“The Batman” delivers a visually stunning, emotionally rich noir mystery that finally showcases Batman as the world’s greatest detective.
Director Matt Reeves’ film focuses on a new iteration of the character and steers clear of the wider DC shared universe to avoid a retread of the classic origin story. Instead, we follow Batman (Robert Pattinson) in his second year of prowling the streets of Gotham City.
The plot kicks into gear when a twisted serial killer calling himself the Riddler (Paul Dano) begins targeting political figures in Gotham and leaving mysterious riddles behind. Batman soon finds himself in a tangled enigma that exposes the scars of his past, the systematic corruption that plagues the city and the tolls of his flawed warpath.
With a chilling voice-over and a brutal beatdown, the film immediately establishes this Batman as an icon of fear. He is the shadows. He is vengeance.
Pattinson’s Bruce Wayne is also set up as starkly different from any other live-action iteration. This Bruce is an introvert uninterested in putting on the mask of a billionaire playboy. Instead, he’s a recluse who pushes away the people closest to him — not to protect them, but to protect himself from feeling the pain of losing another loved one. Pattinson conveys all of this inner torment so well with only his eyes.
Beyond nailing Bruce and Batman, the movie just looks gorgeous. Cinematographer Greg Fraser (“Dune”) bathes the grungy darkness of Gotham with frequent bursts of color from the brilliant blue flame of the Batmobile to the red-soaked Iceberg Lounge. Fraser’s work puts the multitude of drab, gray blockbusters of recent memory to shame.
Michael Giacchino’s score is another highlight. Given the impossible task of following up Hans Zimmer (composer of “The Dark Knight”), Giacchino managed to craft a unique theme that feels perfect for this Batman. It evokes pure dread but then transforms into something so heroic and hopeful. Catwoman’s theme is equally haunting and has been stuck in my head ever since I heard it.
Speaking of Catwoman, Zoe Kravitz is phenomenal in the role and has fantastic chemistry with Pattinson. Dare I say this is the best version of the character we’ve seen yet?
Colin Farrell is another scene-stealer as the charismatic mob boss known as The Penguin. He’s utterly unrecognizable.
If I have any criticism, it’s that Andy Serkis’s Alfred doesn’t have enough to do outside of one heart-wrenching scene.
Another thing to note is the pacing. “The Batman” is more of a slow-burn detective story like “Seven” than an action slugfest like “The Avengers.” Personally, I was riveted from start to finish by the unfolding mystery, but I could see this being a turn-off to some.
I do think the overall structure could have been tightened though, especially in the third act. The final conflict is set up a bit too late, and sometimes, a few members of the wide cast of characters get lost in the shuffle.
I’ve seen other criticism saying there’s not enough Bruce in the film, but that’s the point. Bruce sees violence and fear as the answer to Gotham’s problems and finds no use in the Wayne name.
He’s a flawed, broken man, and it’s only through his interactions with Riddler, Selina and Alfred that certain realizations and changes are made. Then, everything finally comes full circle when the film completely flips a line from the beginning on its head.
Overall, I don’t think “The Batman” is as perfect as the Christopher Nolan trilogy (especially “The Dark Knight”), but honestly, not much is. Reeves and Pattinson hit a home run with this one and set up a vibrant world with tons of sequel and spin-off potential.
Personally, I fell in love with Pattinson’s take on the character, and the ending has me dying to see what Reeves will do next.