The Batman : Movie Review
Broken. Weary. This is the Bruce Wayne that Robert Pattinson and director/co-writer Matt Reeves have wrought into flesh and bone with The Batman, veering totally away from the “billionaire playboy” visage and straight into an all-consuming darkness with only a feeble glint of light ahead to give him – and any of Gotham City’s citizens – the faintest semblance of hope. By cutting this portrayal of the nearly-83-year-old character out of new cloth, we are gifted a Bruce Wayne/Batman unlike anything we have ever seen cinematically, and it is easily one of the most memorable.
The recent filmed incarnations of Batman – from Michael Keaton straight through to Ben Affleck – have all featured a man in the limelight, doing good deeds by day and becoming the infamous masked vigilante by night. Here, the screenplay by Reeves and Peter Craig strips Wayne completely back to a haunted shell, a man who cannot believe the corruption he sees during the day and reluctantly trying to wage war for the city’s soul at night. Not just from the big names like Carmine Falcone (John Turturro) or Oswald Cobblepot (a nigh unrecognizable Colin Farrell), but from hoodlums and low-level criminals that have pushed the city and its inhabitants to a massive breaking point.
Therefore, the time is just right for a masked villain calling himself The Riddler (Paul Dano) to step in and create even more of a furor by targeting various government and law enforcement officials. Some are killed outright; some are forced to play Jigsaw-like games before the hammer comes down. Dano even affects a Tobin Bell-like delivery in his cryptic videos claiming responsibility for what’s happening around Gotham, occupying a grungy space between disaffected insanity and growling, screaming intensity.
Also separating The Batman from the rest of the pack is in its slow-rolling, effectively teased-out plot, which starts with Batman already established as the city’s vigilante protector. The film’s themes of the daily struggle between good and evil and how easy it is to give into darkness are a constant, especially with the film’s morally fluid Selina Kyle/Catwoman (Zoë Kravitz), a woman skirting both sides of the law and staying under the radar to stay alive. It’s only when tragedy strikes closer to home that she joins Batman in his fight to save his city, but even she might be wanting to go further than Batman’s willing to go for justice.
Which brings us to the crux of the movie: Justice vs. Revenge, and how easily the two are confused. These things that The Riddler, Falcone, and city corruption itself have done to deepen the stain that shades Gotham City in bleakness never deter Batman from his ultimate mission of justice, even though those around him want vengeance and blood… and Wayne’s own family history is not exempt. Working with the stalwart, good-hearted Lieutenant James Gordon (Jeffrey Wright) also adds a layer of protection, ensuring he stays on the right track, without compromise.
Matt Reeves sinks us into a despairing city where the sun never shines and the rain never stops. Rare are the daylight scenes where the film gives scant reprieve from the suffocating pressure of Gotham City’s darkness. Greig Fraser’s chiaroscuro-laden cinematography and lighting schemes lean heavily into the film noir origins of the comic book and its characters, moving stealthily among the shadows masking those lurking within, broken up by yellow-orange streetlights which don’t show anyone at their best. Stark whites do not exist for long in this world, further cementing an abject lack of any kind of brightness or clarity; grays, browns, and muted oranges dominate Reeves’ color palette, colors which further detach us from reality and enhance a feeling of solitude felt in everyone, from Batman to Catwoman to the random guy assaulted by the street gang in the film’s opening moments.
Robert Pattinson’s opening narration further helps set the noir tones and griminess of the city that lays before us; it’s somewhere between “I’m tired of this” and “nothing honestly surprises me anymore” mixed with an urgent sense of invitation, like he knows someone’s finger is on a hair trigger and he needs to stop it from getting pulled. But he also knows that he’s going to have to go through hell to get the job done, and that’s where we first get the breadth of the precision with which Pattison strikes each note of his performance. As Bruce Wayne, he seems fearful and reproachful of the outside world, especially when makes public appearances; rather, it’s more that he needs to stay aloof and observant, above the minutiae and turmoil of the everyday to get the 1,000-foot view of the disease plaguing Gotham and strike surgically.
Countering him beat for beat is Zoë Kravitz’s breathtaking turn as Selina Kyle, a woman so much in control of her life that she ventures straight into danger without a second thought. It’s not that she has a death wish; instead, she knows she’s capable of doing what needs to be done. Kravitz gives her admirable strength and poise, truly embodying the inner struggle between right and, well, not right (I won’t say “wrong,” ‘cause she’s not) with her iteration of Catwoman. There’s a large amount of nuance that Kravitz dedicates to her performance, and she creates a figure so imposing and indelible, she almost threatens to steal the film outright.
As heard in the trailers, Nirvana’s “Something In The Way” from their seminal album “Nevermind” makes its presence known in the film – not just as a needle-drop, but as a leitmotif in composer Michael Giacchino’s thrilling, moody score. This isn’t just some Hans Zimmer one-note kinda “BWAAAAAANG” score; Giacchino diversifies his sonic attacks and complements with a deft, knowing touch, never taking away from a scene by obtrusively overpowering. It’s a score that alternates between the superhero music we expect in a film titled The Batman and a horror movie score where discordant violins highlight the violence and terror onscreen.
As singer Kurt Cobain says in “Something In The Way,” “The animals I’ve trapped have all become my pets.” The whole of The Batman can be boiled down to this singular line of poetry. Gotham City has ensnared its citizens in a soul-killing cycle of violence and ill-feeling. The Riddler has elite figureheads in his sights, thus instilling fear into the populace and placing them under his thumb. But even more, we get the sense that Batman has all at once become the trapped animal and the cage owner, working in the small spaces he’s been granted to fight against the enveloping crush of corruption and terror, all the while being a force of terror himself. By starting Bruce Wayne off as a broken man with the barest thread of resolve connecting him to his mission, we’re given so many reasons to believe in his fight, and we’re rewarded for that belief with one of the strongest representations of the Caped Crusader ever put into existence.
MPA Rating: PG-13 for strong violent and disturbing content, drug content, strong language, and some suggestive material.
Post-credits stinger: Yes. (NOTE: I didn’t say “post-credits SCENE.”)
Running time: 176 minutes.
Released by Warner Bros. Pictures.