There will always be two superheroes that I will love and adore for the rest of my life: Spider-Man and Batman. How fortunate I am then to experience two excellent films featuring both of these characters in the the span of 3 months! The Batman is an invigorating, suspenseful, and dynamic film that is distinct from all of the other Batman films that have come before it. Director Matt Reeves takes the character into new directions, some of which we have not had the chance to experience in the previous iterations of the character. While it may off put some audiences to see such a bold new take on the character, coupled with what was initially a controversial casting choice in Robert Pattinson, The Batman nonetheless rises to exceed the expectations and deliver a darker, grittier, and bolder, cinematic experience that justifies the existence of this separate universe.
In The Batman, Robert Pattinson plays Bruce Wayne/Batman as a separate iteration of the character apart from the DCEU. He has been Batman for two years now and, still early in his career and trying to establish what it means to be a vengeful protector for the city of Gotham. He is still figuring out his relationship with the police, the duality of his personality, and the impact on criminals he fights on the street. When Paul Dano’s Riddler comes onto the stage and attempts to expose the corruption, lies, and deceit that is existed within Gotham for years through murder and puzzles, Batman must track him down and uncover what it means to make an impact for Gotham and stop a mass murderer.
Let’s get this out of the way, Robert Pattinson is excellent as Bruce Wayne/Batman. He imbues the character with a sense of torture, rage, and brutality that make him distinct from the previous actors that have portrayed him. This is a more reclusive and reserved Bruce Wayne than the playboy billionaire we are used to seeing, which is perfect given the setting of Gotham City and the darker and grittier tone the movie is aiming for. He hasn’t mastered how to be both Bruce Wayne and Batman yet, so you see him as Batman for the majority of the film (an argument could be made he is Batman for the entire film). When he is Batman, you feel the inner rage and turmoil come out as he inflicts his own justice and vengeance on the criminals of Gotham. This is the scariest we have seen Batman, as the criminals tremble in fear of whether he will emerge from the shadows to beat them down. The direction of how Batman enters in is eerie as you hear the boots clatter against the rain as he approaches criminals, it’s goosebumps inducing! More than that, Pattinson rises to the occasion in the more dramatic areas as well, giving a well rounded character arc for a Batman in the early days of career figuring things out. He isn’t as put together as one may think, and seeing him make mistakes, wrestle with choices in the past, and utilize them to forge his path forward is mesmerizing and kept me wanting to see more.
While Batman may be in the title, it can actually be argued that Gotham is the central character in this story. We get to see just how corrupt and broken Gotham City truly is with all of the political scheming, dirty cops, and kingpins and feel the uphill battle that Batman is fighting. This is a world that feels lived in, as Matt Reeves drops us into the action immediately and doesn’t bother to retread elements that are already familiar to Batman fans. We see where some of Batman’s villains are already at in Gotham and how their machinations are influencing the world of Gotham today. Seeing a fully realized Gotham City like this makes the stakes feel higher and adds to the urgency of Batman’s mission to stop the Riddler.
The entire rest of the cast is phenomenal as well, with the standouts being Zoe Kravitz as Catwoman and Paul Dano as the Riddler. Kravitz as Catwoman brings a more vulnerable and vengeful vigilante as she attempts to solve her own problems and how they coincide with Batman. Her chemistry with Pattinson is undeniable and they create a powerful duo. One can argue that Kravitz as Selina Kyle goes through an as interesting if not more interesting arc than Batman, as she determines her war path and how that impacts her decisions in the film. Seeing her wrestle with it with a seductiveness and allure, makes her intriguing to watch on screen and I’ll be interested to see what they can do with her moving forward. Paul Dano’s Riddler on the other hand, is a perfect antithesis to Pattinson’s Batman. He echoes the Zodiac Killer with his brutal murders, tedious puzzles and riddles, and toying with the police to have his own fun. How Riddler views Batman as well as revealed later in the movie, was also a surprising twist that added more depth to both Batman’s personal journey and the development of Riddler as a villain. Seeing the two square off offers the best scenes in the film as you are on the edge of your seat to see just which one will outsmart or outfight the other.
