and will be instantly locked and ready for whatever challenge he may face next.
It goes without saying that Pattinson is supported by an exceptional cast. Zoë Kravitz’s Catwoman, Paul Dano’s Riddler, Colin Farrell’s Oz, and Jeffrey Wright’s James Gordon all power the film with their unique zest. It’s impossible to imagine The Batman without any of them. They all contribute crucial pieces to the world and mystery at hand, and how each of them bounces back and forth with Pattinson’s caped crusader as he chases after the Riddler is simply mesmerizing—especially Kravitz and Wright who are just so charismatic. Kravitz, in particular, takes on the Catwoman identity with total confidence and has no trouble owning the screen and even stealing the show from Pattinson at times. As far as the main threat goes, Paul Dano captures signature traits of the Riddler, mainly his superiority complex and pure callousness, and makes it all his own. The end result is a chaotic interpretation that feels both familiar and new, something that fans will surely appreciate more and more over time.
One of the most fascinating aspects of The Batman is its portrayal of Gotham; arguably one of the most pivotal elements of any Batman story. Whereas Christopher Nolan and Zack Snyder’s versions of the city were innately modern, Reeves’ Gotham is far more mythic. It’s still way more grounded than the high fantasy city streets that Tim Burton first gave us, but so much of this Gotham actually looks ancient. Gothic and medieval architecture is blended in with the most modern technology, such as digital screens and neon lighting. It gives the city a real sense of history, where it’s possibly headed, and more importantly, it feels lived-in. Reeves does a brilliant job of putting the people of Gotham at the forefront, raising the stakes for Bruce’s actions and elevating the Riddler as an incredibly frightening, all-too-realistic threat. This portrayal uses social media and the internet as a tool for radicalization, showboating his self-appointed, “brilliant” mind in the process. Gotham feels like an important character in itself, as average citizens sway back and forth from the villain’s influence, something that only the best Batman movies have pulled off in the past.
In visualizing this rendition of Gotham, Reeves and cinematographer Greig Fraser, fresh off his Oscar-nominated work in Dune, have crafted one of the most gorgeous comic book films to date. It’s among the absolute best of our generation, no question. A certain weight and importance is carried over frame to frame and the amount of attention that went into blocking each scene couldn’t be more clear. Awe-inspiring, beautiful visuals are further amplified by Michael Giacchino’s distinguished score—certainly a new career-high for the fan-favorite composer who’s now created the best for Marvel, Pixar and DC. Just like its cast, it’s hard to imagine The Batman working so flawlessly without the contributions of Fraser or Giacchino. Each level of the filmmaking process builds upon the film’s whole identity and a high level of vital gravitas is naturally earned—something that this story deserves and is sorely missing from other recent blockbusters.
If there’s anything to pin against The Batman, it would be its extensive, almost 3-hour runtime. In truth, this is most felt in its final home stretch, where the film almost feels like it could have ended a few times sooner. The engrossing riddles and clues that Batman must uncover make the rest worth every single second. To put it simply, this is the detective-driven Batman story that many have been years waiting for. At its best, the gothic imagery and puzzle-solving will honestly remind fans of the early Arkham games, one of the best compliments anyone can give the film. Having said this, The Batman is not as action-driven as some may expect, with it almost being Fincher-esque (with obvious nods to Zodiac and Se7en) in its exploration of these grim undertones. Yet, when the action does arrive, you feel every single strike on camera.
Warner Bros. has seemingly let another filmmaker practically get away with it all. That’s more than enough to make up for some minor pacing faults. The best part? Matt Reeves and Robert Pattinson have the most fundamental understanding of who and what Batman is, arguably more than the last attempt at the character. With all of its minor deviations and creative liberties, The Batman still gets the essence of the hero right, and that’s the least anyone can ask for with Batman now nearing a dozen live-action appearances. But The Batman doesn’t stop at the bare minimum. In fact, it goes above and beyond the recent competition to deliver a long-lasting tale, one that you can already see standing nice and tall next to the all-time classics. Make no mistake, this iteration is here to stay and is only getting started with reminding moviegoers just how phenomenal unadulterated comic book stories can be on the big screen.