We have seen Batman in a number of incarnations on the silver screen. Tim Burton had a gothic and moody take. Joel Schumacher had a campy one. Christopher Nolan had a grounded yet epic take. Zack Snyder had a bleak and dark one. Now, it’s Matt Reeves‘ turn, and he’s managed to find something else entirely. The Batman is a blockbuster action film, sure, but it’s not just that. It’s also, and arguably more so, a police procedural. Reeve is imagining the Dark Knight in perhaps his truest form, which we’ve never quite seen in a movie form. In doing so, this is something special and very different for the genre.
The Batman presents us truly for the first time with a cinematic interpretation of The World’s Greatest Detective. This version of the character is as much a sleuth as a superhero. It’s a new feel for this type of film, giving it a weight that never feels overly grim, even if it’s probably the most serious of the lot. By feeling like a cross between SAW, Se7en, Zodiac, and the darker comic book takes on the character, we’re given a full meal. The movie looks at Batman as though he’s closer to a literary figure, given respect and a reality. There’s some of what Nolan did so well here, but it’s also very much blazing its own trail.
In the interest of keeping this spoiler-free, I’ll just give the plot’s basic set-up. Instead of an origin story, this franchise starter kicks off a year or so into Bruce Wayne (Robert Pattinson) embarking on the Gotham Project. Donning a costume and fighting crime, he’s aiming to strike fear into the hearts of the city’s criminal underworld as The Batman. The results have taken a toll on him, both mentally and physically, but when police officer James Gordon (Jeffrey Wright) shines the Bat Signal, it serves as a warning. Someone isn’t heeding it, however, when Mayor Don Mitchell Jr (Rupert Penry-Jones) is murdered, which has Gordon recruiting Batman to investigate. They’re about to get far more than they bargained for.
Soon, it becomes clear that a sadistic serial killer calling himself the Riddler (Paul Dano) is up to something. Not only is he murdering key political figures in Gotham, starting with the mayor, he’s taking it to another level by leaving riddles for Batman. As the killings continue, increasing in brutality and intensifying the message, Bruce, along with his butler Alfred Pennyworth (Andy Serkis), start to investigate. Gordon works with Batman, while the costumed vigilante also finds a kindred spirit in Selina Kyle (Zoë Kravitz) What they find is not only the city’s hidden corruption, including crime boss Carmine Falcone (John Turturro), but it could involve the Wayne Family as well. It all builds towards a massive conclusion, one that should satisfy those interested in the mystery/serial killer element, as well as those looking for a blockbuster.
Robert Pattinson is well on his way to being my favorite Batman. While his Bruce Wayne his surprisingly limited screen time and is solid, he has a presence in the costume that really works. You buy him as a detective as much as an ass-kicker. Plus, Pattinson probably has the most dialogue and non-action sequences in the suit that anyone has ever had with the role. They got an exciting actor in the part and he did exciting work, go figure. Paul Dano also does something really strong, making Riddler a psychotic genius, but also something creepily real. Dano is intense and best in show, behind Pattinson. I’m not convinced Selina Kyle/Catwoman was necessary, but Zoë Kravitz is really lively here, so you won’t care much. Also doing work of note is Jeffrey Wright, who really comes off as Batman’s partner in trying to solve the case. He’s got the good cop role down pat. On the flip-side, John Turturro is charismatic yet ruthless as the crime boss everyone fears. Andy Serkis has a limited role, but he’s always a pleasure. The supporting cast has notably Colin Farrell in a ton of makeup having a blast as Oswald Cobblepot/The Penguin, while the call sheet is also filled out with the aforementioned Rupert Penry-Jones, plus Barry Keoghan, Peter Sarsgaard, and more.
Filmmaker Matt Reeves has a unique vision at play here. Along with his co-writer Peter Craig, Reeves imagines the Caped Crusader as almost a private eye. The first act brilliantly sets things up, even if the more we learn about Riddler’s plan and the machinations of it coming together, the more you start to poke holes. It’s a small complaint though, as this flick simply goes from close to perfect to great. Other than that, the main issue is just the length. At almost three hours, it’s asking a lot of you, with a bit of a lull before the third act really gets into gear. Once you get over that hump, however, it soars, even if that first act is a high it never quite reaches again. Reeve’s direction is his best to date, too, with a stunning score from Michael Giacchino that’s the best of the year so far, as well as captivating cinematography from Greig Fraser. Everything is shot and showcased as a detective movie, not a superhero movie. By avoiding the look and the feel of a comic book film, Reeves and company are on to something new and utterly sustainable, should the almost inevitable sequels come to fruition.
Compared to other versions of the hero, this is perhaps the most grounded. The detective and mystery/serial killer elements are taken seriously. You see Batman do actual sleuthing, more than you see him punching and kicking. There are many more scenes of him looking for and/or analyzing clues than there are of the Batmobile in action. He’s a superhero, sure, but this take presents him as an investigator, more so than a God.
Awards-wise, The Batman may have limited appeal (though if it makes crazy box office and the industry is as taken with it as I am, all bets are off), but that score from Giacchino truly deserves attention. If there’s one thing to hope this manages to attract the Academy with, it’s the music. Best Original Score should absolutely be on the table next year, provided Oscar can have that kind of memory.
The Batman should more than satisfy. While it’s not perfect, the first act is damn near so, really setting you up for an enthralling tale. This is something new and intense, which is quite exciting. There will be more to discuss, but I’ll leave you with this…I can’t wait to see what they do with the character next. Once you see the film, you’ll almost certainly feel the same!