In a bold new vision, a legendary vigilante strikes from behind the shadows and brings audiences into a gripping, pulse-pounding noir-thriller in Matt Reeves’ The Batman and this work of cinema is a visceral masterpiece on every single level.
During his second year of fighting crime, Batman pursues the Riddler, a serial killer who targets elite Gotham City citizens. He uncovers corruption that connects to his own family during the investigation and is forced to make new allies to catch the Riddler and bring the corrupt to justice.
When it comes to iconic pop-culture heroes there is one who stands above all the rest. A dark crusader of the night’s skies who strikes fear into the souls of the criminals that prowl the streets beneath him, Batman is one of the most beloved, cherished and impactful superheroes ever to be created and his story and fight for justice continues to resonate with audiences. Created in 1939 by Bob Kane and Bill Finger, Batman’s unique character, story, Rogues Gallery, gadgets and straight-up badassery continues to make an impact on audiences the world over and every time he returns to the big screen it’s a time for much excitement and intrigue. For any filmmaker, the promise of finding a new way into the Batman mythos can be a daunting challenge but rest assured because the visually gifted Matt Reeves is here to bring you a Batman that you have longed dreamed of seeing on screen and The Batman is an utter masterwork to behold.
As a filmmaker, Reeves finds a new way into the Batman mythos by taking a radically different approach to the narrative and worldbuilding of The Batman, and this is a Batman film unlike any you’ve seen before. By-passing the standard origin tale, Reeves’ The Batman is a ‘Year Two’ story and this is its point-of-difference. Neither a beginning crime fighter, nor an established veteran, this Batman is a bold and brutal nighttime vigilante who has had an effect on the scum of Gotham City, but who is still continuing to find his feet as he confronts the Gotham underworld. This ‘Year Two’ narrative is blended with the lived-in, hyper-realism style that Reeves fosters not only in the character and actions of Robert Pattinson’s Bruce Wayne/Batman but also in the landscape and existence of Gotham City and its inhabitants. Shot through the lens of film noir, Reeves’s The Batman presents a murky, grungey, crowded, rain-soaked and corrupt Gotham City that is on its last legs, where citizens live in constant fear and which is in dire need of a saviour and protector. This is where Reeves sets his story and he certainly works his magic.
Reeves’s approach to The Batman leads him into the realm of film noir and detective fiction and the resulting picture speaks for itself on-screen. With cinematographer Greig Fraser, production designer James Chinlund, art director Grant Armstrong, costumers Jacqueline Durran, Dave Crossman and Glyn Dillon and hair and make-up artist Mike Marino, Reeves crafts The Batman into an incredibly unique vision. Looking to influences such as The Godfather, Chinatown and Se7en, Reeves builds out a dark, brooding detective-noir narrative and his attention to detail will have you wide-eyed with excitement. He also finds the right balance between the practical and the fantastical and his portrait of Batman and Gotham City is the stuff that long time fans could only dream of. Greig Fraser’s dark-shadowed, almost sepia-like imagery also adds to the effect and impact of the story and the result is a murky, dark portrait that moves between scintillating glamour and nightmarish horror at the same time.
Donning the cape and cowl is Bristish thespian Robert Pattinson and this young actor makes for an incredibly impressive Batman. Seeking a new angle, Pattinson’s Bruce Wayne/Batman is not the glamourous playboy and stalwart avenger of Gotham City, but instead, a haunted insomniac and wrathful creature of the night possessed by an obsession that borders on the sheer edge of madness as he wages his one-man war on crime from the shadows and takes back the city of Gotham one block at a time. Part of what makes Pattinson’s portrayal of Bruce Wayne/Batman so intriguing is that Reeves takes us into the character’s internal monologue, and for the first time we get to hear his inner thoughts as he narrates the actions and consequences of his quest for vengeance. This is a massive point of difference in the portrayal of the Batman character from what we’ve seen before and Pattinson digs deep and transforms himself into this obsessive loner whose fight for the city of Gotham, and need for vengeance is becoming all-consuming.
Pattinson, under Reeves’s direction, also keenly plays up Batman’s role as the ‘world’s greatest detective’ and much of the story follows his investigation into the actions of the brutal serial killer called The Riddler. We see Pattinson’s Batman working the case, and employing his unique mind, technology and inquisitive detective skills to piece together a growing and dangerous conspiracy. And it’s fascinating to watch. Of interest for audiences in this portrayal is that Pattinson throws himself into the form of Batman over that of Bruce Wayne and this has a seriously dramatic effect on the narrative. What this shows is a character who lives in his shadow persona, forsaking the person who lives in the light and it’s a point-of-difference from other portrayals. Themes of identity and history factor into Pattinson’s performance and long time fans will be very happy with how Pattinson’s interpretation of Bruce Wayne/Batman plays into the grand mythos of the character and the connections to the Wayne family, Arkham Asylum and other core tenants of the Batman story.
Pattinson’s Batman isn’t just a mere detective either and we get to see him let his physical side out as Batman, and when he’s encased in his armour and takes to the night’s skies looking for a fight, he transforms into an utter monster. Favouring a bone-breaking, smash-bash, street fighting style that focuses more on effective brutality than flamboyant style, Pattinson’s Batman goes to work on the streets of Gotham and he’s a particularly dangerous creature to cross. There’s nothing pretty about the combat here. It’s brutal, nasty, violent, and directly to the point. In short, it’s real. Pattinson’s Batman isn’t flashy or showy, he’s not fighting to impress, he’s fighting to win and to cause as much terror to his combatants as possible. The film’s fight scenes are bone-snapping in their presentation and Pattinson proves that he has a real talent for action cinema as he jumps headfirst into the fray. Special note is also made to Pattinson’s Batman being very much a human figure. He’s not immune to pain or getting smashed up and he certainly takes a few punches. But he sure does throw them back a hell of a lot harder.
