After being in production for what seems like years, Matt Reeves’ The Batman is finally upon us. Initially announced as part of the ongoing DCEU, with Ben Affleck reprising the role of Batman as well as writing and directing. This iteration was to take place after the events of Justice League (2017) and would have found Affleck’s take on the caped crusader face off against the deadly Deathstroke, who was to be played by Joe Manganiello.
Considering how things were dealt with in the DCEU at the time, it is not surprising this film didn’t go ahead. With Affleck deciding to step away from the director’s chair to primarily focus on just playing the role of Batman, a new director was sought out who would bring their own vision to the material. In stepped Matt Reeves, fresh off the success of War for the Planet of the Apes (2017), who was an inspired choice.
Unfortunately all the behind the scenes drama seemingly soured Affleck on continuing with the role, with him finally deciding to step away. With that Reeves has gone and taken a different approach, deciding to cut all ties from the DCEU and have a standalone Batman adventure that isn’t bogged down with having to include multiple connections to an existing franchise.
More indebted to David Fincher’s Seven (1995) and Zodiac (2007) than any other superhero movies, Reeves, along with his co-writer Peter Craig have created a truly distinctive Batman tale that easily ranks alongside Christopher Nolan’s trilogy, which many feel is the best take on the character.
Setting it apart from any previous incarnations, this take on The Batman is as much a detective story as a superhero film, with a sprawling narrative that gives the characters and the plot a chance to develop. The more leisurely pace may upset some but there is still enough action throughout the film, just that it is more spaced out, something the almost three hour running time allows.
Reeves takes his time, allowing the audience to get a feel of the depravity and decay of Gotham City. I was happy that Reeves didn’t feel the need to once again go over the origin of Batman, instead just getting on with the story at hand. With a plot that is heavily indebted to Frank Miller & David Mazzucchelli’s Year One as well as Jeph Loeb & Tim Sale’s The Long Halloween, The Batman focuses on the early years of the vigilante with this only being his second year as the Batman.
After patrolling Gotham City, Batman (Robert Pattinson) is called to a crime scene by Lieutenant James Gordon (Jeffrey Wright) after a calling card is left for him by a serial killer calling himself the Riddler (Paul Dano). The Riddler has taken it upon himself to show Gotham the “truth” and in doing so has targeted Gotham’s most elite citizens. He leaves riddles at every crime scene hoping for Batman to uncover the truth he believes lies at the heart of Gotham.
Through their investigation, Batman and Gordon uncover a scourge of corruption that not only involves the criminals of Gotham, namely Carmine Falcone (John Turturro) and Oswald Cobblepot aka the Penguin (Colin Farrell), but those in the highest positions of power. This investigation also brings Batman into contact with Selina Kyle (Zoe Kravitz) who becomes his eyes and ears into the criminal underworld, with her being his way into the world in which Falcone and the Penguin operate.
As their investigation deepens, the stakes get higher, with even the capture of the elusive Riddler not being enough to stop the downfall of Gotham City.
This take on Batman more than any other shows his work as a detective. Now, being early on in his career he doesn’t exactly have all the answers. I have noted some online having some issues with him not yet being the world’s greatest detective without taking into consideration this is very early in his career.
Like Nolan before him, Reeves takes a mostly grounded approach to the material, with it very much feeling like a real world setting. His Gotham City seems to be constantly bombarded with rain which adds to the overall bleak atmosphere Reeves is going for. I did get a kick out of the fact the film utilized a number of Glasgow, Scotland locations which were instantly recognizable to a local. Although I don’t know what it says about Glasgow when it can so easily portray a city on the cusp of destruction.
As mentioned, Reeves takes his time to get to the action. He injects a brief skirmish during the opening minutes of the film to convey the brutality this Batman can unleash when needed. Most will have seen this scene teased in the trailers.
My favorite of the action was the low-fi car chase which finds Batman chasing after Farrell’s the Penguin. Weaving amongst oncoming traffic as well as having to deal with the ever increasing downpour of rain, it put me in mind of a similar car chase scene in James Gray’s We Own the Night (2007) where the main characters have to drive with almost no visibility due to poor weather conditions. However, the chase in The Batman is arguably better realized.
As great as the story and action is, it wouldn’t be worth anything if Reeves hadn’t assembled a quality cast. To all the naysayers out there, I am especially happy to report how well Robert Pattinson portrays his role. His casting was a controversial choice for many who couldn’t put aside the fact that he starred in some vampire series years ago. Pattinson is solid, with his Batman being filled with anger and rage but still able to show the intellect that will make him become the world’s greatest detective.
I especially appreciated that it was shown that he still wasn’t the perfect crime fighter yet, with his fights being somewhat sloppy and even his use of his flight suit as shown in the trailers being clumsy, with him totally screwing up the landing. This is a Batman in progress, someone who is still finding his footing.
