• Print

Batman Review

Batman has been done many times, but Matt Reeves’s The Batman proves the caped crusader hasn’t yet been done to death. With a brand new take on the character, the film starts during the second year of Bruce Wayne’s campaign as Batman. He navigates Gotham’s underbelly of crime as he tries to solve an ongoing progression of politically-motivated assassinations. The murderer leaves puzzling clues in his wake; all addressed to the Batman.
The film has a fantastic opening set of sequences that launch the viewer right into the world of Gotham. We first meet the villain of the piece, an eerie and violent rendition of The Riddler (Paul Dano), and then our Batman (Robert Pattinson). We get the sense that this Batman has experience but is still very much coming into his own. He grapples with his own trauma and violent quest through surprisingly effective use of voiceover. Batman tells us how, despite his efforts, crime has only gotten worse in Gotham as we watch him stalk criminals in the night. Reeves instantly establishes our crime fighter’s tenets and launches into the story, an effective jump-start to a rollercoaster of a film.
Reeves forgoes Batman’s origin, meaning we don’t have to sit through little Bruce watching his parents get gunned down for the millionth time. The choice is wise; we know who Batman is and where he came from, we don’t need to see it all over again. Reeves, however, does not skimp on a rich exploration of Bruce’s psyche and the toll of his parents’ murder. Early on in the film, Batman locks eyes with a boy whose father was recently murdered. A testament to Pattinson’s acting, even while behind a mask, it is clear what Bruce is thinking about in the midst of the dialogue-less moment. His origin flashes through the audience’s mind without the film having to tread familiar ground.
The central story and unraveling mystery work well, though they’re not without their flaws. For the first time on screen, Batman does some real detective work. We see him put together the pieces of the puzzle that Riddler has left behind. It’s fun to watch him solve the clues, often going down the wrong path to arrive at the right one. The Riddler’s….uh….riddles are cleverly constructed and rewarding to see solved. On the way, Batman has plenty of encounters with the low-lives of Gotham. The movie is action-packed, and all of it is thrilling. All such set pieces are in service of the story, and there wasn’t a sequence that didn’t have me engaged. Everything plays out in relentless succession.
Unfortunately, The Batman doesn’t always let its revelations breathe, often allowing its spectacular action to overshadow its emotional components. Bruce’s dynamic with Alfred (Andy Serkis) is both fun and dramatically interesting. However, the famed butler is sidelined relatively early on, leaving their rich relationship, and the actors’ chemistry, with only a few scenes to shine. The Batman is an overtly dramatic film, but it rarely finds the emotion to make the stakes feel consequential. There is a point where the film goes on a bit of a tangent concerning the intersection of Bruce’s parents’ murder and Zoë Kravitz’s Catwoman character. It’s not that this story beat is ill-conceived, but it doesn’t have the time to play out in a satisfying or compelling way. It all eventually leads back into the central Riddler arc, but while it was all going down, I felt like we got off-topic. Again, towards the very end of the film, there’s a very out-of-place scene that’s clearly there to set up a sequel. It would have been much more natural as a credit scene and only served to make what felt like a very unique and singular film feel more like standard franchise fare.
Even more so than the Nolan films, Reeves grounds his Batman in reality. His tactical suit has the traditional utility belt but also creative concepts like a built-in wing-suit and his emblem detaching for use as a tool. His version of the Batmobile isn’t much more than a suped-up civilian car. These choices make Pattinson’s Batman an individualistic and original take on an oft-adapted character. Pattinson is quite good in the role. In fact, he might be my favorite Batman yet. In his internal struggle, he reckons with the consequences of his actions with intensity and vulnerability. He is not, however, my favorite Bruce Wayne. While he’s not bad as Batman’s billionaire alter-ego, the few scenes where he’s not wearing the suit showcase a melodramatic kid with a bad haircut. It’s understandable, as this is very much a Batman coming-of-age story, but I much preferred to see him underneath the cowl.
Every great Batman must have a great villain, and Dano’s Riddler lives up to the task. While he remains behind a mask until the latter half of the film, Dano plays the delusional psychopath tremendously well. Dano captures a certain giddy joy in the Riddler as well as a frightening child-like outrage when things don’t go his way. Screenwriters Reeves and Peter Craig craft a Riddler for the modern era. His use of technology and gripes with social-political strife prove a surprising and effective reflection of real-life domestic terrorism.
Reeve’s has assembled a stellar cast, one with a greater spread of talent than any previous Batman film. A clear standout is Colin Farrell (who is unrecognizable beneath prosthetics) as the Penguin. The shady nightclub owner plays a supporting role as a valuable yet uncooperative source of information for Batman. Farrell’s rambunctious gangster steals every scene he’s in. Jeffery Wright is also great as Lieutenant Gordon, one of Batman’s few allies. His scenes with Pattinson are dynamic and fun. If I had to pick an odd one out, I wasn’t crazy about Kravitz’s Catwoman. She’s not bad by any means, but I found some of her line delivery to be a little clunky. The character as a whole, who plays a rather large part in the film, felt superfluous for some stretches.
Despite its flaws, The Batman is a gritty, sprawling odyssey that’s replete with fun characters and tells an engrossing story. It plays like a graphic novel come to life, equally interested in exploring the rich visuals of a noir landscape and the psychological complexities of grief and vigilantism. The movie is technically marvelous, with a haunting score by Michael Giacchino and masterful cinematography by Greg Fraser. Every frame is as intricately thought out as that of a comic book. The Batman has a noticeably higher level of polish, craft, and care than typical superhero fare, and it bares a film more artistically stimulating than most modern blockbusters. It’s certainly one of the best renditions of the titular character and exists firmly in the upper-echelon of his cinematic outings.

Story Page