Early on in Matt Reeves's The Batman we hear Robert Pattinson, as the titular character, narrate that criminals in Gotham City think The Batman lives in the shadows but that he actually is the shadows. Given the dark tone and even darker look of the film, he is to be believed. This new film creates its own singular take on the superhero and that should be celebrated. Reeves has created something unique here, distinct enough that it will likely divide some fans. As a Batman fan myself, I loved that we see more detective work here than in previous versions.
At this point, any new Batman film is going to have to wrestle with the incarnation that Christopher Nolan brought to the screen. His Batman trilogy will stand the test of time, much like Tim Burton's Batman did. So Reeves and company decide to pivot away from the previous takes and create the most haunted and brooding Batman to date. Going dark can feel like a ploy but here it is used to create a violent serial killer police procedural that feels more indebted to David Fincher's Seven than Nolan's Dark Knight films. Think about the way in which Reeves successfully removed any cheesy qualities from his Planet of the Apes sequels.
Pattinson creates a version of Bruce Wayne/Batman that is driven completely by vengeance. Wayne is not the wealthy playboy we have seen before. He hardly wants anything to do with his wealth and could care less about his public status. At least, that is where we start things. One of the best elements of The Batman is how we see the character transform into something better, something more akin to a superhero. Early on Nirvana's Something In the Way serves as a theme song for Pattinson's Batman. It works wonderfully and is used twice in the film to great effect.
Batman is driven to clean up the rain-soaked streets of Gotham. He is directionless in his pursuit until a series of brutal murders start, leaving the police baffled. Lieutenant James Gordon (Jeffrey Wright) is the only one to seek out Batman's help. The Riddler is behind the murders and leaves notes for The Batman at every crime scene. We know The Riddler is pulling the strings which makes the film less about who is doing the killing and more about why. The why of this revenge mystery is a twisty web of politics and criminals that involve Bruce's parents, The Penguin (an unrecognizable Colin Farrell) and The Catwoman (Zoë Kravitz). I am tempted to give more of the plot here but the film benefits from going in as blind as well a bat.
Reeves throws a lot into the near three-hour runtime. The most compelling elements relate to our current insurrectionist times. To his credit, the film is not the cynical, empty story that Todd Phillips' The Joker was. There is substance here that makes the film hopeful even if it is dark. Batman and The Riddler aim to expose the rich and powerful who cripple the city and its residents. Their similar goals make them interesting foes and prove that the Joker isn't the only villain who can connect personally with Batman. The sense of revolt and anger gives The Batman a resonance that is not often felt in superhero films.
Greig Fraser's gorgeous noir cinematography and James Chinlund's production design should be praised. They give the film a thrilling look. All the performances here are top-notch, especially Pattinson and Paul Dano as The Riddler. Farrell is a joy to watch as well. Kravitz is good here but her character feels a bit shoe-horned in, especially her connection to the central mystery.
While the film does have a slight pacing issue in its middle act, it mostly justifies its long run-time. This is especially true given that the film has a satisfying ending. Sure, there is some setup for future sequels here but nothing like what Marvel films do. You never feel like this is just an advertisement for future films. Dark, sinister, gothic, and thrilling, The Batman is a success.