After several COVID-related delays, a series of change-ups of creators, directors and Bat-men, by some miracle The Batman has found its way into theaters. What’s the verdict? With this sort of production and a runtime of just shy of three hours, it’s only natural to fear that the end result is a bloated, shambling Frankenstein’s Monster stitched together from years of different work. Thankfully for fans everywhere and the struggling DCEU at large – The Batman knocks it out of the park!
It’s year two of Bruce Wayne’s life as Batman. He’s terrorizing Gotham’s criminals, but it hasn’t made Gotham any better, not truly. Instead, it’s time for a Mayoral race and a serial killer is on the loose, killing big wigs in Gotham and leaving mysterious riddles and puzzles for the public and Batman to decode, revealing a truth about Gotham that shakes the city, and Bruce Wayne, to the core. Can Batman catch the Riddler before it’s too late?
Pulling from some of the best storylines in the comic’s history (including The Long Halloween, Zero Year, and Year One) and weaving those threads into something new is a challenge for every new tentpole superhero release but Matt Reeves and Peter Craig have succeeded in a big way. The almost three-hour run time is a necessity, it turns out, to fully explore the conspiracy web of history, lies, and power that Gotham is built upon. As Batman digs deep into multiple cases that spiral out from the opening murder, he’s helped along the way by Jim Gordon (Jeffrey Wright), Selina Kyle (Zoe Kravitz), and Alfred Pennyworth (Andy Serkis) or hindered by the likes of Carmine Falcone (John Turturro), Oswald Cobblepot (Colin Farrel), and, of course, The Riddler himself (Paul Dano). Each character is a part of their own arc, their own story that intersects with Batman’s case in a way that makes Gotham City feel as real as ever.
Speaking of those actors, it has to be said, absolutely astounding work from everyone. Robert Pattinson’s Batman isn’t the sure, heroic Caped Crusader of the Schumacher era. He’s not the ninja-trained charismatic playboy-acting Bruce Wayne of Nolan. He’s tortured, angry, and yes, he’s emo. He’s incapable of hiding his feelings. He’s vengeance – not justice, but vengeance – and that’s a crucial identifier for this early Batman and Pattinson delivers. The rest of the cast is equally talented and displays a fresh angle to the characters we’ve seen on screen numerous times over the past three decades. Wright’s Gordon is amicable, more of a partner with Batman who sees himself as a peer (and who has a penchant for ending sentences with “man.”) Kravitz’s Kyle is dangerous and confident, unafraid of the criminal underworld she navigates. Farrel’s Cobblepot is an absolutely hysterical heavy. Dano’s Riddler is, as you’ll frequently see compared, more Zodiac or BTK Killer than Jim Carrey’s E. Nigma, but it makes for a villain who feels truly dangerous and deranged. Turturro’s Falcone is terrifying, a sharp dresser who plays at respectability but is as dangerous as a switchblade, and turns in conversation just as fast. Across the board, everyone is bringing the heat.
With the characters set, let’s take a look at the bigger picture. The look, the feel, the vibes. Comic books are equal parts story and art and all to often that visual identity is lost for something else, a parking lot in Atlanta perhaps. But not here. Here Gotham is dark, drenched in rain and grime, and has never been a more dangerous place. Gone is the art-nouveau Gotham of yore, or the standard city of Nolan. This Gotham looks like it’s been hopping rail cars and fighting for a living and its people are just as scrappy. It’s what makes Pattinson’s Batman walking along apartment hallways and rooftop conversations feel so at home – this city is dark, there’s no room for flashy heroics. At least, not yet.
This gritty realism is also the source of perhaps the one misstep in the movie. A climax featuring a crowd of people and gun-toting maniacs about to commit a mass shooting. While I can’t deny that it fits, given the plot thus far it is completely believable that this turn of events would unfold, but whether it’s a general growing distaste for gun violence or having to think and reckon with this franchise’s unfortunate real history and association with mass shootings, it gave me pause. Now, several days later, I think I have come around on it a bit, it serves the narrative and perhaps is trying to posit something real “These are bad people. Being radicalized is a villainous act.” Hearing the villains repeat Batman’s phrase “I am vengeance,” to his face gives our hero pause at what his presence is doing to the world. Perhaps it is an overt attempt at trying to undo the damage that Todd Phillips’ Joker stepped haphazardly into with their audience. I’m not sure. But the truth is this action set piece was the one beat in the three hours in the theater where I was thinking of anything other than what Batman was going to do next.
All that said, The Batman may just be the best take version of the Dark Knight we’ve seen. A tight story, stacked cast, and an honest-to-god striking visual identity and atmosphere make The Batman one of the best comic book movies released.
The Batman is in theaters everywhere March 4th.