'The Batman' review: Gritty reboot elevated by incredible ensemble and atmosphere
Courtesy of Warner Bros.
Riddle me this, how many Batman movies do you think have existed within the last 25 years? From Michael Keaton’s iconic display to Ben Affleck (aka Batfleck) going head to head with Superman, there hasn’t been a lack of Batman related content in the marketplace which essentially peaked with Chrisopher Nolan’s masterpiece (and in my opinion the best superhero movie of all time) “The Dark Knight.” It would be natural to roll your eyes at yet another Batman reboot with the same characters and the same villains running around Gotham City considering “Batman V. Superman’ and/or “Justice League” came out, what, four years ago? Thankfully, Director Matt Reeves understands he can’t rewrite the status quo on the world’s most bankable hero, but he can try to tweak the formula and audiences expectations. And, for better or worse, that’s something his “The Batman” does incredibly well, even if the routine mechanics and elongated runtime might test audiences patience as they once again bet on black.
Robert Pattinson, who if anyone says they only know him from “Twilight” clearly don’t watch enough movies, is put in the driver's seat of the Batmobile this go-around playing billionaire Bruce Wayne/Batman, who's on the prowl for justice and eye makeup. As with any new actor in the spandex, it takes some adjustments to align with the motivation and choices Pattinson makes. His Bruce Wayne is far more emotionally reserved than his counterparts, something Reeves (who wrote the screenplay alongside Peter Craig) enjoys leaning into. “The Batman,” though a reboot, isn’t an origin tale, so there’s no haggling of Bruce Wayne’s childhood or reliving the death of his parents. (Thank goodness).
Instead, the film picks up two years since Bruce Wayne has donned the vigilante profile, lurking in the streets and stopping bad guys in their tracks, having since become an unofficial ally to the police department thanks to Detective James Gordon (Jeffrey Wright - amazing). Unlike previous cinematic versions of the caped crusader, Reeves takes interesting creative liberties and steers “The Batman” into a detective noir complete with major David Fincher vibes (think if “Se7en'' or “The Zodiac” had Batman walking around). It works in some instances, but eventually the influences begin to wane and you wonder if the film will do something new.
The “Zodiac” aspect comes from the emergence of the film's primary antagonist: The Riddler (played here with striking provado by Paul Dano who is magnetic), a sociopath/Q-Anon cultist on a killing spree of Gotham’s top public officials with the intent of exposing the city’s deepest and darkest secrets. At each crime scene, he leaves behind letters addressed to The Batman with cryptic messages and, of course, a fair dose of riddles. It leads Batman down a rabbit hole of topsy-turvy timelines with major implications about his past (doesn’t it always?) intersecting with a variety of characters including Colin Farrell’s unrecognizable (and wild) turn as Oswald Cobblepot (aka The Penguin); Zoe Kravtiz’ slick Selina Kyle/Catwoman, and John Turturro’s gritty mob boss Carmine Falcone.
If not for this wonderful cast, “The Batman” might have felt on autopilot and it's because of them that the movie feels like it’s in a different league (comparisons to Nolans near perfect trilogy are not apt in these circumstances). Reeves also hits the sweet spot with composer Michael Giacchino and cinematographer Greig Fraser who shoots Gotham with a glossy lens that invoked memories of “Casablanca” and “Chinatown.” On screen, you’d rarely see the comic book locale look this stunning (Todd Phillips’ “Joker” came close) and it absolutely pops. In fact, it’s easy to forget the triad and/or predicament Batman finds himself entangled with because the lush visuals are often distracting to the point of natural bliss. Artistically speaking, if you’re going to try and update “The Batman” with a 21st century finish, this isn’t a bad way to accomplish that.
“The Batman” runs close to the three hour mark, cementing itself as the longest solo Batman outing, and it doesn’t always move as breezily as the editing would suggest. Still, Robert Pattinson wears the suit (and scowl) well and fans won’t be shocked to hear this probably won’t be the last time he tries avenging Gotham City. In a world dominated by superhero sequels and reboots, if more start looking and feeling like “The Batman” perhaps it won’t spell doom and gloom, but it won’t leave much interpretation for the next time Batman inevitably gets remade.
THE BATMAN opens in theaters Friday, March 4th.