March 6, 2022
Rain pours down over a towering landscape of concrete, glass and steel. While trick-or-treaters and party-goers crowd the city streets, drug addicts rob convenience stores, vandals firebomb a bank, and gang members stalk the innocent through what might as well be the crossroads of hell. From shadows across town, two masked men emerge to inflict violence on the unsuspecting, their paths on a collision course with one another.
Welcome to Gotham.
Director Matt Reeves’ immediately drops the viewer into the soaked boots of Bruce Wayne and Batman (Robert Pattinson), complete with voiceover narration that echoes neo-noir of the 1970s, particularly the insomnia-ridden musings of Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver. Bruce has donned the cape and cowl every night for two years, but feels he isn’t making a big enough impact, if any. The caped crusader is in a more detached, vulnerable mindset than audiences have ever seen from the character on screen. This makes for trouble when an enigmatic killer calling himself The Riddler (Paul Dano) arrives on the scene, murdering the incumbent Mayor of Gotham. The slaying sets off a chain of events that make The Batman one of the most disturbing, gripping and spectacular comic book movies ever made.
In many ways, The Batman is a film about seeing and being seen– perspective and image. The film often engages in voyeurism that is akin to the work of Alfred Hitchcock and Francis Ford Coppola, whether it’s Bruce Wayne leering through binoculars at a scantily-clad Selina Kyle in her apartment, à la Rear Window, or Riddler eyeing his target like the opening of The Conversation.
Thematically, the heart of the story focuses on how Batman views himself on a symbolic level. The character constantly examines what he means to the city of Gotham, as well as how he views the likes of Selina Kyle, Alfred and even his own parents, all of whom have perhaps the most nuanced depictions of their characters that we have seen in live-action. Rather than demarcating good and bad, The Batman paints the morality of these key players with a murky gray that will leave viewers discussing and debating after the credits roll.
Bruce Wayne is more broken, stunted and reclusive in this than other cinematic portrayals of Batman. He is desperately trying to be a force for positive change in the city, but he’s accomplishing it through fear and by beating criminals to a pulp. Once Riddler invites him on his trail of clues, Batman is like a moth to a flame, obsessively diving into the sea of corruption that Riddler seeks to unveil. Pattinson makes the viewer lean into his performance, listening to his whispery voice and focusing in on the intensity of his gaze. His reserved nature makes him an intriguing mirror image to Dano’s Riddler, who delivers what may be his most unhinged performance yet. He too has been deprived of a “normal” upbringing and has succumbed to the darkness of the world around him.
These two are surrounded by a fantastic ensemble that includes the likes of Zoë Kravitz as Selina Kyle/Catwoman, Jeffrey Wright as Jim Gordon, Colin Farrell as Oswald Cobblepot/Penguin and John Turturro as Carmine Falcone– all of whom are set to go down as the definitive iterations of these characters. Kravitz’s Selina is more independent and likable than the versions played by Michelle Pfeiffer or Anne Hathaway, Wright excels as Batman’s cool-headed confidant, and Farrell is downright unrecognizable and scene-stealing, while Turturro feels like a crime boss ripped from The Godfather.
Now, a cast of characters that colorful needs a world to match, and the iteration of Gotham City in The Batman has atmosphere and mood to spare. Two-time Oscar-nominated cinematographer Greig Fraser’s photography combines with the Gothic and industrial production design of James Chinlund along with seamless visual effects to craft a recognizable yet refreshing take on the metropolis. From the Iceberg Lounge to Gotham Square and Wayne Tower, each remarkable frame looks like a page from the comics splashed on screen. All of this is wrapped up in a score from Oscar-winner Michael Giacchino whose motifs for Batman, Riddler and Catwoman eloquently guide the tonal shifts throughout the picture. Prepare to be humming for days afterward.
Matt Reeves dropped two of the best blockbusters of the 21st century with 2014’s Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and 2017’s War for the Planet of the Apes, but The Batman stands to be his crowning achievement and will go down as one of the most technically spectacular blockbusters of the decade, with a thrilling detective narrative that provides a truly fresh reimagining of this character and his iconic world.
Watch the trailer for The Batman now playing in theaters nationwide.