While Pattinson’s Bruce Wayne/Batman may serve as the film’s primary protagonist, Reeves also introduces audiences to a fresh-faced and edgy young woman named Selina Kyle, played with extraordinary grace and red-hot sex appeal by Zoë Kravitz, and she’s a femme fatale in the making. As a young woman who is entrenched in Gotham City’s criminal underworld, and who possesses her own unique skills and is nursing a need for vengeance, Kravitz brings a fire and energy to a Catwoman for a new generation and she’s a great partner for Pattinson’s Batman on screen. Where Pattinson’s Bruce Wayne/Batman carries a real masculine edge, Kravitz’s Selina Kyle brings her own feminine power to bear and there’s is a great ying/yang confrontation throughout The Batman’s narrative. Kravitz has incredible sex appeal as Kyle and holds the attention of the screen, and this girl can seriously throw a kick and her presence takes the action and intrigue of The Batman to a new level.
Batman’s mythology is filled with a list of dangerous members of the Rogues Gallery and Matt Reeves reinvents many of them in this, his new telling of the Batman story. The film’s central villain is The Riddler, played by an unhinged and skittishly psychopathic Paul Dano, who is re-introduced to audiences as a calculating and vicious serial killer who is willing to burn Gotham City to the ground. The Riddler engages Batman in a chilling game of cat and mouse and Dano commits fully to this terrifying character, and his presence and actions are sure to unnerve audiences as he attacks Gotham’s elite with a twisted zeal in his quest for ‘justice’. This new portrait of The Riddler marks out The Batman from any other Batman film and Reeves creativity and quest to push the envelope shows through in this character and his appearance is sure to send a chill down your spine.
While The Riddler serves as the film’s primary antagonist, Reeves also builds out the Rogues Gallery, and the underworld of Gotham City, with several other key villains including money-minded gangster Oswald ‘Oz’ Cobblepot (Colin Farrell) and mafia don Carmine Falcone (John Turturro). Both Farrell and Turturro make dramatic changes as they morph into their respective characters, and they bring a grand gangster presence that is key to The Batman’s success. Like Pattinson’s Batman, we are only in the early stages of seeing these characters come to life and this is clear when it comes to Farrell’s Cobblepot. Not yet a crime-lord of Gotham, but rather an ambitious mob lieutenant with expensive tastes, Farrell’s Cobblepot is a scarred and disfigured thug who is mockingly referred to as ‘The Penguin’ by those around him, and who is only beginning to make his mark on Gotham. But the mark will be made.
As a cinematic experience, The Batman is a film that gripped me from beginning to end and I found myself completely enamoured by the narrative that Matt Reeves brought to the big screen. Of particular enjoyment was watching Reeves and Pattinson exploring the internal side to Batman and seeing Batman’s internal monologue brought before us in the film’s gripping opening scenes. This introduction to the character and the establishment of a new Gotham City was one of the most exciting and electrifying parts of the entire film that I witnessed and I felt in these moments like this was the Batman film I had been longing for my entire life. Set against the moody music and vocals of Nirvana’s ‘Something in the Way’, this opening scene and narration set the atmosphere for the noir-laced epic that we were to witness and it was a hell of a new introduction for such a legendary character.
Alongside this exploration of the internal workings of Bruce Wayne/Batman’s mind and interior monologue another of my favourite parts of The Batman was the presence of an all-new Batmobile. And this is one grunty metal beast. Seeking something new, Reeves and his team turned to the classic American muscle car stylings of a 1970 Plymouth Barracuda to mould their Dark Knight’s chariot from and it’s a pure demonic presence on screen. This Batmobile screams power, ferocity, speed and intimidation and watching Pattinson let loose in it made for one hell of a rush! Reeves again pushes for reality with his film’s signature car chase and there’s nothing pretty about it as Pattinson’s Batman charges after Farrell’s Cobblepot. With its brutalism design aesthetic and sheer engine ferocity, this Batmobile is built to do one and thing, and one thing only: run the bad guys off the road. And that’s exactly what it does. Throw in Michael Giacchino’s adrenaline charging score and you’ve got a seriously badass car chase.
The success of The Batman as a cinematic experience goes back to its director’s desire to stay true to the source material and to present a film-noir detective tale that is rich in detail and epic in scale. Reeves truly builds a living breathing Gotham City and there’s so much to take in with The Batman. It’s a film that is contemporary and practical, but also stylistic and fantastical. It tells a complete story from beginning to end and resurrects a beloved hero and his frightening rogues, along with teasing the appearance of the mania and chaos that could soon sweep the streets of Gotham City and which awaits laughing in the shadows. The Batman is a film that is truly made for the fans and audiences who are seeking a definitive Batman story will be very pleased with what Matt Reeves brings to the big screen with this dark and brooding narrative.
Characters don’t get more heroic or inspiring than Batman and that’s exactly what Matt Reeves has given us in The Batman. Richly detailed, exciting to watch and getting to the very soul of the Dark Knight, The Batman is an utter masterwork to behold and audiences will be clenching their seats from an outpouring of adrenaline as they witness this piece of cinema unfold before their eyes. Movies simply don’t get any better than this.
Image: Warner Brothers Pictures