Batman gets his darkest screen chapter yet with The Batman, a return to a grittier, bleaker Batman after Zack Snyder’s misguided take on the character. No disrespect to Ben Affleck, who was a decent Batman, but the movies surrounding him were pretty bad and lost the true dark heart of the Caped Crusader.
Director and co-screenwriter Matt Reeves (Cloverfield, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes) aims to take the Batman back to his “world’s greatest detective” roots, and Reeves does so with a three-hour movie that mixes elements of two David Fincher films, Zodiac and Se7en. In fact, some major plot turns are pulled directly from Seven—so much so that it almost feels like plagiarism. That said, if you are going to rip somebody off, it might as well be Fincher, right? The man’s a genius.
Robert Pattinson becomes the seventh big-screen, live-action Batman (after Adam West, Michael Keaton, Val Kilmer, George Clooney, Christian Bale and Affleck). This is, by far, the darkest portrayal of Batman yet, with both his Bruce Wayne and the Bat as joyless as a college frat party with nothing to drink but expired milk. Pattinson and Reeves are committed to a Batman so damaged by his past that he can’t crack a smile, in or out of the cowl. Seriously: I don’t think the man smiles once in the movie.
The plot revolves around The Riddler (Paul Dano), a serial killer who leaves notes at his crime scenes addressed to the Batman—similar to those of the Zodiac killer. Dano isn’t donning fluorescent green tights with big question marks here; his Riddler takes elements of Heath Ledger’s Joker, but slowed down and with hints of Dano’s crazy preacher character from There Will Be Blood.
Reeves packs these three hours with plenty of well-bodied supporting characters, the most impressive being Zoe Kravitz putting her own, celebrity-cementing stamp on Selina Kyle (aka Catwoman). Kravitz provides the film with the emotional core that Pattinson—intentionally—denies. She’s the most well-rounded character in the movie. Jeffrey Wright brings his trademark solid acting to the role of Lt. James Gordon, who spends a lot of time with The Batman in this incarnation.
As Oz—also known as the Penguin in Batman lore—Colin Farrell disappears under a lot of latex and a voice that provides no trace of his Irish brogue. John Turturro is a slithery Carmine Falcone, while Andy Serkis brings a lot of heart to his few scenes as the new Alfred.
Of all the Batman films, this one has the greatest art direction. This depiction of Gotham City is the best—and the most faithful to the comics. Michael Giacchino’s score stands among the best as well; in fact, it might be the best Batman score yet. The action scenes, including much hand-to-hand combat and a rousing car chase, are exceptional.
The film does have its problems. It’s too slow in stretches; Bruce Wayne actually eats berries in slow motion at one point. As for the joyless Wayne, even the most damaged people in this world, realistically, will crack a smile at some point. Perhaps Pattinson will smile a bit in the sequel. There are so many great aspects to what Pattinson does here, but it seems a little unfortunate the character couldn’t have another dimension.
Despite the problems, The Batman is an impressive achievement. There isn’t a frame of this movie that isn’t something special to look at; Pattinson will only get better as Batman; and all of the supporting characters get nice, fully realized stories. Yes, some stretches drag, but Reeves deserves credit for using his running time wisely by fleshing out his characters.
Where does this rank against past live-action Batman films? Here they are, from best to worst, according to this reviewer: The Dark Knight, Batman Begins, Batman (1989), Batman Returns, The Dark Knight Rises, The Batman, Batman (1966), The Justice League (Snyder cut), Batman Forever, The Justice League (theatrical), Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Batman and Robin. Out of 12 qualifying films (counting both Justice League films, because they are so different), The Batman comes in right in the middle at No. 6.
The Batman stands as a nice reset for a great cinematic character, opening the door to what will surely be an intriguing future for the franchise.
The Batman is playing at theaters across the valley.