The World’s Greatest Detective. The Dark Knight. The Batman. One of the premier superheroes with no superpowers, Batman was a staple of my childhood. I watched the animated series, played the “Arkham” games, and donned the cape and cowl for Halloween. There is no singular character I have a more vested interest in, and throughout my lifetime I have been blessed with a rich abundance of material. When discussing live-action movies (however, do not sleep on some of the incredible animated films that are just as good if not better), I particularly enjoy Tim Burton’s 1989 movie with Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson as the Joker, the Christopher Nolan trilogy that needs no introduction, and even the critically loathed Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. With so many iterations of the same character, it begs the question: do we need another Batman movie? There are already more than enough actors to pull off a Spider-Man: No Way Home and have their different universes cross paths. But my answer will always remain the same: hell yes.
Directed by Matt Reeves, who helmed the recent Planet of the Apes trilogy, The Batman has found early success to the tune of $134 million in its opening weekend at the domestic box office. Looks like I’m not the only one with such conviction in their answer, and rightfully so, as this movie is awesome (this is also the first Warner Bros. picture to not receive the HBO Max same day release treatment since the strategy was first announced in 2021). The Batman is dark, brooding, and faithful to the character in its exploration of the themes and lore of the comics. Robert Pattinson proves he was the right choice for the role, walking The Caped Crusader’s tightrope of dual personas. Pattinson gives a sullen performance as the reclusive Bruce Wayne while an obsessive, bad-ass one as a young Batman. He is not yet an experienced crime-fighter and is prone to mistakes – in contrast to Ben Affleck’s grizzled depiction.
The film begins from the perspective of masked serial killer, “The Riddler” (Paul Dano), as he stalks the mayor of Gotham City; the frame is shot through his eyes and layered with heavy breathing. It is Halloween night and the mayor’s wife and child are out trick-or-treating, leaving him all alone. Lurking in the shadows of his office, The Riddler strikes the mayor on the head and pulls out duct tape. Our first glimpse of Dano’s Riddler reveals him in a Zodiac Killer-inspired outfit, but the similarities between the two don’t stop there. As Heath Ledger did with The Joker in The Dark Knight, Dano gives Riddler an edgy makeover, far less cartoonish than Jim Carrey’s portrayal of the character in Batman Forever. He leaves behind greeting cards for Batman with riddles in them accompanied by ciphers, a trademark of the Zodiac Killer and a key plot device in David Fincher’s 2007 film, Zodiac. Dano’s Riddler also uses torture traps on his victims reminiscent of those that made the Saw franchise so popular. While Dano lacks the screen presence of Ledger, he delivers one of the creepier villain performances in recent memory.
From the mayor’s office cut to the streets of Gotham City. Bruce Wayne is pushing through costumed passerby, waiting for something to happen. Black paint is smeared around his eyes contrasting with his pale skin. In the vein of the noir genre and the theatrical version of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, Pattinson offers voice over narration detailing Wayne’s daily thoughts that he records in a journal. He describes the effect he wants to have on the city and how fear as a tool allows him to be everywhere at once. “They think I’m hiding in the shadows…but I am the shadows.” Finally dressed in his full suit, Wayne emerges as Batman from the darkness to confront a group of face painted thugs ganging up on a civilian at the subway. He takes them all on singlehandedly in hand-to-hand combat, the first example of the film’s gripping and brutal action. The choreography of the fight scenes in The Batman are fluid and steady, and the punches are felt, and man do they hurt. Some other spectacular stunts, aside from fist-fighting, in the film include a riveting car chase in the Batmobile and Batman leaping from a tall height and gliding through the city.
After noticing the bat signal in the sky, Batman races to the crime scene at the mayor’s office. When he arrives, Batman is escorted by Jim Gordon (Jeffrey Wright) past judgmental officers, one of which call him a freak. The head of the former mayor is taped over, and his thumb is severed; the word “lies” is spray painted over hung-up news clippings from the mayor’s successes, including one announcing a major drug bust. Among live-action Batman adaptations, The Batman leans the heaviest in the character’s identity as “The World’s Greatest Detective.” Batman is forced to solve the riddles and ciphers that make up Riddler’s game if he wants to uncover his motive. Batman must also investigate less-savory places and interrogate different thugs along the way, including an unrecognizable Colin Farrell as The Penguin. Wright’s Jim Gordon is more involved in assisting Batman throughout this process than we’ve seen in the past and works as a good sidekick in the absence of a Robin.
At the end of the initial investigation scene, Bruce Wayne zips through the immaculately established Gotham City on his motorbike; the film puts the “goth” in Gotham. It is always dark and rainy, and no one ever feels safe. The score from Michael Giacchino is often thunderous, but occasionally uses higher-pitched strings to capture the spinning in Bruce’s head when trying to piece together the puzzle; the soundtrack of The Batman is great at emphasizing the constant unease while watching the film. A well-placed Nirvana song has also been stuck in my head since I first saw the movie.
What ensues beyond the first fifteen or so minutes of the film is a Fincher-esque thriller that tests Batman in a way we haven’t seen before. Other notable performances include Zoe Kravitz as the always interesting and unpredictable femme fatale Selina Kyle/Catwoman, a wise Andy Serkis as Alfred, and an imposing John Turturro as crime lord Carmine Falcone. With a runtime of nearly three-hours, The Batman has enough material for that of two films. It can be exhausting, especially for those not as in love with the character as I am. But it is worth it. The Batman is one of, if not the greatest character study of the masked hero ever put on the big screen. To say I am excited to see the direction Matt Reeves and Robert Pattinson take the franchise next would be an understatement.