Riddle me this, why has it taken so long to finally give the Batman character the hard hitting film noir he has so deserved? Well, one answer may be that Matt Reeves had yet to get his hands on this ongoing (and clearly never stopping) franchise. The director got his big breakout with 2008’s Cloverfield and went on to make the last two Planet of the Apes films. If there is one common thread throughout Reeves’ films, it would be that they are all extremely bleak. Darkness and misery carry his work, so yea it makes perfect sense to pair him up with the prince of darkness. Reeves and Batman are a match made in comic book heaven. The Batman fully embraces the dark in ways that no other Batman installment has before. Throw in a phenomenal cast of Robert Pattinson (proving all the naysayers wrong), Zoe Kravitz, Jeffrey Wright and a deranged Paul Dano, you have a recipe for the best batman movie since, well ever.
Since his first film in 1966 Batman has become not just a staple in the comic world but also film history. Audiences have been given goofy Batman movies, (Batman, Batman & Robin), political commentary Batman’s (The Dark Knight trilogy), and even a cartoon Lego Batman at his most self-aware. It wouldn’t be hard to blame people if they were tired of this character. But even after Ben Affleck delivered an underrated Batman performance in some pretty terrible films there was still a desire to see the dark knight continue the fight for vengeance. That notion of vengeance and if it can even be reached is the key element that allowed Reeves to take a deeper approach. Sure, almost every previous movie has focused on the cost of vengeance, but no other have done it within a near perfect 3 hour character arc. While it may be obvious towards the end that this version of Batman could continue with many sequels it is also the first one in years where it all wraps up with a nice black bow.
Gotham is in disarray, then again when isn’t it, and much like a certain infamous taxi driver Bruce Wayne wishes the rain would wash away the scum on the streets. Pattinson’s narration (to the tune of Nirvana’s “Something in the way”) is both an intense and cheerful throwback to 1940’s crime noirs that had a major inspiration on Bob Kane’s creation. This may be the first live action film to implement it, but it has always existed amongst the character. Wayne has every right to be disgusted by the people of Gotham, but his anger may be focused on the wrong place. While every low level criminal fears the Bat Signal it is quickly revealed that there are much bigger players at hand. Political corruption has always ruined Gotham and in 2022 a time where very few people can hide their secrets without going viral Reeves uses this to his advantage in a terrifying but realistic manner. Enter The Riddler (Paul Dano) a masked murderer, who much like real world Zodiac killer, gets his kicks off of delivering cyphers to Batman and the police in hopes of creating a sadistic game for all to enjoy. From the moment we meet Dano’s Riddler (during a vicious murder of Gotham’s mayor) it is clear the games at hand will be no laughing matter. Gotham villains and the actors portraying them have always found a way to outshine Batman, yes Bale’s Batman may be the most famous with modern audience, but it was Heath Ledger’s impeccable Joker that grew beyond the franchise. This time around Paul Dano delivers the ultimate unhinged white boy who you wouldn’t be surprised to find running a QAnon chat room. Dano has made a career out of plying outliers, some gentle while others outright malevolent. This time around he delivers a brutally haunting performance that you realize may not be wrong in his notions but completely deranged in his executions. It is a motif that has made the serial killer so interesting to audiences, we know he is psychotic but that doesn’t mean who he is taken down was an upright citizen. This internal battle that Bruce faces forces him to rethink all those he once believed would bring peace to Gotham even those very close to his heart.
If this all sounds quite serious, well you’re not wrong but that doesn’t mean Reeves isn’t ready to have some fun. Batman can’t save the city alone and it isn’t long before he stumbles into a mysterious and seductive individual who has an affinity for strays. Selina Kyle (Zoe Kravitz) may have already become Catwoman by the time we meet her, but she too is on the start of a journey that will coincide with the Batman’s moral dilemmas. Kravitz brings a femme fatale feel to Selina, but never is she a ‘helpless dame” nor is she truly looking for assistance. When her roommate Annika (Hana Hrzic) goes missing Selena believes it is connected to the shady underground nightclub they both work at. Like most noir’s the ‘disappearance of the “beaten down girl” brings the detective and femme together but thankfully it is not just used as a plot device. The pain and love Selina has for Annika is a driving force behind almost all her actions. She knows this is a city dominated by powerful and revolting men so when Batman lends a hand (and technology), she doesn’t welcome him with open arms. It is a trait that has followed the Cat and Bat for years and in a time where comic book movies continue to be sexless bores seeing Pattinson and Kravitz seduce and fight one another gives us a satisfying treat and finally allows for some much needed sexual tension. Much like the audience it is nearly impossible for these two too look away from one another. Both of these souls may have found their purpose but together they are still lost.
For the moments that Batman isn’t getting clawed up by Selina, Reeves has put together a slew of criminal lowlifes for Batman to tee off with. Carmine Falcone (John Turturro) has his biggest live action presence yet, and Turturro always knows how to deliver a sleazy scumbag that is smarter than he appears. On top of all this we have Oswald Cobblepot aka The Penguin (Colin Farrell in astonishing prosthetics) who delivers the films funniest and most bizarre moments. It is so refreshing to see Farrell find a perfect line between hamming it up while still being quite scary, something the entire film excels at.
With this many characters it can seem easy to get lost in everything and lose focus on the main dangers, but that is what makes The Batman so brilliant. It knows how to keep everything connected even if it takes the scenic route. Matt Reeves and Peter Craig have written a script that feels much more like a standalone epic than a jumping point for a possible franchise. Today’s comic book movies tend to focus on delivering easy going franchise hits that require you to both stay for the end credit scenes as well as sign up for a streaming service. The Batman focuses on the now and even though there is a scene or two towards the end that may introduce some possible future villains it is never relying on those moments but instead using them to show that there will always be threats. This is something even Batman himself must learn, “is my revenge more important than the safety of the city I swore to protect.” In fact, one could argue when we meet this Batman that promise to the city may not even be something he has made yet. This makes it all the more terrifying as his fight with the Riddler gets closer to a climax. In today’s world many of us have become so focused on fighting a single enemy that we’ve ignored the collapsing society around us, and while both the Batman and the Riddler are certainly not political representations, they embody this ongoing fight of thinking you are brave for exposing the truth but carefully ignoring the parts that will damage your reputation. It is a chilling and much needed look at the self that has found its way into the most theatrically exciting movie of the year. There will be moments in The Batman that have you cheering, and others that will unnerve you but above it all you start off with pure adrenaline that carries throughout. The film has you going 100 mph from the get-go, and it isn’t until the credits that you finally breathe and ask yourself “why isn’t every big blockbuster this good.” Well even for a critic who has superhero fatigue it is impossible to deny when one gets it right. All I can say is good luck to the next one because you have a giant cape to fill.
THE BATMAN is in theaters March 4