The main theme of this film is vengeance as we see the three more central characters, Batman, Catwoman, and Riddler, all deal with this concept in their own way. While they are all going about it in distinct and different ways, the movie makes it clear by the end how blurred the line is between the three of them and just how similar their views and actions affect other people. With Riddler exposing corruption in Gotham City and wanting to take revenge for those that failed him and the city, it causes Batman to do some introspection whereas it forces Catwoman into reactionary action. Seeing that interconnectedness of the three characters by the films end proved to me that this was a deeper and more thought provoking Batman film, and I am always down for a more high concept thinking piece than bloody action.
There is a decent amount of action in the film, but maybe not as much as you are expecting. This is definitely a more intricate and investigative film than “The Dark Knight” trilogy, as we see the film explore more of Batman’s detective skills as he becomes “the world’s greatest detective” he is known for in the comics. This is more of a psychological thriller as Batman hunts down as a mass serial killer and review video footage, infiltrate clubs to gain information, and solve clues to track down and stop the Riddler. In that, you have less action within the film and more thought inducing and investigating paper trails. This makes it distinct from the other Batman films as we have not seen this aspect of the character explore completely making it refreshing and a joy to watch. The action helps to supplement this investigation, with intense car chases, stealthy break ins, and brutal beat downs to get inches closer to the truth and stop the Riddler once and for all.
Some may be disappointed by that supposedly “slower” feel to the film rather than seeing Pattinson brutally beat bad guys as revealed in the first trailer. Admittedly after I saw the film the first time, I was caught off guard realizing I had my expectations misplaced. Upon a second viewing, I loved the film even more as I could appreciate finally seeing Batman be a detective while also exploring this vengeful and rageful side that torments him. Its an aspect from the comics that hasn’t been properly explored, and director Matt Reeves jumps in head first to explore those depths. Be prepared for more of an investigation rather than an action-packed “Dark Knight” esque film.
Speaking of Matt Reeves, he expertly directs this film with beautifully shots, cinematography, and use of practical stunts that add to the more grounded and realistic take on the character. While the Nolan films are praised for being super realistic, Reeves’ direction truly grounds the film through the use of a Zodiac Killer esque villain, the technology Batman uses to solve riddles, the make of Batman’s suit and “Batmobile”, and the world of Gotham itself. There’s a great crime noir feel to the film, and the use of wide shots, sweeping landscapes of Gotham city, and the imposingness of Batman as a character all elevate the film to something distinct. Heck, Batman even retains his eye makeup when he takes off his mask, it’s super grounded and feels lived in. I hope that Reeves directs more going forward with this Batman, as I feel he could do a lot more with the character.
The film is also much darker than other superhero films, and I enjoyed that theme for this story. It borrows from the likes of Seven and Saw in ways, as you can see the DNA of those films and how it influenced this story. Some may be turned away from that, especially given the brighter, cheerier, and more humor-filled MCU movies However, it’s again refreshing and nice to see something different than what’s been done before and when you have had 6 different iterations of Batman in the past 20 years, that is a daunting task to live up to. Matt Reeves and Robert Pattinson absolutely excelled in breaking that mold and being bold to exceed expectations.
While the film does leave room for a sequel, this is a complete standalone story separate from everything allowing us to enjoy it as a one-off watch or on subsequent viewings as they continue to flesh out the world and characters. The film is simply mesmerizing to watch unfold, and those looking for something new and fresh with Batman will find a lot of enjoyment here. For those looking for an action heavy adventure, be prepared for more investigation and detective work than you are used to, but don’t let that take away from the beautiful direction this film employs. Robert Pattinson has definitely stepped out of the light of Twilight, and I can’t wait to see where they go next. While we can’t compare the Nolan trilogy to this film, it’ll be interesting to see how it continues to distinguish itself moving forward.