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Is ‘The Batman’ the Dark Knight Story Gotham Deserves at Last?

Dan gives an early, spoiler-free review of the highly anticipated The Batman.

Review of Matt Reeves’ ‘The Batman’

You know the story.

Darkness.

Slain Parents.

Orphan Boy.

The Bat.

The origin story of Batman is something that almost every person knows. The Batman isn’t interested in telling you that origin story again. The Batman embraces The World’s Greatest Detective title for the first time on the big screen. Every part of the film is a love letter to the character and the world around him that’s never afraid of its source material. Rather than relying on the comics, The Batman lifts everything you love from the panels and elevates it to a cinematic experience unlike any Batman film before it. While the film’s predecessors focused so much on Bruce Wayne; Matt Reeve’s The Batman focuses on Robert Pattinson’s portrayal as Batman. Bruce Wayne is not who he truly is, Wayne died in the alley with his parents. Batman is his true face and this is the first of any film to do that idea justice.

When we meet Batman in The Batman, he is two years into his journey as Gotham’s dark knight. From the very opening of the film, we see how he has harnesses fear as his sword to do what he can to keep the cities blight of crime at bay. But he is only one man and it becomes painfully clear that he cannot be everywhere as The Riddler strikes through the city. With each murder, another clue is set to unravel what little twine holds the city of Gotham together. Batman must ally himself with Lt. Jim Gordon (Jeffrey Wright) and Selina Kyle AKA Catwoman (Zoë Kravitz) along with his caretaker Alfred Pennyworth (Andy Serkis) to stand a chance against what is to come. With other criminals the likes of The Penguin (Colin Farrell) and Carmine Falcone (John Turturro) running amok in the city’s seedy underbelly, Batman faces the hardest trial of his cape-wearing life thus far.

With the script from Matt Reeves & Peter Craig and Matt Reeves directing, The Batman towers over every Batman film that has come before it. For the first time in any film, we get to see Batman be a detective as he works to solve grisly murders and the clues left behind by the Riddler. It is refreshing to see Batman use his mind to solve crimes before going straight to violence. Every scene felt like it kept the comic character in mind while still building its own mythos for the character. It’s a much darker film than the others but it always feels true to the themes of Batman. While not going into any spoilers, there are choices made for major story elements that change everything for the character. It’s an incredible departure from the typical story beats while pushing the character forward to new heights. Reeve gives extended time to characters interacting with superbly written dialogue that fleshes out how this world and its characters work. Gotham is its own monster in The Batman that we see built through Reeve’s eyes.

Gotham itself has become a city that lives and breathes in the minds of millions of fans. The Batman pays a close mind to this fact to visually show you a city that feels familiar but unlike any other major city on Earth. Gotham is as important to the film as the title character. Everything Batman does is in order to save his city. Gotham is just another character in the film with its own elements and story. While Nolan’s trilogy was clearly Chicago, Reeve’s Gotham never can truly be read as another city from its art direction and slick editing that makes you see the different styles of architecture and atmospheres as Batman traverses the city. Under Grant Armstrong’s art direction, the city looks like what we have become accustomed to in the comics minus all the blimps. It has major metropolitan areas with a plethora of large looming neon signs and televisions; to seedy warehouses where the scum and villainy of Gotham tend to lurk about. Greg Fraiser’s cinematography makes you believe that you’re seeing different sections of Gotham as Batman drives through the city with angles that look up upon rail systems and other structures that give the city a different level of gravity to them. Every room, building, and desolate place in Gotham feels unique. One particular thing about the city is the amount of trash lying about the streets which just feels right for a place like Gotham. It’s one small detail in a sea of incredible details that drew me deeper into The Batman‘s Gotham.

I have had a few days since watching The Batman in which I have watched nearly every live-action version of Batman so I can say this with confidence; Robert Pattinson is Batman. From his forlorn looks of gloom, his ability to brood, and an anger that bubbles up deep from inside his heart, there has never been a more accurate portrayal of who Batman is. Pattinson’s Batman may only be two years into his journey of vengeance in The Batman but we can see how much he has grown into who he truly is in that time. It’s not often we see him without his cowl and costume which drives home the idea that he is Batman and Bruce Wayne is the costume. Pattinson brings such weight to Batman in ways we have not seen other than the comics. He is a man on a warpath with no care for if he lives or dies. Watching his growth through the film is incredible in its 3-hour run time. We see his relationships develop with people like Lt. James Gordon played by Jeffrey Wright. Their dynamic is wonderful and made me feel like I was watching Batman: The Animated Series where Jim and Batman were on the same level as one another. They are ally’s against an unjust and corrupt GCPD.

Paul Dano’s masked performance as The Riddler is eerie and chilling. There is so much of his performance that I cannot gush over because I want you to see the madness bubble over yourself. I am a fan who has never enjoyed the Riddler as a character, I often find him to be annoying. In Reeve’s world, Dano’s Riddler is menacing, cruel, and unforgiving as he tries to follow his own idea of justice to the letter. His costume design as well as everyone’s is striking with the unique flair of the world they exist in from costume designers David Crossman, Glyn Dillon, and Jacqueline Durran.

Zoë Kravitz as Selina Kyle deserves a solo film, her own trilogy even, and her own show on HBO Max. Her performance is by far one of the highlights of an overall incredible film. When you get to see her fight, you’re going to want to cheer because it’s so stylish and badass. Her chemistry with Batman is electrifying and romantic in their typical back and forth nature. You will fall in love with them as they fall in love with each other. Every character has the perfect amount of screen time, Kravitz included, with their own stories and growth through The Batman.

Something that a lot of superhero cinema is missing is strong dynamic themes and leitmotifs that are used throughout the film. Michael Giacchino ensures that The Batman does not suffer the problem. His score for the film is ever-present and builds upon itself through the film in ways we don’t often see in films such as these. Batman’s own theme is dynamic with a slow build into something very heavy but there are moments of quieter builds to triumph. Each of the themes (The Batman, The Riddler, and Catwoman) invoke the feelings of their characters through the music. Riddler’s has an eerie ethereal feel of mystery that divulges there is something more going on behind the hideous nature of the killer that’s brought upon by its explosiveness halfway into the track. It’s a score I will find myself relistening to over and over as I sit thinking about this film for years to come. Giacchino’s catalog of work and this score earn him his spot amongst names like Williams, Elfman, and Zimmer.

I’ve known the story of Batman since I could walk. I’ve spent so much of my life dedicated to the content surrounding that lone orphan boy and his war on crime. The Batman is the first time I truly felt like the Batman in my mind was on screen struggling to become a hero that Gotham needs rather than a boy in pain lashing out in a way he believes will make the world better. The Batman is the best Batman film period.

7 replies on “Is ‘The Batman’ the Dark Knight Story Gotham Deserves at Last?”

[…] The Batman is already a runaway success, and Warner Bros. couldn’t be happier. They’ve already ordered HBO Max spin-offs of the film, focusing on Arkham Asylum and Colin Firth’s Penguin, each expanding the world and exploring its own little corner of the rain-drenched nightmare that is Gotham City. […]

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