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'The Batman' Movie Review

by Will Lasley 3 months ago in movie
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Riddler On the Roof

In The Batman, Robert Pattinson dons the cowl as the Caped Crusader in the first of a new series of films. Batman is now two years into his tenure as Gotham City's vengeful protector when a cryptic serial killer known as the Riddler (Paul Dano) emerges and begins picking off Gotham's elite, revealing the most grotesque skeletons in their closets in the process. With the help of his butler, Alfred (Andy Serkis), police lieutenant James Gordon (Jeffrey Wright), and a new, slightly more reckless crime-fighter named Selina Kyle (Zoë Kravitz), Batman must stop the Riddler's reign of terror, unraveling the city's dark past in the process.

I normally only review horror (or at least horror-adjacent) films on this site, but given what a big deal this movie is, as well as its rather stark similarity to films like Se7en, Zodiac and Saw, I felt like I could bend the rules a little bit. Plus, I have so much I want to say, because I loved this movie! I'm a lifelong comic book fan, and there is so much lore to pull from with a character like Batman. There have been a ton of movies made about him, from live-action blockbusters, to straight-to-video animated features, to outright parodies like Batman '66 and The Lego Batman Movie. There have been some great ones, some middling ones, and one particularly godawful one (you know which). My favorite Batman film to be released in the theaters was always Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, the feature film which spun off from the 90s animated series, with Batman ‘89 following close behind. Honestly, Michael Keaton's will probably always be my favorite portrayal of the titular hero himself. But I think The Batman might have just usurped the '89 film as my second favorite Batman movie.

Something I initially said after seeing it for the first time was that this is the movie Christopher Nolan wishes he made, and I'll explain what I mean by that. While I do really like the first two films of Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy, what hinders them slightly, in my opinion, is Nolan's constant need to sound smart in all of his movies. Characters will give extended philosophy lectures that don't add much to the film. He's clearly very gifted at directing action sequences, and I wish he would just make an action film without having to include Freshman philosophy major op-eds. What director Matt Reeves does with The Batman is take what Nolan did right and expand upon it. It's a very grounded approach to the character and story, and the world feels real, as does the threat. It's gritty, but it also doesn't sacrifice the gothic neo-noir aesthetic that is essential to the character. Gotham really feels like a grimy, crime-ridden hellhole, almost reminiscent of The Warriors or Death Wish. It comes across like the kind of place that would render a vigilante crimefighter necessary. There's a great bit at the beginning about how, whenever the Bat Signal is out, every shadowy corner of the city becomes suddenly ominous, because the Batman could be lurking in any one of them. This was an ingenious bit of worldbuilding, and it makes both Batman and Gotham City all the more menacing.

One element of the Batman character that’s been all but absent from the live-action films was his detective skills. Batman was originally known as the “World’s Greatest Detective” in the earliest comic book iteration, and that is something that has carried over (to varying degrees) in future published works. While most movies have given glimpses of this (again, to varying degrees), this is the first film to really feel like a detective story. One of the key Batman comics the movie draws from is Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale's The Long Halloween, even setting the opening scene on Halloween night. The films opens and closes with narration from Pattinson, which is yet another recurring element from the comic books we haven't had in the live-action movies until now, and it's very similar to the inner monologue in The Long Halloween. I'd been wanting to see this kind of Batman movie on the big screen for years, and I'm thrilled that we finally got it.

While Robert Pattinson is often still associated with the Twilight Saga, he's done a ton of great work since then, and he's really talented actor. While his take on the titular character was decidedly different, I actually found it really interesting. Instead of making Bruce Wayne a typical billionaire playboy, he played him as a traumatized introvert who rarely went out in public (as Bruce, I mean). He was a rich kid who had his childhood stolen from him at such a young age, and all the wealth in the world could never repair that. He never really got to grow up, and being Batman is his chance to be who he really is and fight the cruel world that created him. While I know that not everyone was a fan of this new take, I thought it was pretty cool. Andy Serkis is my new favorite Alfred, and not just because he is based on my favorite version from the comics (Batman: Earth One). Serkis is primarily known for playing either over-the-top characters, like Gollum or Ulysses Klaue, or motion-capture animal characters, like King Kong or Caesar. But as Alfred, he gets to show audiences that he is incredibly capable of doing dramatic, understated acting, and I hope this will lead to further diversification of his repertoire. Zoë Kravitz makes a capable Selina Kyle, though she has yet to be given the official moniker Catwoman, and it was nice to see her played by a woman of color in a good movie. The themes of the movie lend itself to having a black Selina Kyle, so I'm glad they took advantage of that opportunity. Jeffrey Wright gives yet another stellar performance as Jim Gordon, Batman's only real advocate on the police force. And once again, casting a black man in the role was somewhat apropos, given the inclusion of systemic police corruption as a key plot element.

One of the things that made Batman's various media so interesting was the fact that he had such a cool array of villains, and The Batman is no exception. Paul Dano's interpretation of the Riddler is pretty much unlike any other we've seen, but I feel like it's still in keeping with the character. This version is largely inspired by the Zodiac Killer, with elements of other real-life serial killers, John Doe from Se7en,and John Kramer/Jigsaw from Saw. And of course, he's leaving riddles for Batman to solve. The Riddler's need to be perceived as a genius is key, and Dano captured this quite well. The film also has a couple of secondary villains, one of whom is a mild spoiler, so I won't go into it, but the other is the Penguin, played here by Colin Farrell. Farrell is completely transformed in this role, from the phenomenal prosthetics to his adjusted physicality to his DeNiro-esque mobster voice. While he is only a supporting character this time around, he is clearly being set up to be a bigger part of future installments. He's also apparently getting an HBO Max series detailing his rise to the top of Gotham's criminal underworld following the event of this film, so I'm really looking forward to that.

I brought up the gritty production design earlier, and this carries over into the costume and prop design, too. Everything is very tactical, but it never looks quite as hi-tech or bombastic as some other iterations. Batman's suit and gadgets look like something that could have realistically been built by a tech genius, but they don't look like they required a team of scientists. The Batmobile looks f*cking fantastic! It's basically a modified muscle car with a turbine engine, and the reveal of the vehicle itself is pretty badass. I also can't rave enough about the film's score. Michael Giacchino has crafted the best Batman theme since Danny Elfman's back in 1989, and for the first time since then, the music really feels like it's a part of the character. It's not just the score for a movie, it's Batman's theme song. It's a fanfare that accompanies him, almost like part of his costume. When the audience hears it, they know it's building to something, and that's what a hero's theme music should do.

The Batman is a superb adaptation that grounds the character in gritty realism without being pretentious or ashamed of its comic book roots. The impressive cast breathes new life into these familiar characters, and Gotham City really feels like the cesspool it was meant to be. With expert direction by Matt Reeves and just enough social commentary, the Caped Crusader is truly at his best here, and I can't wait to see what comes next!

SCORE: 5/5

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About the author

Will Lasley

I’m an actor and director of stage and screen (mostly nonprofessionally so far). But I also dabble in standup, and on this site, horror movie criticism. I’m just a guy who loves horror movies, and I like to share that love with the world.

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