And when I speak of the Batman, that is who I mean as Pattinson is only sporadically shown without his mask during the film. This is the most the character has appeared on screen in costume. If anything he seems uncomfortable when appearing as Bruce Wayne, which is shown perfectly when he attends a busy funeral. When Dano states later in the film that it doesn’t matter who is under the mask as the Batman is his true face, he is telling the truth. At this point in his career, he still seems unsure of how to be Bruce Wayne. Clearly this will come later in whatever sequels that are planned.
Pattinson shares the majority of his screen time either with Zoe Kravitz’ Selina or Jeffrey Wright’s Gordon. Kravitz is wonderful as Selina Kyle aka Catwoman, with her being both tough and sexy. Her reasoning for going against Falcone in the film is even more personal than Batman’s. I could certainly see Kravitz getting her own Catwoman spinoff. The only slight drawback, and it has nothing to do with her performance, was her costume. While the catsuit she wore certainly looked great on her, the sack she uses as a mask didn’t. Hopefully this can be changed in any future endeavors.
The casting of Jeffrey Wright is inspired, with him bringing a world weariness to the part. As great as Gary Oldman’s Gordon was in the Nolan trilogy I always felt there was a slight goofiness to the character. That isn’t the case here. Unlike those films where it appeared that Gordon would merely tell Batman what was happening and he would go and solve it, here Gordon and Batman feels like a proper partnership with the two of them working the case.
Andy Serkis’ take on Alfred is also worth mentioning even if he isn’t given as much screen time as his co-stars. When he is first introduced, you can already feel like he and Bruce’s relationship is strained but even then he is still willing to do whatever it takes to protect him. He is a lot rougher round the edges than previous cinematic Alfred’s, which makes it all the more believable when he speaks about his army days. This is a man that you could believe has seen battle.
On the villain side is the awesome Paul Dano. I haven’t really seen Dano in a great deal, with my only real recollection of him being Harrison Ford’s cowardly son in Cowboys and Aliens (2011) or as a suspected child killer in Prisoners (2013). While he was decent enough in those roles it didn’t really give me much of an idea of what he would be like as the Riddler. Dano is electrifying, with him being a million miles away from Jim Carrey’s portrayal in Batman Forever (1995).
Where that version was mostly played for laughs, Dano’s take on the character is terrifying. This is the Riddler filtered through the Zodiac killer, with Dano, like Pattinson, spending the majority of his screen time behind a mask. One of his most impressive scenes is his eventual face off with Batman where the latter questions him in Arkham Asylum. It shows the real insanity of his character as well as the apparent cracks in Batman’s armor with it even appearing at one point that the Riddler knows his secret identity. For a moment the vulnerability of Batman is shown, even if just fleetingly.
One other standout is SPOILER ALERT when he meets another member of Batman’s rogues gallery in the closing moments of the film, setting up countless possibilities going forward.
Dano of course isn’t the only villain to shine. Almost stealing the show is an almost unrecognizable Colin Farrell as the Penguin. Looking like a fatter Elias Koteas, Farrell steals every scene he appears in, with him overshadowing Turturro’s Carmine Falcone, who as great as he is doesn’t come close to Farrell’s portrayal of the iconic villain. Matt Reeves clearly was impressed enough to give him his own spin off show. It will be interesting to see where Farrell takes the character and how he develops over the course of a series.
As well as the main cast, there’s a host of recognizable faces from UK crime series. Anyone like me who grew up watching these shows will recognize the likes of Conn O’ Neill, Alex Ferns and Rupert Penry Jones. I was disappointed how little Jones was in it as I have been a fan since his appearance in Spooks aka MI-5 (2002), but his character is at least important to the film’s plot.
Accompanying the on screen action is a moody score from Michael Giacchino which fits the film perfectly. While not as iconic as Hans Zimmer’s work on Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, it suitably sets the mood and tone of the film and is another quality soundtrack from one of the best in the business.
Going by comments online, The Batman seems to be quite a decisive experience. Many are comparing it to what has come before rather than allowing it to stand alone. Personally I found it to be an almost perfect film, featuring enough of what I love about the comics filtered through Reeve’s own filmic sensibilities. Not to be missed.
Of course, this isn’t the only Batman film we are to be treated to this year. Both Affleck and Michael Keaton are due to return in the upcoming The Flash (2022) movie, with further Keaton action in the following Batgirl (2022). Here’s hoping they are enough of a success to have them continue in the role. I know Affleck has stated this will be his final appearance but I still hold out hope for him to be given a chance to make his standalone Batman film.
Plot: 5/5 Acting: 5/5 Action: 3.5/5 Overall: 4.5/5