How is it possible to craft a completely original take on a character that has been reset, rebooted and reimagined countless times in print and on the silver screen over decades?
It feels as if audiences, especially those soaked in comic book lore, have already seen every possible iteration of reclusive billionaire Bruce Wayne and his nocturnal vigilante alter ego Batman.
But director and co-writer Matt Reeves has somehow managed to capture the detective element of the character in a fantastic new noir, The Batman, which has rocked the box office to earn more than $120 million in its opening weekend.
The film follows a vengeful Batman as he and Gotham City police investigate the murders of several key political figures at the hands of a sadistic serial killer leaving riddles at every crime scene.
Reeves has designed his film in such a way that the usual duality between the Batman and Bruce Wayne personas of the character becomes incredibly lopsided in favor of Batman in this iteration. It’s clear that the filmmaker, and to some extent Pattinson, view Wayne as more of the costume and Batman the real person in a psychological sense.
Pattinson portrays the character with a weathered distance that isolates him emotionally and narrows the focus to deliberate, exacting violence and considered detective work in the shadows of the night.
A hero, no matter how reluctant, is only as good as his villain is bad, and Paul Dano’s Riddler is exceptionally twisted and damaged. Dano builds his character around the real-life Zodiac killer and his portrayal leans heavily into the tortured serial killer aesthetic physically.
Though they rarely share the screen together, Pattinson and Dano have better chemistry as antagonists than Pattinson does with “love interest” Zoë Kravitz as Selina Kyle. This isn’t to say that Kravitz isn’t solid in her role as Catwoman, but more on the fact that Pattinson plays Batman with so much disinterest in her welfare that their supposed flirtations feel clunky at times.
The film’s ensemble cast helps fully realize the deep world that Reeves imagines for Gotham City with terrific performances across the board. Jeffrey Wright as Jim Gordon and Andy Serkis as Alfred provide excellent mentor figures to Batman and Bruce Wayne respectively while John Turturro is astounding as mob boss Carmine Falcone and Colin Farrell disappears into his role as the Penguin.
Reeves does a lot of world building in The Batman that accounts for the nearly three-hour running time, but his deliberate pacing sometimes borders on excessively slow as he feels the need to show audiences every step of the plot in exacting detail.
Greig Fraser’s dynamic cinematography leaps off the screen at every turn and perfectly keeps in tone with Reeves’ desire to keep Batman (and the film as a whole) within the shadows as much as possible. The absence of color throughout and Fraser’s expert use of low light make every moment a brighter hue exists pop even more.
This is especially clear in some of the film’s more artistic moments where a fight sequence in a crowded hallway is illuminated only by gunfire or when Batman’s only light comes from a glowing red flare. Even when the screenplay and Reeves’ exceptionally elongated directorial vision stretch scenes to their limits, Fraser maintains audiences’ undivided attention with completely arresting visuals.
The look of The Batman from its production design to costuming to how completely unrecognizable Farrell is as The Penguin thanks to transformation by makeup and prosthetic artists gives Reeves’ film a gritty texture that heightens the noir aesthetic to astonishing levels. Michael Giacchino’s haunting score intensifies the fear and melancholy that oozes out of every pore in The Batman.
While it’s far too early to tell where The Batman might be under consideration for an award season that’s nearly a year away, Reeves’ film is certainly DC’s best chance to earn significant nominations since Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight fell just shy of a Best Picture nod at the 81st Academy Awards and won Heath Ledger a posthumous Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.
Easily the best film based on a DC Comics character in over a decade, The Batman is the year’s first signature blockbuster despite being overly brooding and should be something ardent cinephiles see on the biggest screen possible to fully engage with the dynamic cinematography and world building.