The Gotham City of The Batman is on fire. Not literally perhaps, but certainly metaphorically; the city’s skyline is frequently rendered in burnt oranges and fire engine reds. The blaze only seems to subside when it rains—which it does, often. It’s in this cleansing rain where audiences first meet the Batman (Robert Pattinson) of writer/director Matt Reeves’ The Batman, emerging out of the shadows to deliver a beatdown to a group of thugs under the self-professed idea of “vengeance.” How Bruce externalizes his modus operandi is typically rendered in platitudes such as this, but The Batman immediately offers a more internalized rationale; before Bruce is seen, he’s heard—with a narration, pulled from the journals he’s keeping—giving context to the latest crusade of the famous Caped Crusader.
The Batman begins with this psychological dive, setting the tone appropriately for what’s to come over its nearly three-hour run time where it functions as a loose adaptation of Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale’s seminal Batman comic, The Long Halloween. Batman soon appears at the lavish home of Gotham’s mayor to assist Jim Gordon (Jeffrey Wright) on a case. Former mayor may be the better term, as he’s the latest murder in a string of killings by an assailant known as The Riddler (Paul Dano). Riddler’s identity is obscured through a Zodiac Killer-like getup, but there’s no mystery to the fact he’s the one picking off notable members of Gotham’s social and political elite, leaving behind notes and streaming video to social media detailing his desire to unveil a twisted web of secrets and lies—some of which are related directly to the deceased Waynes.
This setup allows The Batman to bypass a traditional origin story and, instead, play with the investigative elements of the hero’s history. Batman notably made his first appearance in 1939’s Detective Comics #27—the very title from which DC Comics draws its namesake—but previous cinematic versions of the character only scratched the surface of his detective roots. This is where Reeves’ take on material shines. The running time allows for the script (credited to Reeves and co-writer Peter Craig) to unspool its knotty conspiracy, one which aspires to the legacy of beloved noir flicks like Chinatown and The French Connection. While The Batman doesn’t quite reach the heights of those beloved genre favorites, it does wholeheartedly—and refreshingly—commit to the trappings of those stories. How the central plot unfolds won’t shock astute viewers but is inspired in how it reshapes the established Wayne family canon. Reeves is also determined in his desire to show Bruce doing the procedural legwork; Batman spends far more time chasing down leads than he does getting into fistfights, but when it is time for a fight, there’s gravity to the vengeance Batman dispenses—each punch thunderously echoes with a definitive tacticity.
From a visual perspective, Reeves is worthy of inclusion alongside Tim Burton and Christopher Nolan in creating iconic Bat imagery. Those who watched Reeves’ respective Planet of the Apes prequels or even saw the scale of what he did with Cloverfield knew his skill, but The Batman is awash with striking iconography. The film’s late 2021 trailer already caused a stir by concluding with the “upside-down” shot, but Reeves isn’t content to rest on one good moment alone; He dots the landscape with a handful of other masterful moments—including a static hallway gunfight where the only source of light is that of flashing, firing gun muzzles. These striking moments are bolstered by a career-best score from Michael Giacchino, who forgoes the thumping strings of Hans Zimmer for stagey sounds in the lineage of Danny Elfman and John Williams.
Reeves stumbles in the lead-up and execution of The Batman’s concluding act. The final Riddler/Batman confrontation retreads a pivotal moment from The Dark Knight and doesn’t land effectively. Reeves adds a darkly modern twist to how Riddler executes his grand plan, but not without evoking another Nolan moment in the process. It’s counterintuitive for a movie of this length to need more time, but you’ll feel The Batman rushing to tie up its lingering plots—especially given the intricate and well-constructed pacing of the first two-thirds.
If there was doubt around his casting, Pattinson will undoubtedly win over the biggest skeptics with his performance as Batman. Clad in mascara and stuck in a state of perpetual brooding, Battinson is by far the most gloomy Batman to grace the screen—and that’s even before Nirvana’s “Something In The Way” erupts through the speakers. The Bruce Wayne of The Batman is a Howard Hughes-like recluse, rarely venturing into the public eye—despite Alfred’s (an underused Andy Serkis) yearning otherwise. More so than any other version, this Bruce is Batman—first and foremost. Bruce functions as a tool or a mask for Batman to get into spaces he couldn’t otherwise. Pattison understands to be Batman is to suffer a tremendous burden. It’s no wonder why he’s so damn moody.
Introduced to the audience through a breathy, creepy voyeuristic shot, Dano’s Riddler looks like the Zodiac Killer, games like Jigsaw, and behaves like an incel extremist. Dano’s manic portrayal is a far cry from the campy character of Batman Forever, providing a thrilling foil for Batman. Less seen but equally compelling is Colin Farrell’s (unrecognizable under pounds of makeup) Oswalt “The Penguin” Cobblepot, who serves as a low-level enforcer for mobster Carmine Falcone (a strong John Turturro). Farrell is in about as many scenes as Pattinson’s Bruce but makes a meal of his limited appearance doing good Tony Soprano cosplay. Zoë Kravitz’s Selina Kyle is a burgeoning (cat) burglar—but still a far cry from the Catwoman mantle—and falls on the heroic side of the equation. She’s ultimately less self-serving than her comic book counterpart. It’s a change that works for Reeves’ version of Selina, especially due to the chemistry Kravitz and Pattinson radiate.
Three different Batmen (Christain Bale, Ben Affleck and Will Arnett) soared through cinema screens in a nearly two-decade period. There wasn’t a need for a new version, especially not with Michael Keaton returning to the role in The Flash later this year. The Batman has the good grace to provide us with a decidedly fresh take, one that just so happens to be rooted in the origins of the character and populated by some of our best and more interesting working actors at their best. Anchored by Reeves’ striking vision and Pattinson’s superlative performance, all reboots—and superhero movies writ large—could stand to be as thoughtful, considered and technically well-executed as this.