Matt Reeves’s The Batman is the best Batman movie since The Dark Knight and the best movie about Batman as a character. This isn’t a Batman movie that is focused on Batman as a city-saving superhero, but Batman as a tortured detective. It is a dark, intense, thrilling film-noir about a hero learning his place in a broken society.
Since 1989, when Michael Keaton donned the cape and cowl in Tim Burton’s Batman, we’ve had a total of nine live-action Batman movies (ten if you include both Justice League and Zach Snyder’s Justice League, but I combined both here). Reeves’s film marks the tenth live-action Batman film and easily one of the best. The brilliance of Reeves’s film is how it brings in familiar elements from past films while making them feel entirely new. It felt like Reeves took some of his favorite parts of previous Batman films, chopped and screwed them, and utilized them to fit his vision. We’ve seen characters like Riddler, Penguin, and Catwoman on screen before, but not like this. Reeves’s Riddler (Paul Dano) is a calculated serial killer, not a whacky scientist like in 1995’s Batman Forever. Penguin (Colin Farrell) is a mafia henchman, not a circus freak with flippers like in Batman Returns. Catwoman (Zoë Kravitz), while more reminiscent of Anne Hathaway’s Catwoman in The Dark Knight Rises than Michelle Pfeiffer’s turn in Batman Returns, is still drastically different than either iteration.
There are also smaller elements that will remind you of Batman films of the past, like RIddler’s use of cell phone video reminding us of Joker’s video threats in The Dark Knight, there’s a shot of Batman landing from gliding from a building that looks like it was ripped straight from one of Tim Burton’s films. Even Michael Giacchino’s incredible score features hints of Danny Elfman’s score for the Tim Burton Batman films and Hans Zimmer’s score from The Dark Knight Trilogy. Seeing all of these elements in The Batman not be ripped off but inspire the film really showed the passion that Reeves has for the material and the films of the past.
But Reeves’s overall vision of The Batman is what makes the film great. This is more film noir than a superhero movie and the first Batman movie to focus on Batman as more of a detective than a crime-fighting superhero. It is an enthralling murder mystery that finds Batman (Robert Pattinson) and Detective Jim Gordon (Jeffrey Wright) digging into government corruption and secrets of Gotham while trying to find the murderous Riddler. Reeves lingers on Batman as he analyzes the crime scenes. This isn’t a Batman who walks into a crime scene and immediately knows what happened and who did it, this Batman looks for clues, takes everything in, and analyzes the whole scene. Batman is brooding and sees his purpose in Gotham as a man who exacts vengeance (that’s his nickname to some in Gotham) around the city and does not see himself as a hero. The Batman is a look at a lost vigilante trying to find his purpose in a city that needs him.
The Batman runs nearly three hours long, but that seemingly long runtime flies by because Reeves knows exactly how to use it. Every scene builds out the story, the characters, or the world we are in. The scenes take their time to play out, whether it be one of the exciting action sequences or a scene of character dialog, which allows us to live in Gotham and live with the characters more while marveling at the technical brilliance of the film. The production design and stunning cinematography give Gotham its gloomy and seedy look, really showing us the city’s darkness and horror. The violence in the film is brutal and feels like it is just a couple of punches away from getting an R-rating. The murders done by Riddler are shocking and the way Batman takes out bad guys around Gotham is vicious. The centerpiece of The Batman comes in an exciting and expertly crafted chase sequence between Batman and Penguin. Giacchino’s score goes wild as Batman chases Penguin through Gotham and on the highway. My heart was racing and I was floored by the scene’s construction.
Pattinson is a very good Batman that I’m excited to see more of him in the future. He wears the mask well, shows off his physicality in the action scenes, and adds layers of sadness and intimidation that we haven’t seen in the Caped Crusader before. I loved Jeffrey Wright as the street-level, honest Gordon. Dano is terrifying as Riddler, who feels closer to John Doe from Se7en than he does Jim Carrey’s Batman Forever Riddler. Farrell is a scene-stealer and has an absolute blast as Penguin and Zoë Kravitz gives my favorite performance in the film as the tricky but tortured Selina Kyle.
With its influences from past Batman films, top-tier direction and vision from Matt Reeves, a stellar cast, technical mastery, and gripping mystery at its center, The Batman is one of the best Batman movies ever made and an early candidate for one of the best movies of 2022.
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