It’s been ages since I wrote a review, but I couldn’t pass this one up. When a director says they want to change the way we see a popular superhero, they definitely have their work cut out for them — especially when that same superhero already has many successful portrayals to their name. Matt Reeves and Robert Pattinson stepped up to this challenge in making The Batman. After watching it myself at TCL, as a raging cinephile and somewhat of a comic book nerd, I didn’t realize how important this film would be to me.
The Batman stars Robert Pattinson as the titular protagonist, who has been dawning the cape for about two years. When a serial killer who calls himself The Riddler (played by Paul Dano) leaves behind a series of cryptic clues with his victims, Batman must team up with Jim Gordon (played by Jeffrey Wright) to stop him, while also running into characters like the The Penguin (played by Colin Farrell) and Catwoman (played by Zoe Kravitz).
Without question, this movie is the best Batman movie since The Dark Knight. Matt Reeves is meticulous and convicted in his vision throughout this whole film. From how he frames every shot with Greig Fraser’s camera to the masterful production design by James Chinlund, this actually feels like a comic book brought to life. That is something I couldn’t really say about Nolan’s trilogy, as much as I love it. With Nolan, he has his own aesthetic, which is not limited to The Dark Knight. Anyone who watches Inception or Tenet will recognize the same color LUT. With this film, you can definitely tell Reeves was truly inspired by the comic books — particularly the Batman graphic novels like Year One and The Long Halloween.
Come to think of it, when I was watching this film, it didn’t remind me so much of other Batman films as much as it reminded me of the Batman Arkham games by Rocksteady. Those games were similarly dark, brooding, and even terrifying at times. I can think of some horror-esque moments from Arkham Knight myself. Another thing that those games did (particularly Arkham City and Arkham Knight) was that it brought character for the city of Gotham. Reeves’s portrayal is actually very similar. It actually feels like a place whose problems and corruption have existed since before Bruce Wayne was even born. In the Dark Knight trilogy, it’s mentioned. But, our view of it kind of feels quick and superficial in the face of a complex narrative. With this film, you literally feel the sheer dread and hopelessness of Gotham. It’s a different Gotham from the Nolan films. Batman doesn’t feel like a mythical hero. He actually feels like a guy who has to drudge through every hardship and every obstacle possible. It’s grounded like the Nolan films, but in a different much grimmer manner.
Pattinson’s portrayal of Batman has received a lot of attention — mainly comparisons to previous Batman’s films. In my opinion, his portrayal of Batman is the most grounded and fleshed out version that has graced the silver screen. You see him take every punch and break every wall he has to. He’s not playing a super-experienced Batman like we’ve seen in the animated shows. He’s playing someone who’s still figuring it out while trying his best not to crumble. And, Pattinson captures that beautifully.
With that in mind, the rest of the cast is amazing, as well. Zoe Kravitz plays a very convincing Catwoman, Jeffrey Wright plays Gordon very well, and even Andy Serkis does a great job as Alfred. Arguably the ones who steal the show besides Pattinson are the villains. Paul Dano as the Riddler is terrifying. You can tell his unhinged portrayal of the Riddler is partially inspired by Heath Ledger’s Joker, but given the backstory they give for the Riddler, I think it works really well. Colin Farrell is unrecognizable as The Penguin, which I don’t think is the first time you’ve heard this sentiment. If you told me Colin Farrell played that guy, I wouldn’t believe you. With his combination of voice inflection and makeup, he IS the Penguin from the comic books. Also, John Turturro as Carmine Falcone was a very pleasant surprise.
Now, while this is a crime thriller, the narrative they take with this film is very reminiscent of thrillers from the 1990s and mid-2000s — particularly Fincher’s films like Se7en and Zodiac. There is actually a detective mystery to follow, which actually does makes sense. Batman is a detective. It is terrifying at times, and it is riveting, overall. Also, some of the choices they make with the narrative actually present some biting commentary on our current world. Many critics have called these choices “woke” or too “on-the-nose”. Personally, I think no matter slick or smart you are in adding commentary to your film, you will inevitably get backlash from those that are riding those waves. Because, for me, Reeves and Peter Craig did a masterful job presenting some poignant themes in this film.
Now, with any Batman film, or really any FILM for that matter, sound is a very important element. Douglas Murray has been Reeve’s sound designer of choice since Cloverfield, and this movie sounded amazing. It’s not quite as meticulous as Richard King’s sound design in The Dark Knight, but each and every punch and engine sound vibrates your chest. It engages you unlike most other films. They weren’t kidding when they said this film was optimized for IMAX. Michael Giacchino’s score, however, steals the show from Murray. Normally, when I think of Giacchino, I think of fun adventurous music like The Incredibles and Star Trek. I never fancied him as someone who could write a dark and brooding score. However, he pulls it off with flying colors. His Batman theme, while simple melodically, nails the instrumentation. He even has a nice sultry theme for Catwoman in there. Giacchino just perfects Matt Reeve’s vision.
So, if you can’t tell already, I think The Batman is fantastic. It captures many elements of the character that many comic book fans have wanted to see and just a little bit more. It is masterfully crafted, and you can tell Matt Reeves really cared about this film. But, one question that I’m sure many people are asking: Is The Batman better than The Dark Knight?
That’s definitely a tough one. Both films are done by great directors. The narratives are well-written in both of them. Both films had great casts and great performances. Not to mention, both films have pretty riveting music. For me, I don’t think The Batman quite de-thrones The Dark Knight, especially given how groundbreaking that film was. However, that doesn’t mean The Dark Knight makes you forget about The Batman. It’s a different take on a very popular comic book character. And, with the freedom that Warner Bros has given with this character, there is no reason to think that both of these films are great for cinephiles and comic book nerds alike. Only time will tell if The Batman will be remembered as fondly or even eclipse Nolan’s masterpiece, but I think it will remain impossible to forget the efforts that Matt Reeves, Robert Pattinson, Michael Giacchino, and the rest of the crew made to bring such a beautiful comic book vision to life.
The Batman is a masterpiece, and it deserves your attention!