The Batman Review
Matt Reeves’s The Batman isn’t really a superhero movie. Sure, all of the trappings are there: the Batmobile, the gadgets, the trusty butler. And, of course, at the center of it all is the Caped Crusader himself: tormented, brooding, pursuing vengeance under the guise of justice in the squalid, rain-slicked, and neon-drenched streets of Gotham City. However, guided by Reeves’s confident hand, all of this feels new and alive. As director and co-writer, he’s taken the familiar tale of Batman and given it a grittier (but still decidedly comic book-y), almost operatic feel. The Batman is a sprawling pop-noir procedural more akin to Se7en and Zodiac than modern superhero movies.
Despite these familiar trappings, this is unmistakably a Matt Reeves film. He pulls off the same trick he did with his Planet of the Apes films: created a gripping, entertaining spectacle, but one grounded in real, emotional stakes. And with Robert Pattinson donning the cowl, he has an actor who’s eager, almost hungry, to delve into the character’s psychology. This is not the dashing heir to a fortune, prowling about in a bat costume. Pattinson’s Wayne is tortured, detached, and disillusioned. Two years into his crusade against crime, he’s tracking criminals from on high in Wayne Tower. This switch from the usual sprawl of Wayne Manor is inspired, suggesting further isolation from society than most iterations of Bruce Wayne. “They think I’m hiding in the shadows,” he growls in the opening narration. “But I am the shadows.” This proves true, as the reclusive, solemn Bruce Wayne comes alive once he dons the cowl. Despite the brooding demeanor and black eye makeup, you can tell Bruce gets a rush out of his vigilantism.
As he’s shown with nearly every role he’s played since Twilight, Pattinson excels at playing characters that make the viewer feel uncomfortable. This can be seen in his collaborations with auteurs like David Cronenberg, Claire Denis, and the Safdie brothers. Even more so than Christian Bale, Pattinson is remarkably skilled at making his angular, handsome features seem unsettling. So when he spies on the impossibly sexy Zoe Kravitz as Selina Kyle, slinking into her motorcycle gear and clambering down a fire escape, there’s an unmistakable spark in his eyes: Oooh. She’s a freak like me.
Pattinson and Kravtiz have impossibly intense chemistry. Whenever they appear together, the screen threatens to burn away from the heat radiating off the two of them. This isn’t the typical flirty, purring Catwoman: she’s a match, physically and emotionally, for Pattinson’s Batman every step of the way.
Kravitz is only one member of the murderer’s row of supporting performers in this picture, all of whom get meaty roles to play. Jeffrey Wright is the rare voice of decency as Lieutenant Jim Gordon (and has almost as much chemistry with Pattinson as Kravitz). John Turturro plays mobster Carmine Falcone with equal parts menace and affability. Andy Serkis imbues this version of Alfred with a sense of paternal wisdom and warmth. Colin Farrell is unrecognizable as the sleazy Oswald Cobblepot. And Paul Dano is genuinely terrifying as the Riddler. Here, he goes to extremes similar to his work in Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood. Dano plays the Riddler as a man who is truly, deeply disturbed, his search for vengeance providing the story’s spine.
That said, The Batman isn’t a downer. Despite being nearly three hours long, the movie flies by thanks to a handful of perfectly placed action sequences. The coolest Batman mobile yet — a heavily modified muscle car akin to something from Mad Max — figures prominently into one of these sequences. It’s a high-speed car chase, and chain-reaction crash, capped by an upside-down shot of Batman wreathed in flame, a smoldering specter of vengeance. There’s a fight in a nightclub, where the thumping of the music accentuates every punch. And a shootout in a pitch-black hallway, illuminated only by gunfire, is equally dazzling and harrowing.
It also helps that Reeves has surrounded himself with a crew of great craftsmen. With cinematographer Greig Fraser, Reeves has crafted a film that feels equal parts ethereal and weighty. Fraser manages the same magic trick he pulled with Denis Villeneuve’s Dune: through neon lights and sheets of rain, his imagery carries a haziness while remaining hefty. His use of shadow and silhouette is a masterclass in crafting foreboding and tension. His judicious use of the color red is similarly masterful. And, if there’s any reason to see this movie, it’s Michael Giacchino’s score. His Batman theme is a plodding dirge, perfectly capturing the methodical menace of Pattinson’s Dark Knight. It’s easily his best score since 2009’s Star Trek.
But the real magic of this movie is that it gives Batman an actual character arc. Bruce Wayne begins the film as a recluse who has lost all faith in humanity. By the film’s end, Batman comes to value human life, realizing that he doesn’t have to be a symbol of fear; he could inspire hope instead.