“This must be your favorite part of the year, huh pal? Happy ******* Halloween.” Behold. The Batman review. *** Spoilers for The Batman ahead ***
Before diving in, let’s tackle the elephant in the room: This is a very different Batman than some might be used to and one that comic book fans may even have quite a challenging time getting used to.
This is not a fully-fledged Batman. No, it’s one who is still finding himself. He is neither the gravelly, quick-tempered, and selfless Dark Knight with an established double-life we saw in the Nolanverse, nor is he the seasoned and jaded warhorse whose hope was restored in the Snyderverse. This is a version outside of the established DCEU and all previous continuities. It is, instead, set in its own standalone continuity.
With that out of the way, here is the breakdown of Matt Reeves’ The Batman. For those expecting an origin story or a retread of the grounded sobriety of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Trilogy is in for a surprise. No, that would be a narrow evaluation bred out of cynicism, as The Batman has more layers than the skins of an onion.
The picture has a grungier, bleaker, and slightly pulp-like atmospheric tone. It’s also more evocative of horror inspired by the late Alfred Hitchcock, which can lend its hand to more pulp and surrealist affairs, especially when it comes to the villains.
The story and the world of Vengeance in The Batman
In The Batman, the depiction of Gotham is a metropolis rife with crime and corruption – crime and corruption that is barely curbed by the efforts of the few untainted law enforcement and political leaders, not in the gangsters’ pockets. The ominous, young, and brave – but still-learning – Caped Crusader is only two years into his fight against the crime that has overtaken the city and even he can’t hold the line.
Bruce Wayne (Robert Pattinson) is scarred and obsessed in his crusade as his alter-ego, known to the city as The Batman, as he struggles to hone in his approach to crime-fighting while investigating a series of murders brought upon by the enigmatic and deranged serial killer, Edward Nashton / The Riddler (Paul Dano). Along the way, he finds a potential ally in Selina Kyle / Catwoman (Zoë Kravitz) but is never quite sure if she’s a friend or foe, while he gets to the bottom of the mystery with help from Lieutenant James Gordon (Jeffrey Wright).
The path of these bloody murders leads to the likes of the mob enforcer of the Iceberg Lounge. Oswald “Oz” Cobblepot / The Penguin (Colin Farrell) is also the right-hand man of the crime lord Carmine Falcone (John Turturro) and, in his pursuit of righteousness (while overshadowed by rage), Batman uncovers a dark secret that could change his outlook of justice and the legacy he was born into.
A superior and gritty noir Batman tale
From the very start of The Batman, the tone is set by having The Riddler stalk and eventually kill Mayor Don Mitchell Jr. (Rupert Penry-Jones). This quickly evoked a provocative horror-like tone reminiscent of ’70s thrillers. Aside from the plain cut to black and flash of the scarlet main titles, viewers got to see a P.O.V. of the mayor’s house which led us into the intentions of the killer in the baggy, green, enveloped costume.
Before audiences see Pattinson in the Batsuit, they are treated to an internal monologue – something that has been sorely lacking in all live-action depictions of the character. It is not too much, but just enough to depict that noir tone most Batman stories have pulled from.
Before the infamous fight first shown during the 2020 DC FanDome teaser trailer, we hear the lines “Fear is a tool. When that light hits the sky, it’s not just a call. It’s a warning. For them.” That is then followed by Nirvana’s equally-recognizable “Something in the Way.”
Reeves’ strengths here were his distinctive use of flat colors in key sequences with reds, oranges, and other filters that uplift the scene and present a Gotham that not only has gothic architecture but is Victorian, surreal, yet tangible. We are also drawn into the world of The Batman by the execution of characters such as Selina, Penguin, Falcone, and Gordon, all of whom are at the center of what is really a character-driven, noir-inspired detective story from Reeves and Peter Craig.
Each antagonist was balanced and rounded in their own way, though Dano’s Riddler, albeit disturbed and sadistic, had some moments of black humor, especially when he confronted our protagonist on two separate occasions. Farrell’s screen-time as Penguin was short but he portrayed Oswald Cobblepot in a Mafioso sneaky and forceful way, while Turturro’s Falcone depiction was resolute and tempered.
Its highbrow, moody, and non-superheroic tone could be off-putting
Despite its greatness, this depiction of The Dark Knight may be a hard pill to swallow for some of those looking for more of an established hero who formed the Justice League. However, I believe in Reeves’ world it can lend itself to more horror and outlandish elements of the ubermensch variety of super-criminal later down the line.
Pattinson’s Batman does not have years of crime-fighting behind him. Those who are fans of the veteran we saw in the DCEU may not appreciate this film, but the best way to judge this is by using the vast eras of James Bond as a comparison. Christian Bale’s portrayal of Batman could be compared to Daniel Craig’s 007, Ben Affleck was more of an expression of Pierce Brosnan’s 007, and our current Pattinson as a closer fit to Timothy Dalton’s 007 (albeit with an influence of Se7en’s David Mills). Therefore, Battinson’s Dark Knight may not be the Batman you may be accustomed to, but he is designed as a different, younger version of the character.
My main issue with the film’s take on the crusader is the fact that he is Batman most of the time, meaning that we do not get a chance to see enough of Pattinson’s range as Bruce Wayne. That said, he is just as driven and committed to the role as Christian Bale and though his Batman lacks the finesse of veteran Batmen (like Batfleck’s for example), he portrays Bruce’s intellect, withdrawnness, obsession, and rage extremely well. His diction is a bit soft-spoken and has been a little harsher but the great thing is that he is neither modularly-elevated nor exaggerated vocally in tone, setting him apart from recent adaptations.
There are some pacing issues in The Batman, but they don’t hold the movie up too much. While it does drag towards the end of the second act, and you are at times wondering how many riddles Batman and Lieutenant Gordon will have to solve before the credits roll, by the climax it doesn’t particularly matter as the near three-hour runtime is ultimately justified.
The movie is also just very dark, with the poor lighting making it very hard to see what is actually going on at times. And while the fight choreography is executed well, some occasionally questionable cuts result in those also being hard to follow at times.
Momentous and striking sequences with notable quotes
Some noteworthy scenes are the attack at the funeral with district attorney Gil Colson (Peter Sarsgaard) when Batman receives a video call through Colson by the Riddler – the back and forth amongst them is tense and has some dramatic irony. Another is Penguin’s moment following the car chase between him and The Batman. “What the hell is this? Good cop, Bat**** cop?” Oz asked after being confronted by the vigilante hero and Lt. Gordon. “You two make one duet, maybe you should start harmonizing.”
Overall, while this is not a Batman film you may be familiar with, nor is it breaking any new ground, it does approach the story from another, distinct angle close to the noir and detective aspect of the character that has never really been explored on-screen, gifting the franchise with something that it has been sorely lacking.
Have you seen The Batman? What do you think? Are you looking forward to potential sequels and spin-offs? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!