Movie Review: This Is ‘The Batman’ Fans Have Been Waiting For!

You could be forgiven if your reaction to another new Batman film was to wonder, “What happened to the last Batman?” or “Why do we need a new actor playing Batman?” In fact, this film was originally designed to be Ben Affleck’s stand alone Batman film and he was supposed to be behind the camera to direct it. Sadly, Warner Bros. ripped up the (edited) Snyder films so much that neither audiences or their creators enjoyed them much, and Affleck decided it was too much of a risk. Oddly enough, we will still see Affleck back as Batman this year in the Flash movie and we will even see Michael Keaton back as Batman twice this year.

So, as previously stated, it’s totally understandable to wonder why we need a new actor and a new Batman. Well, the reason really boils down to director Matt Reeves and his vision of a new Batman story that exists outside the confines of the DC Extended Universe. Much like Todd Phillips ‘Joker’, this film is Matt Reeves adaptation of Batman’s story and it might just be the best purely Batman movie ever made! Not necessarily the best movie about Bruce Wayne or Gotham, but the best movie about Batman and his journey.

To let you know where I’m coming from, I’m am squarely in the camp of fans who think Christopher Nolan’s version of the Dark Knight was one of the greatest trilogies of all time. I think ‘The Dark Knight’ is one of the best films of all time and Christian Bale is my favorite Bruce Wayne. But that universe was based around the concept of Batman as a symbol and what a symbol like Batman did to Bruce Wayne.

This film has all of those themes layered throughout the subtext, but at its core it is all about the Batman. Robert Pattinson is in almost every single scene of this nearly three hour film and he is in the bat suit in almost every one of them. I would not be surprised to find out that he spent more screen time in the bat suit in this one movie than Keaton or Bale did in all their movies combined. Pattinson is playing the Batman! Bruce Wayne is just his alter ego.

And that’s the heart of what this movie is all about. There is a wonderfully constructed story of murder, corruption, and vengeance, but every layer of the story helps the Batman figure out who he is. He is guided by what his symbol means to the world around him, but his struggle and that of the film’s is internal. It’s a retrospective tale and even has a voiceover of journals that Batman keeps on each night.

Now, that doesn’t mean that this movie is a character study like the ‘Joker’ movie. No. This movie moves with a purpose from the first moment we see the Batman and rarely ever slows down. It’s a true testament to this movie that it has less action than any Batman movie I can think of, but put me on the edge of my seat for nearly the entire running time. That’s because this story is the noir detective story that fans of Batman have been waiting decades for! Unraveling this story is closer to a Hitchcock film than to any other superhero movie audiences have seen. In fact, of all the modern films I can think of, David Fincher’s ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ or ‘Zodiac’ would be the closest to this story. Give Lisbeth a cape and you’ll see the similarities.

The story opens with a murder that is eerily reminiscent of Matt Reeves earlier work like ‘Let Me In’ and establishes the tone in moments. The audience is told via voiceover that Batman is two years into his crime fighting and Gotham is worse than it has ever been. What follows is a detective thriller that has Batman working with Selina Kyle (Zoe Kravitz) and Jim Gordon (Jeffrey Wright) to catch the Riddler (Paul Dano) and uncover a dark story of corruption that Gotham’s most powerful have been trying to keep secret. And unraveling that mystery is one of the greatest pleasures you will have at the movies this year!

Every aspect of this production is executed at the highest level. Oscar nominated cinematographer Grieg Fraser uses the dim light of a very real Gotham to create a mood that dances brilliantly between the shadows of the Tim Burton films and the reality of the Nolan ones. Michael Giacchino’s uses the most memorable two note motif in recent memory to craft a Batman score for that has not left my head for days. And editors William Hoy and Tyler Nelson manage to make three hours fly by like it was a single episode of a tightly scripted murder mystery.

Then there is the fantastic cast and unforgettable work they do. What an amazing group of actors that have come together to tell this story. Wright slips effortlessly into the role of Jim Gordon. Collin Farrell is completely unrecognizable as the Penguin. John Turturro gets to chew up the scenery as Carmine Falcone, a role that truly utilizes his considerable talents. And Andy Serkis uses his fairly thin screen time to deliver information that constitutes the emotional core of the film.

Yet, the movie truly revolves around the bat, the cat, and the riddler that is playing them. We only see Paul Dano for a few minutes outside of his duct tape mask, but he is so creepy that he practically digs under your skin. And he’s utilized in much the same way Heath Ledger’s joker was in ‘The Dark Knight’ or Hannibal Lecter in ‘The Silence of the Lambs’. He is pulling all the strings, but we barely ever see him. Which is exactly how it should be.

Zoe Kravitz takes the Selina Kyle role and makes it so much more than the femme fatale that it easily could have been reduced to. She is not just playing multiple sides so that the audience wonders where her loyalties lie. She has a very clear objective and she needs the Batman’s help to accomplish that. The sly romance that she has with him feels like it grows organically out of her natural connection to a broken soul that is similar to her own. And she is even allowed to be sexy! Which has seemed like a bad word in recent years.

As good as all the actors are in these roles, this movie would be nothing without a Batman worth spending almost every minute of the movie with and Robert Pattinson owns this role. His voice is a perfectly low baritone that never delves into the growl of Bale or needs the voice alteration of Affleck. His Batman is a character who speaks more inside his head than in real life and almost never speaks when he is Bruce Wayne. He’s a character that reveals every little emotion through his broken eyes and the expressions residing just below the cowl. It is quite revelatory that Pattinson manages to fully sell the considerable transformation that Batman goes through over the course of this film.

The final frames of this reveal a Batman who has been completely changed by the events that have transpired. How he needs to do his job has been questioned and what he should mean has been reconsidered. It gives the filmmakers an opportunity to delve deep into a new side of the Batman next time around and not betray the one they’ve established. Personally, I can’t wait to step back into this world again.

Nathan Ligon
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