‘The Batman’ Review: Batman Begins — Again

It’s funny how after nine “modern” live-action Batman films (starting with Tim Burton’s 1989 film and counting Justice League, of course), none of the outings have really ever focused on the character’s ability to actually solve crimes with his intellect and be the detective he trained to be. Sure, Batman has used his powerful Bat-computer or ridiculous gadget in nearly every film to figure things out, but we’ve never seen the Dark Knight challenged on the level that his latest outing, The Batman, challenges him. And it is this cerebral, sometimes scary challenge that makes this one of the best Batman films ever.

The Batman stars Robert Pattinson as Bruce Wayne/Batman, and offers a younger take on the character. This Batman is two years into his career as a caped crusader, and writer-director Matt Reeves (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, War for the Planet of the Apes) makes sure the audience knows right off the bat (pun intended) that his take on the DC Comics mainstay is both different and much more in-line with his comic book roots.

The Batman is on the case

This Batman strikes true fear in the hearts of criminals. When they see the Batsignal in the sky, they know he’s out and about, and most likely hunting them. They jump at shadows and fear what may or may not be in the dark. To begin the film by establishing this, Reeves lets audiences know that they are in for something special, and then he and his cast begin to crank the story up, like raw meat in a grinder, as The Batman takes a few crazy turns that seems to churn what you think you know about the city and these characters into ground beef.

As The Batman opens, a new madman is on the loose, one who loves riddles and calls himself “The Riddler” (Paul Dano), and he kicks off his master plan by brutally murdering Gotham City’s mayor (Rupert Penry-Jones). Riddler leaves clues explicitly for the Batman, which forces Capt. Jim Gordon (Jeffrey Wright) to bring the “costumed freak” into the case. Batman begins piecing the clues together like a true detective and uncovers a secret plot that involves the major players in Gotham’s underworld, including the Penguin (Colin Farrell) and Carmine Falcone (John Turturro), as well as the city’s highest ranking officials, and even has ties to the Wayne family itself.

The Batman and Gordon

This begins a tense bat and mouse game between the Batman and the Riddler as our hero races to find and stop the villain before more people are killed. In that game, Batman meets Selina Kyle (Zoe Kravitz), who herself has ties to some of the players and moonlights at night as a cat burglar. Within The Batman’s first hour, audiences are introduced to four (or more, if you want to argue about it) of the Dark Knight’s classic rogues gallery, and Reeves is only getting started.

The Batman flaunts its influences proudly. This film has elements of Se7en, L.A. Confidential, Saw, and Nolan’s The Dark Knight, to name a few — and each of those films are considered by many to be some of the best films ever made.

Batman and Catwoman

Dano’s Riddler is as sick and twisted as he is smart, and his grand plan for Gotham City has so many layers that Batman is pushed to the edge and is forced to stay there for most of the film’s nearly three hour run time. It’s masterful storytelling and Reeves excels at it. Each clue unveils more and more of the city’s history of corruption at all levels, and Bruce Wayne finds himself a target as well, which forces Batman to confront his own family’s past.

I can say with great joy that Matt Reeves avoids showing Batman’s origin, as we can all agree that we don’t need to see a string of pearls loosed on wet pavement ever again. We know what happened in that dark alley, and without even seeing it onscreen for the 7 zillionth time, the murder of the Waynes still looms large in The Batman, which is a testament to Reeves’ ability as a storyteller.

As good as Paul Dano is as the main villain, Colin Farrell completely loses himself in the role of Oswald “Oz” Cobblepot, aka the Penguin. It’s not just the heavy makeup applications; Farrell creates a wonderful character using his acting talent alone and that performance stands out in a cast of actors delivering in every way.

Batman trying to save a victim

Zoe Kravitz is a revelation as Selina Kyle/Catwoman. No previous Batman film has ever tried to develop the character like this, and Kravitz channels the Selina from the comics in ways audiences have never seen.

The biggest surprise is in how Robert Pattinson is just absolutely perfect as Batman. He’s not really “young” (Pattinson is 35 years old), yet can still pull off this younger version of the character. His Batman is still working out the kinks of his career as a crime-fighter. He has the physical attributes to beat criminals to a bloody pulp, but he’s also working on a new car in the film, and his outfit seems to be a work in progress.

Most of his Bat-gear is very practical and not some fictional tool created for the film. One of my favorite parts of The Batman is when the character loses his cape and we can see all the gear strapped to his legs, back, and around his utility belt. The cape is less of a fashion statement and more of a cover for the veritable arsenal of gadgets the Batman uses on a nightly basis. And I cannot stress how incredible the Bat suit is in this film. It looks very practical and less engineered by a fancy costume department.

Bruce and Alfred

Pattinson plays Bruce/Batman as a real human being. It’s fair to call him “Emo-Bruce,” but if you think about it, wouldn’t you be “emo” if you watched your family murdered in front of your eyes? That sullenness is also part of his “disguise” as Bruce. It fools everyone around him, thinking Bruce is some depressed man-child moping his way through his silver-spooned life. If they only knew the truth.

Bruce is mentored by his family butler, Alfred (Andy Serkis). This Alfred isn’t a partner to Batman as we’ve seen in recent film versions, and Serkis takes the character back to his roots as the man who tends to wounds and cares for the estate while young Master Bruce works protecting the streets at night.

Reeves’ script, co-written by Peter Craig, does an excellent job of establishing a new version of Gotham City, and new interpretations of characters we all know and love. This is the Batman that long time fans have only dreamed of, and the script carefully builds a deep story that contains what could have been three films worth of content into one 3-hour film. And that is part of The Batman‘s biggest problem.

Reeves and Craig cram so much story into this film that it swells to bursting. By the the we get to the third act, and the Riddler’s final puzzle, our brains are drained and our bladders are full, and we are all but begging the film to end. And it doesn’t help to make a 3-hour film and then have it rain and/or flood in every scene. While my brain and heart were completely satisfied with the film, my bladder sure was angry.

The Bat and The Cat

The Batman could have easily been cut into two parts, released six months apart, as there is just so much going on and every frame of film is weighed down with some clue or some revelation. Giving it time to breathe in certain scenes would have been much better than going right on to the next Riddler nightmare scenario.

Michael Giacchino’s score also needs to be mentioned. His unique theme for when Batman is on screen has notes of the “Imperial March” from Star Wars, and just predicts something bad is coming — usually for the bad guys. The use of “Ave Maria” for the Riddler, and Nirvana’s “Something in the Way” just work perfectly to round out the score.

The Batman is a very heavy film, and could easily have crossed a line or two to earn an R rating. This dark and gritty take on the Caped Crusader is stunning in so many ways, and save for the excessive run time and some problems late in the third act, it is easily the best Batman film yet. If Matt Reeves has an idea for a sequel — and a chance meeting at Arkham at the end of this film all but forecasts that — I can’t wait to see where this version of Batman goes next. It can’t be easy to make a Batman film, post-The Dark Knight, and yet Reeves Pattinson, Kravitz and the rest of the cast accepted the challenge and completely delivered.

The Batman is rated PG-13 and is in theaters beginning on March 3 and opens wide on March 4.

The Batman is in theaters on March 4
out of 5

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