Matt Reeves’ contribution to the cinematic Batman mythos is a gripping neo-noir straight out of the comic books
The Batman is the latest in a long line of movies starring DC’s most popular superhero. This outing is set in a new continuity(seemingly entirely divorced from The Justice League and The Suicide Squad), where Bruce Wayne(Robert Pattinson) is in his second year of fighting crime as Batman, his presence in Gotham’s ecosystem is established, but he’s still green. One night, while inflicting his fearsome brand of vigilante justice, he finds himself summoned to investigate a series of high-profile murders by someone calling themselves ‘The Riddler’. The pursuit of the Riddler forces Batman to confront the darkness in both others and himself as he uncovers just how far the city’s corruption goes.
The tone of the film is set with immediacy: it’s spectacularly shot in a way that emphasises the crime-ridden darkness while making judicious use of colour and lighting to create mood and clarity. Accompanied by Michael Giacchano’s somber score, Gotham City is a character in and of itself. Ostensibly modern but steeped in so much history it reminds me of the anachronistic depiction of Gotham in Batman: The Animated Series. The Batman doesn’t feature art deco or anything, but it does have that similar timeless quality from the marriage of old architecture and modern gadgetry. It feels lived in, real. I could very much see it casting its looming shadow over any given East Coast city.
Pattinson draws on a career of portraying vulnerable men to provide his interpretation of Bruce with a palpable sense of damage. If you’re expecting a Batman that can deftly switch between his grim crimefighting persona and the cocky, gregarious mask he puts on when he’s performing in public as “Bruce Wayne”— you’ll be disappointed. Despite the best efforts of his father figure Alfred (Andy Serkis), this man is a recluse, and his isolation from the rest of the big names in Gotham City inform the story. When in the cowl, he shares screentime with Jeffrey Wright’s Lieutenant James Gordon—his confidant in the Gotham City Police Department—and Zoë Kravitz’ Selina Kyle, the iconic thief Catwoman. Wright’s smooth but grave cadence serves his role well. There’s clearly a history between him and Batman, but the two are still trying to feel the other out. Meanwhile, Kravitz plays Selina with equal amounts of delicacy and power. She and Batman challenge each other ethically and there’s always a lingering hope among the tension that this will result in one elevating the other. There’s a humanity to all three characters that keep the story compelling and dynamic even when it seems to be running through a checklist with the heading “Do Se7en, but with Batman”.
The Riddler somehow exudes manic energy through both his mask and his screens. Equal parts Jigsaw and John Doe, his appearances are always punctuated with unease, terror, and intrigue. Both he and the unrecognisable Colin Farrell inject some humour into the proceedings (very macabre humour, in the Riddler’s case). They are few and far between, but the jokes never disrupt the flow of the story and feel both purposeful and informative. In the Riddler’s case, it helps paint a portrait of an utterly terrifying man. It serves to increase the tension, rather than destroy it.
Beyond the titular character’s noir-infused introductory monologue and the occasional action set-piece, the film has a lot of downtime where the story is communicated through subtle shots and character interactions. It can be long and meandering at times, paying attention for 3 hours can be a lot to ask in today’s age of instant gratification and the Marvel studio method of undercutting drama with a meme-able quip. The last 30 minutes or so, in particular, can feel superfluous, but the denouement ultimately justifies its existence. And the commitment to tone is very much appreciated; if you’re suffering from MCU fatigue or found even the excellent Peacemaker’s tonal missteps jarring, I would happily suggest this as a palate cleanser.
The plot of the film takes elements from a wide variety of Batman stories. Influences, big and small, are taken from Batman Year One, The Long Halloween, Ego, Dark Victory, Hush, and even the unconventional reimagining Earth One. That list is far from extensive, other comics and stories from other media also receive acknowledgments in one form or another. The cuts are deep and varied, giving the sense that the writers really made this film with a deep appreciation for the character; it’s similar to 2018’s Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse in that regard. This, along with the presentation of Gotham and its characters, culminates in what is certainly the most comic-accurate and authentic depiction of Batman committed to screen.
Interestingly, this is also the most grounded Batman film. Despite all the allusions to the Batman hijinks of yore. Technology is impressive, but nothing too out of the realm of plausibility. Batman is formidable, but he can’t shark repellant his way out of everything. I have some reservations about this; I always enjoy when Bruce takes advantage of theatricality and superstition to the point where thugs start to wonder if he’s human at all. There is definitely an attempt to incorporate that in this film (Batman uses everything from his bat signal and bulletproof armour, to his footsteps and the demonic roar of his batmobile), but the ghost is given up relatively early and it’s very evident in a few scenes that Batman is just a man in a bat costume.
However, realism helps sell the message of the movie. Batman and Gotham are confronted with challenges both personal and social, and it’s only by trying to engage with each other that they can make meaningful change—that we can make meaningful change. I think a good superhero story doesn’t draw purely on the absurd and fantastical to inform. Rather, they are tools to help put a spotlight on human issues and solutions, and it looks like Reeves took this into account with his writing and direction. It’s Mr Freeze’s sense of loss, not his freeze gun. It’s Clayface’s identity crisis, not his shapeshifting. It’s the man—not the bat—that makes The Batman.
A flamboyant ultra nerd, Dave participates in the Underlevelled Tournament both for the thrill of the fight, and to avenge the orphans lost in the climax of the previous tournament.
Hobbies: street dance, collecting manga volumes, reading, editing
Likes: short-to-medium walks on the beach, pointing out how things can and will be misconstrued as racism, fighting games, RPGs, anime, Hades, alternative hip hop, conscious hip hop, Mara Wilson, overly long bios, ice-cream
Dislikes: insincere media, his own uncanny resemblance to Richard Ayoade, mayonnaise