Gotham City is overrun with crime, corruption, and violence. But the recent arrival of Batman has given the criminal elements of the city pause. Batman can’t be everywhere, but he can make the robbers, thugs, and villains fear every shadow he may be lurking in.
Things change when a new serial killer murders the Mayor of Gotham. The Riddler begins picking off high profile targets in a grisly fashion and leaves twisted riddles behind. Police officer James Gordon asks for Batman to inspect the crime scene, much to the dismay of his fellow police officers and the commissioner.
But Batman’s investigation leads to a troubling revelation – The Riddler has targeted Batman with his clues as his reign of terror continues. As Batman digs deeper into the mystery, he begins to discover that The Riddler is following his own form of vengeance and it will soon destroy every member of Gotham City’s powerful elite… including Bruce Wayne.
Batman is a character that has been depicted in so many ways over so many years, it’s potentially a challenge to come up with a fresh take on the property. Yet Matt Reeves did exactly that. Previously Reeves took a familiar property with Planet of the Apes and gave it a fresh spin while being faithful to the original material. He has done it again with The Batman.
From the opening moments of the film, you know you are in for something special. We are treated to a scene of The Riddler stalking his prey in a way that immediately grabs the attention of the audience. It’s creepy, jarring, and reminiscent of some of the best serial killer thrillers. Paul Dano takes The Riddler in a direction with the character that audiences haven’t seen before. He’s like a Batman version of the Zodiac Killer and a worthy adversary for The Dark Knight.
Following the shocking prologue with Riddler, we are introduced to Robert Pattison as Batman. He’s fantastic as the legendary comic book hero and he feels surprisingly natural in the role. His introduction is accompanied by narration by Bruce Wayne and it feels like it comes directly from Frank Miller’s writing. We see Batman terrorizing the criminals of the city in the way intended by the original comics. We also get an early glimpse of Pattison as Bruce Wayne.
It’s easy to write off his performance as “emo” and “mopey,” but it’s entirely appropriate for the disillusioned character. He’s not the billionaire playboy we often see. He’s a broken victim of childhood trauma. Gotham City is obsessed with Bruce and he wants nothing to do with it.
The Batman then transitions to another aspect of his character often overlooked – the detective. Gordon brings him to a crime scene and we start to see his observational and scientific skills. It feels like a scene out of Law & Order or Mindhunter, just with a guy dressed like a bat. The scene also establishes Batman’s tenuous relationship with the police. It’s an uneasy alliance that is primed to explode as we see later in the film.
While there is a lot familiar with Matt Reeves’ take on Batman, he does establish some new territory with the lore. Batman’s gadgets feature some of the latest technology, including hi-tech contact lenses, facial recognition software, and more. We also see Batman utilize wing suits in a realistic manner, zip lines, and other cool stuff that make his extreme action within the realm of possibility. It’s a cool mix of reality and comic book fantasy that works well.
The new Batmobile also gives new meaning to the term “muscle car” and it has one of the more memorable debuts for a movie vehicle. As soon as it appears on the screen you know the bad guys are in for a rough time.
Another new take by Reeves is that of Catwoman performed by Zoë Kravitz. She’s definitively and recognizably Catwoman, but with some new twists. Her transformation on the screen isn’t as shocking as that of Michelle Pfeiffer in Batman Returns, but it is no less memorable and appropriately cat-like.
Kravitz and Pattison have surprisingly good chemistry together and when we see the two teamed up and riding side by side on motorcycles through the streets of Gotham, it warms every comic fan’s heart. Kravitz ends up making the role her own and ends up being right up there with the best of the Catwomen.
The rest of the cast is excellent from top to bottom. Andy Serkis is memorable as Alfred Pennyworth. He’s the right mix of toughness and father figure to Bruce Wayne. Jeffrey Wright is also great as James Gordon. He’s perfectly cast as the last good sheriff in town willing to put everything on the line to do what’s right. His relationship with Batman is pitch perfect. Peter Sarsgaard has a shocking yet brief cameo as District Attorney Gil Colson. Finally, John Turturro is appropriately menacing as mob boss Carmine Falcone.
Matt Reeves also does a fantastic job with the action in the film. The fight scenes between goons and Batman are brutal. And when someone decides to bring a gun to a fistfight, Batman makes them regret it. Another highlight is a confrontation between Batman and the police that ends in spectacular and painful fashion. The conclusion of it actually had me say, “Oof!” out loud as our hero takes a rather nasty hit.
But one of the big highlights of the film is a car chase between Batman and Penguin through the highways of Gotham. Anybody that lives in a big city knows that roads are crowded and no real place for a high-speed chase. The Batman emphasizes that as both our heroes and villains get stuck in traffic and go to rather extreme measures to get away. The end result is a rough and tumble chase that we haven’t seen the likes of in a while.
I’ll also mention The Batman soundtrack by Michael Giacchino. It’s dark, moody, and memorable. You may not be humming the Batman theme as you leave the theater, but the next time you hear it you’ll be looking in the shadows for Batman.
One other trademark of Matt Reeves’ film is they all end on a hopeful note. No matter how dark, depressing, bloody, or brutal the rest of the film is, they always end on a high note that leaves the characters with hope for the future. It’s a perfect message for today’s audiences and one that will have them leaving the theater wanting to see more.
There’s also a little bit of an end-credits moment, not a scene. The Riddler leaves behind one last message and there’s a “blink and you’ll miss it” moment, so watch carefully. I would never encourage someone to record a movie on their phone, but you may want to have your camera up and running to catch this for later review. It was practically designed for it.
As much as I thoroughly enjoyed The Batman, I did have some nitpicks. The first is Colin Farrell as The Penguin. His makeup is astoundingly good and he is completely absorbed into his character, but he doesn’t feel particularly like Penguin. He’s channeling Robert De Niro so much to the point you start wondering why they didn’t just cast Robert De Niro.
The Batman is three hours long and there are some stretches where it starts feeling like it. The pacing of the film has short bursts of action followed by long stretches of quiet, melancholy moments. The movie is a slow burn and if you go watch it while drowsy, you might fall asleep. I enjoyed it, but there are definitely plenty of moments that could have been cut shorter.
The Batman is PG-13 but it uses every bit of violence, blood, and language it can to be just short of an R rating. It’s a little bit disappointing that it’s not necessarily appropriate for young Batman fans. It feels like every DC movie other than Shazam! has to be dark and violent to the point of alienating a younger generation of fans.
On a final note, I’m surprised at just how much of the movie was spoiled by the commercials and trailers. A lot of the ending of the film can be seen in the trailers. I wish it had left a little more to be discovered in theaters. The Batman is a great new take on the classic character and Matt Reeves is a worthy successor to Christopher Nolan. Even with a marathon three-hour running time, you leave the theater wanting to see more. I look forward to seeing where Robert Pattison and Zoë Kravitz go next with their characters.
THE BATMAN MOVIE REVIEW SCORE: 9 OUT OF 10
Warner Bros. Pictures‘ The Batman is scheduled to open in theaters on Thursday, March 3, 2022.