There are only a few comic-book characters that can get me excited for a movie adaptation; actually, there is only one. Batman’s an iconic character, not only in the comic book world, but in films, TV, pop culture, and general culture. A new movie adaptation will compete with previous ones, will be compared to some of the best movies ever made, will be weight against some of the best storylines ever written, and will need to present characters that are beloved by millions in interesting new ways that also respect what has come before; long story short, making a new Batman movie is a huge task with a lot of expectations, but it is always an exciting time. The Batman is co-written, co-produced, and directed by Matt Reeves (with Peter Craig credited as co-writer and Dylan Clark as co-producer), and it stars Robert Pattinson as a younger Batman/Bruce Wayne, alongside a star-studded cast that includes Zoë Kravitz, Paul Dano, Colin Farrell, Jeffrey Wright, John Turturro, Peter Sarsgaard, and Andy Serkis. In this incarnation of the legendary vigilante, the story starts with the Batman two years in his crusade where a string of high-profile murders and calling cards with riddles left at the crime scenes get his (and the whole city’s) attention, as a new mystery threatens to break Gotham and its residents.
The Batman is one of the best Batman movies so far; I would not rank it as high as The Dark Knight, but it’s an excellent movie and a new take on the character when it comes to movie adaptations. It is not an action blockbuster, a gritty crime thriller, a goofy superhero flick; this adaptation decides to focus on Batman the detective, as well as ground the world in a realistic depiction. It feels more like a film noir where Batman has more in common with Detective Jake from Chinatown, getting caught in a conspiracy, trying to untangle a web of deceits and lies. This is why I will go back to watch this adaptation again and again; Reeves and co made the Batman noir movie we all knew was possible and they did it right. All my favorite aspects from this movie are directly linked to that ambition. From the realistic and authentic depiction of a broken and morally bankrupt Gotham City to the thrilling mystery and everything in-between. I want to start with Gotham City because it is a seriously impressive achievement. Gotham actually feels like a real city; visually, I still prefer the gothic-inspired Tim Burton version, but The Batman’s version never made me question how the real city was and it was a big reason why this movie works. Then, the acting (especially in plot-heavy movies) had to be spot on and it was. I never had any doubts about Pattinson’s ability as an actor, but he also brings a truly unique Bruce Wayne alongside a strong Batman performance; even if you haven’t seen Reeve’s inspiration for Wayne (Kurt Cobain), this Bruce feels broken, reclusive, and has completely given up on that side of his persona. He rarely makes public appearances anymore, which is a far cry from the playboy billionaire portrayals of the character in past movies, and it’s nice to see a Bruce Wayne that has something else going on. His portrayal of Batman is also quite interesting, but less unique. This Batman is a reflection of Bruce’s broken psyche; he uses fear, he cares not about being liked, he is driven, and he is brutal. Moreover, Dano’s Riddler and Farrell’s Penguin are two great characters, but I have to highlight Farrell; Dano was brilliant, but Farrell transforms both literally (through make-up that makes him unrecognizable) and figuratively to a depiction of Oz that is more straightforwardly gangster but still hinting at becoming Penguin. Finally, Kravitz has the most presence out of all the cast and her chemistry with Pattinson makes that relationship feel real and palpable; my only gripe with the main cast is with Wright and Serkis. They both are good casting choices and do their roles pretty well, but I wanted to see more of their characters in that portrayal; I wanted more Gordon from Wright instead of a noir detective and I wanted more Alfred in Serkis instead of surrogate father figure.
Having said all of that (and before getting into the story), my biggest surprise was that this is the first Batman movie with great action sequences despite it not being action-oriented. Pattinson’s Batman feels visceral and unhinged; he beats people to an inch of their life; he stalks in the shadows, but also will allow loud noises just to scare the bejesus out of the baddies. There’s also a brilliant car chase in the middle that is purposefully claustrophobically shot (like the rest of the movie) and intentionally disorienting, alongside a great final act that had more going on than superheroes and supervillains beating each other up like most similar movies. What makes them brilliant is that Reeves smartly decides to go the Bay route instead of Marvel or The Raid or any other action staples of recent times and use colors, camera angles, and style, to shoot something that feels cool; sometimes that is because you see a brilliantly dark scene where light flashes from the guns that are trying to damage Batman and it feels cool; other times it’s because Batman is beating some poor goons and is clearly struggling to control himself; other times you are looking at this beautiful shot of Batman stoically walking towards the camera with fire and rain in the background. That is what I mean by going Bay; I’ve seen this a million times and I know I usually hate it, but it just works here and it is the coolest thing I’ve seen in a movie theater so far this year.
As far as the story and the movie go, I don’t want to give anything away so I’m going to talk around it by giving my response to it. I really enjoyed the movie, so much so that the 120+ runtime didn’t affect me at all. I am a fan of rain-soaked, self-deprecating voice-over, bright colors to contrast the moody landscape, type of movies The Batman is going for, and it is a really good one. There are little details scattered throughout, little touches of care for the character and the universe, follow-throughs of maintaining realism in minute details, which I deeply appreciate. However, this type of movie lives or dies depending on its moody depiction of the city, central relationships to the story, and how interesting can it make the mystery, and The Batman is a strong success in all departments. The way Batman interacts with the world, his relationship to the police and the goons, and how he pursues the solution to the central mystery alongside how he interacts with meaningful relationships in his life such as Alfred, is a vital part of this movie and it works brilliantly. Furthermore, Riddler’s playfulness with the riddles he poses, the contrasting characters to Batman’s character, and Reeve’s style, all work together to create an aura of mystery and an enticing mystery to solve.
There are some issues with the movie and your enjoyment may well depend on how these issues affect you. This is a long movie and a lot of that is “filler”; moody shots, side plots that don’t really matter (or one would argue them to be misdirection). Beyond that, Matt Reeves went for something that a lot of audiences will have no real affinity for. This is a tightly-shot movie and that description serves both as a compliment and a literal description of it; at times, it can get suffocating and claustrophobic. There’s a clear lack of levity, an infrequency of action scenes, a very different last act from the norm proceedings of similar superhero movies. However, that is what I enjoyed the most about it; this is a different take on a character who’s had a rich cinematic history, but it is also a different take on the story for that character. Some will find that difference to be slower than they would like or less interesting; I found that difference to result in a methodical and dark mystery with great performances, excellent directing, one of the catchiest soundtracks so far, and when action ensues it is one of the best the character has been involved in as far as movies go. Add to that the great writing and a compelling mystery that has a good resolution and it makes for an excellent experience; it won’t top my favorite Batman movie (The Dark Knight is one of my favorite movies ever) but it is very high on that list and I suspect my opinion on it will only get better with more viewings.