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REVIEW: THE BATMAN embodies a true detective story with ambitious story and strong performances

The film cements Robert Pattinson as one of the most exciting and unique versions of the Dark Knight to watch.

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Credit: Warner Bros

After multiple delays and much anticipation, it is finally time to talk about The Batman and boy is there a lot to say. Directed by Matt Reeves, who is best known for Cloverfield and the Planet of the Apes trilogy, The Batman plunges us into a new version of the familiar city of Gotham. It’s year two of Bruce Wayne’s tenure as Batman, but despite his best efforts, crime has only gone up. Played by a broody and emotional Robert Pattinson, this version of Bruce makes his mark by differentiating himself from previous versions of the character. In the early years of his time as a vigilante, he’s still rough around the edges and obsessed with trying to fight crime without being aware of the reality that his existence has created a rise in the criminal element.

While Batman is known by many names, one of his classic monikers is the world’s greatest detective. There’s no shortage of versions of Batman as the caped crusader, but how do you write a serious detective story about a man who dresses up as a bat at night? Reeves’ answer to the problem is to employ The Riddler, played by Paul Dano. Terrorizing Gotham is a masked individual killing important people and revealing their deepest and darkest secrets. Swirling at the center of this investigation is Batman, who The Riddler writes directly to. Hungry for vengeance and eager for an outlet, Batman falls into Riddler’s game, hunting him and chasing after his clues.

Credit: Warner Bros

Along the way, he comes into contact with some familiar Bat-verse favorites. Jim Gordon, played by Jeffrey Wright; Oswald Cobblepot, played by a truly unrecognizable Colin Farrell; Carmine Falcone, played by John Turturro; and Selina Kyle, played by an incomparable Zoë Kravitz. The Batman is very clearly full of standout performances but the outlier has to be Kravitz and Pattinson who have crackling chemistry and are addictively watchable. The connection between the two characters, who historically have a long romantic history in the comics, is absolutely palpable. From the first moment they meet to the last, it’s one of the best aspects of the movie.

When it comes to Batman stories and incorporating multiple major characters from the comic books, it’s often about walking a fine line. How do you balance a dramatic story with some very colorful characters? The Batman douses them in the atmosphere of Reeves’ Gotham. This version of the city is cruel and corrupt, cold, and nearly always raining. The Wayne mansion is not out far away from the city but towering above it, its interior decorated in an exaggerated gothic style.

Credit: Warner Bros

This version of Bruce Wayne is far from the confident one we saw in The Dark Knight who waltzed into a restaurant with his ballerina girlfriend to crash a date that his old flame was having with the new DA. This version is content to hide in his ancient mansion, one that likely hasn’t changed at all since the day his parents died. He’s content to journal in the basement, obsess over his gadgets, listen to Nirvana while analyzing every bit of information he’s gathered while out on the prowl.

This is a detective, but he’s hard-boiled. His life is the case, and that’s it. He’s consumed by it and therefore this Bruce Wayne is a ghost to his city. He’s no playboy billionaire, he’s the pale rich guy who never leaves his house. No one ever hears from him. Bruce is still reliving his past trauma and he is far from compartmentalizing it. When he makes appearances he’s distant, slightly shifty. It’s an unfamiliar version of the man but one that makes utter sense. From his opening monologue, a very comic-booky voice-over by Pattinson, we know that being Batman is far more important to him than being Bruce Wayne is. He says it himself, he is vengeance.

Credit: Warner Bros

Pattinson embodies this character so well. He’s mastered the brood and when his face is covered in greasepaint and his hair is disheveled, he looks every inch the bedeviled man. It’s only when he learns more about the Riddler that he begins to see beyond the investigation and sees the mirror between himself and his enemy. Indeed, he is so myopic and single-minded, it often takes drastic measures for him to finally break through and remember that he is still a human being. And it works. His relationship with Alfred (Andy Serkis) is one of his only close relationships but is far from smooth sailing between the two. Serkis delivers a surprisingly thoughtful performance as the butler-cum-father-figure and his scenes with Pattinson reveal just how deep Bruce’s scars and insecurities go.

A story like The Batman is balancing multiple stories. There’s a political element, there’s a mob story, there’s a love story, there’s a story about revenge, there’s a mystery, there’s a murderer out there. Juggling so much naturally means that the runtime of the film will go up, and I won’t lie, this movie is long. Clocking in at 175 mins, it’s an epic in more ways than one. And the way the film breaks up its arcs feels very much like a multi-issue comics arc or a miniseries. But the time is used economically for the most part. There is a lot to get through and at the very least, no stone was left unturned. However, the first two-thirds of the movie is far more thrilling than the last.

Credit: Warner Bros

From the swooping shots of Gotham from above to the batmobile chase through the rain, the pounding soundtrack by Michael Giacchino mixed with Greig Fraser‘s cinematography keeps the movie perfectly atmospheric. The production design is amazing as well. Not only is the Wayne mansion’s almost vampiric gothic design perfect, but everything from big showpieces like the Iceberg Lounge to a dark alley in Gotham fits perfectly in this world.

I came to a revelation after watching The Batman and it made me realize how grateful I am for the DCEU. Now, yes, they’ve had their flops. But imagining some kind of homogenized version of The Batman where it has to exist in the same aesthetic universe as Aquaman would have destroyed this movie. Reeves has stated already that this Batman is different from Ben Affleck‘s Batman, who will be appearing in The Flash later this year. And much like Batman is obsessed with catching his murderer, perhaps we have been too obsessed with the idea of connectivity.

Credit: Warner Bros

I love that the DCEU is a place where The Batman can exist, and also a place where Peacemaker can exist, and also a place where Superman and Lois can exist. Three projects with very different tones, but all exceedingly enjoyable to watch. Being able to sharply shift gears means taking risks and not relying on a formula but ultimately yields fresher ideas and allows for this alternative version of Batman to exist and that’s a good thing.

The Batman is Matt Reeves’ most ambitious film yet. The jump from a tense detective story to thrilling action to melancholic romance to disaster film is a massive feat, but yes, Reeves has managed to pick up Nolan’s mantle where others have failed before. Is The Batman better than The Dark Knight trilogy? Well, this is definitely better than Batman Begins, so if the movie becomes a part of a trilogy, it could top Nolan’s trilogy as one of the best Batman adaptations, and that’s not a bad thing at all.

The Batman will premiere in theaters on March 4

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