Director: Matt Reeves
Writers: Matt Reeves, Peter Craig
Cast: Robert Pattinson, Zoë Kravitz, Jeffrey Wright, Paul Dano, John Turturro, Colin Farrell, Andy Serkis, Peter Sarsgaard
You would be forgiven for wondering why we have yet another Batman movie with yet another actor portraying the infamous Dark Knight, and for the third time this century (fourth if you include Lego Batman). How many more versions could we possibly need, and could there really be any originality left to find? Well, Warner Bros. and writer/director Matt Reeves apparently thought this movie was necessary and gives (the) Batman an outing like he’s never had before. After all, if Superman can have numerous stories and actors, why can’t Batman? Was it worth the risk, or should they have left the Bat in his cave?
Bruce Wayne (Pattinson) has officially been on the beat as Batman for two years in Gotham City, assisting Lieutenant Gordon (Wright) and the Gotham City Police Department with many cases. Batman operates as a vigilante that the GCPD don’t like but won’t necessarily stand in the way of, thanks to his usefulness when it comes to his detective (and, let’s face it, combative) skills as well as Gordon’s trust in him. When a Gotham City politician is murdered by someone calling himself Riddler (Dano), the GCPD flock to the scene along with Batman, who is eventually pushed out despite a message being left for him personally. As murder after murder occurs, each connected to Gotham’s underground crime rings in some way and with more riddles left for Batman, things start to get too close for comfort for Bruce, particularly as he grows close to fellow vigilante Selina Kyle, aka Catwoman (Kravitz).
First off, this must be the most densely written Batman movie ever made. One can’t say that Reeves didn’t do his homework, and he certainly didn’t pander to the masses by making this your average superhero (or antihero, as it were) movie. He absolutely went to town in making sure that Bruce/Batman’s skills as a detective were just as prominent as his ass-kicking skills, with the latter shown to take a toll on Bruce’s physical and mental condition. Not so much brains-over-brawn, but a more equal pairing that is closer to comic-book-Batman. I don’t think we’ve seen this much actual detective work from Batman since Adam West was running around with a bomb over his head.
As much as the detective angle made the movie a little more refreshing and original for a character we’ve seen on the big (and small) screen many times, it also made it feel like watching a trilogy in one sitting. It’s tough going, and I wish I knew that before so I could have been mentally prepared. My bad for not doing my research properly. Reeves also did something that Sony/Marvel did in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 that was a bit of a booboo: it verged on being way too saturated with villains. It wouldn’t be a spoiler to say that this movie involves Riddler, Catwoman (who is often cited as a villainess), Carmine Falcone and Oswald Copperpot, aka Penguin, but it would be a spoiler to mention one other (read on to the end of this review if you want to know). The difference between The Batman and Spider-Man however is that Reeves was able to weave them in quite well and connect them to each other via the previously mentioned underground crime ring of Gotham. Still, it wouldn’t have hurt to have left a bit of mystery or excitement for future appearances of villains.
Huge commendation must go to Michael Giacchino for his most excellent score. It’s epic with a tinge of horror, which I think is something Reeves was going for with this movie, Batman striking some real fear into Gotham’s criminals. As much as I enjoyed Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard’s scores for Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, Danny Elfman’s scores for Tim Burton’s Batman movies, and even Elliot Goldenthal’s score for Joel Schumacher’s Batman Forever, I think Giacchino’s tops it for me. (Except for maybe “na na na na na na na na etc”.) Following on from this, Greig Fraser’s cinematography complimented the story very well, in both framing and standing metaphorically in numerous shots. This may also be a good moment to shout out Fraser for winning Best Cinematography at the BAFTAs this year for his work on Dune, and his nomination for the same film at the Academy Awards. The proof is in the sci-fi pudding.
I personally think the character(s) of Bruce Wayne/Batman have never been casted wrong (I have a very soft spot for Val Kilmer’s portrayal, thank you very much). Even Batfleck wasn’t the worst choice in the world (though I’m thankful he bowed out). This trend continues for me with Robert Battinson (I’m sorry, I had to get that in at least once). Reeves had Pattinson in mind from the start, and luckily the stars aligned and we got a new Batman that uses more than just money and strength to fuel his dual lives. His performance is more ‘tortured soul’ than even Bale’s was, and I think that works to keep the character’s mind open and his intelligence sharp. Another great casting was Kravitz as Catwoman – probably the best one since Michelle Pfeiffer and Eartha Kitt before her (sorry Halle Berry and Anne Hathaway, you just didn’t quite do it for me). She’s a more rounded character and Kravitz has a strength and presence onscreen that overshadows even Pattinson at times. Dano made for a great Riddler, his ability to play deranged yet somehow clear-cut proving useful (though, much like Kilmer, I’ve another soft spot for Jim Carey’s dumbass Edward Nygma). Wright as Gordon and Serkis as Alfred were also great choices, though Serkis’s performance as a bit of a cockney Alfred is a bit too similar to Michael Caine’s Alfred in the Dark Knight trilogy. They could have done something a little different there, but perhaps that can come later in the trilogy (taking Pattison’s three-movie deal with Warner Bros. as a sign of a trilogy). I also want to say I had NO IDEA Farrell was Copperpot/Penguin – another epic shoutout here to the make up and VFX departments. Outstanding work.
So, as Batman movies go, particularly the start to a trilogy, The Batman is up there with Nolan’s Batman Begins, though I do think Nolan had a better grasp of balancing story/dialogue with action. Reeves’s pot was a little too full of ingredients. If he can bring down the heat a little for the next, he could potentially have a trilogy to rival Dark Knight. It wouldn’t do to compare them too much, as there are major differences in the framing the stories, but at the end of the day, it’s still Batman. Thankfully, it’s a Batman unrelated to the DCEU, so hopefully we can expect more interesting stories and characters in the near future.
***WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD***
Ok, we NEED to talk about the final scene with Riddler and the “unknown Arkham inmate”, who is clearly the Joker. Barry Keoghan is credited as this unnamed character, and I honestly don’t think I’ve been so excited about the Joker as a character. We’ve had great Jokers from Heath Ledger and Joaquin Phoenix in recent decades (another apology, this time to Jared Leto, but again, just didn’t do much for me), but I’m a huge fan of Keoghan’s work and I am very excited to see him in this role, even though it hasn’t been confirmed yet…
Also, if you stay for the end credits, you get a flash of a website that you can go to and crack some codes and reveal some stuff that I hear isn’t really that exciting. Just leave end-credit stuff to the MCU will you please.