The Batman character has come a long way since the days of Adam West in the 1960s. Tim Burton and Michael Keaton created a gothic feeling version of the character in 1989, with Joel Schumacher to follow in Burton’s footsteps. His versions were very similar, yet more colorful than Burton’s films. Then Christopher Nolan got a chance at his take on the caped crusader with Christian Bale in the dual role of Bruce Wayne and Batman. His films were grounded in reality, which made them much better than anything done before. Now it’s Matt Reeves and Robert Pattinson’s turn with the masked vigilante. Reeves’s and Pattinson’s take might be the darkest yet.
When we pick up this version of Batman, he’s already been the character for a couple of years. Gotham is a cesspool of corruption, greed, and addiction. The police, all except Jim Gordon (Geoffrey Wright), are on the take. After the mayor is murdered in cold blood, everybody is up in arms. The killer leaves riddles for The Batman, who is working with Gordon in plain sight now, despite what his co-workers think of the idea. The riddles are from a man calling himself the Riddler (Paul Dano) in videos he posts of himself. He wants to rid the city of all the corruption by law enforcement, namely the mayor, Head of Police, and the District Attorney. The only way for Batman and Gordon to stop him is to team up with an insider of the Falcone crime family, Selina Kyle/Catwoman (Zoë Kravitz).
Reeves falls back on a couple of things from Batman Begins that were some of the better aspects of that film. The darker elements lend themselves to this version as well. The cinematography from Greig Fraser leans into the darkness with flashes of red once in a while. Sometimes the red and blue of police cars contrast the shadows as well. A scene involving Batman fighting a bunch of thugs while their guns are going off is done masterfully, using the gunfire as the light in the fight sequence. Chicago is once again standing in for Gotham City, and it’s the perfect choice for this film. Pittsburgh in The Dark Knight Rises was a very bad decision. It didn’t look like Gotham at all, especially with what Nolan had already established in the first two films in his trilogy.
Many know Robert Pattinson as the kid from Twilight, Edward Cullen, but those who have followed his career very closely know better than that. He has chosen wisely to work with great filmmakers like David Cronenberg, Christopher Nolan, The Safdie Brothers, and David Eggers. His choice of roles is as varied as the Australian film The Rover or a little team-up film he did called The Lost City of Z, where he co-starred with Tom Holland and Charlie Hunnam. His career has taken some fantastic turns, but the most amazing of all is the dual role of Bruce Wayne/Batman. He plays him as this brooding dark avenger, different from Christian Bale or any of his other predecessors. He owns these characters.
Matt Reeves has a handful of terrific films under his belt, from the sci-fi epic Cloverfield to the horror remake Let Me In to the two phenomenal Planet of the Apes films he directed. His career may have spanned genres, but nothing he has done before has prepared him for the public scrutiny that will be the property of The Batman. It is one of the most popular IPs in the film business today. If he gets it wrong, he will never live it down, and if he gets it right, he will be praised forever as a visionary filmmaker. From where I’m sitting, his take on the character is one of the best we’ve gotten this far. He has chosen to take a year two approach to the character. Where he has been accepted by Jim Gordon and by the people of Gotham. He works hand-in-hand with them to help stop the Riddler and the crime bosses of Gotham. His take on the character is a visceral one that is second to none. The Gotham he helped create is dark and forbidding while also being beautiful in its way. This is a unique vision all his own. He should be proud of what he created with The Batman.
Part of the reason why the character of Batman is such an iconic character in the annals of film lore is how the moviegoing public perceives him. One of the ways to perceive the characters in the right light is the score of the film. It has to be dark and menacing while also being grand and large at the same time. Michael Giacchino has done just that with this booming score for The Batman. Not only does Batman have his own theme, but so do Catwoman and the Riddler as well. Each piece of this score has its unique angle. All the pieces stand apart while also being part of the greater whole. Giacchino has put himself up there with the greats with this score. Warner Brothers released bits and pieces of it to the public, preparing them for what was in store. We are not disappointed by what we got at all. I’ve been listening to it in my head ever since I’ve heard it, and that’s a good thing.
One thing that makes the Batman films stand apart from the other superhero films is his rogue’s gallery of colorful yet eccentric villains. The Joker has gotten his fair share of screen time in various films in the past. The Riddler, Catwoman, and The Penguin have been put on the back butter to some extent. That was an outlandish performance from Jim Carrey as The Riddler in Batman Forever, and the alluring yet sultry take on Catwoman from Michelle Pfieffer in Batman Returns, and an off-the-wall dark take on the Penguin from Danny Devito also in Batman Returns. These characters have never been given the proper due. Now they have. Dano, Kravitz, and Farrell who made these iconic Batman villains their own. They all have their arcs in the film — some more than others. Dano’s take on The Riddler is inspiring and menacing all at the same time. Kravitz Catwoman is elegant and athletic while also being tough as nails. Farrell’s Penguin is intimidating while also being gruesome to look at. The makeup on him is incredible. You can’t even notice Ferrell as the character of Oswald Cobblepot.
The Batman is a high achievement of filmmaking for Matt Reeves. He combines some elements of previous iterations of the character with a new vision entirely. Gotham had never looked so good. Robert Pattinson has made the dual roles of Bruce Wayne/Batman all his own. After seeing what he does with the character, you will be walking out of this film with a new respect for him. The villains also are standouts in the movie, getting plenty of screen time to shine. The score by Giacchino might be one of the best anthems to any superhero character ever. The look and feel of the film, from the production value to the cinematography, are all phenomenal. This film felt and looked the part of Gotham City much better than The Dark Knight Rises or Tim Burton’s Batman. Matt Reeves has made a crowning achievement that will live forever as one of the best comic book films ever while standing on its own as a great noir thriller the likes of Se7en and Zodiac. This film is excellent by any standards you could measure it by!
Dan Skip Allen
Sean Boelman Founder EIC disappointmentmedia.com