Reviewed by Alicia Glass
When a masked madman who calls himself the Riddler begins murdering high profile figures in Gotham City, the vigilante with the tenuous cop relationship known as the Batman has to step out from the shadows to stop him!
First thing to be aware, of course this incarnation of Batman isn’t a prequel or sequel to any of the previous Batmans, but rather a stand-alone based in its own Bat-verse, where our beloved hero is already neck-deep in things.
When the movie begins, Bats has been in the service as Gotham’s villain scourge for more than two years, and has managed to form an established repertoire with Lieutenant James Gordon (Jeffrey Wright). Most of Gordon’s fellow cops balk at the idea of Bats being brought actually in to the investigations of high-profile murders and some do voice their opinions, yet not a single one of them will gainsay Gordon when he puts his foot down about the shadowy presence wrapped in Kevlar over his shoulder, which he does vociferously and often. In fact, the working and even personal relationship between Lieutenant Gordon and Batman is one of the best storylines running throughout the film.
One thing that the continuing adventures of Batman in all his various shapes and colors has a tendency to gloss over is that, way way back at the beginning when Bob Kane and pals were making our caped crusader, Bats was supposed to be the worlds greatest detective. And the police, regardless of their annoyance at his track record far out-classing theirs and Batmans’ continual flouting of The Law, have to acknowledge that his tech and smarts usually goes far beyond whatever the cops can come up with, so grudgingly at least some of them work with him. Because while you might sneer at the costume, the brains of the man underneath it are what matters – what you see is far from all that’s actually there.
Also another continuing theme throughout this new Batman film, the forced perspective for the literal way we the audience see and perceive things, often makes us feel like we too are standing at Batmans shoulder as he prepares, yet again, to face down a fresh wave of bad guys. Filmed in a very similar style to Villeneuve’s Dune, is all about close-ups on the faces and the action sequences, close almost to found footage shots but in a very polished kind of way, the movie does a great job of making us feel as though we’re about to be washed away in a wave too!
So, the Mayor has been murdered, and a devilish riddle clue has been left behind, specifically for Batman. As was inevitable here in Sodom and Gotham, the Mayor seemed to be involved in some real shady sh*t, and it potentially extends to the main mob families of the city, Maroni and Falcone (John Turturro), along with reaching consequences into the police and the courts themselves. As Bats begins combing the underworld clubs for clues and informants, he makes the acquaintance of a very light on her feet thief with a penchant for cats and strays, Selina Kyle (Zoe Kravitz), and the supposed proprietor of the more secret watering spots of the rich and secretive, generally called Penguin (Colin Farrell) but he also introduces himself as, “Oz!”
And who is this badly masked psycho who keeps leaving cutesy riddle cards especially for Batman, and videos where he scream-rants about the corruption of Gotham city? How is he related to the Waynes, how does he know about the festering rot at the heart of Gotham, and what is the culmination of his grand plan? He wants to show people the truth, of course. Score another for the visual insistence of the film – the Riddler (Paul Dano) desperately wants you, all of you, to see the truth, and hopefully understand.
The Batman introduces a brand new Alfred Pennyworth (Andy Serkis), considerably younger, much more gruff and warrior-like, still and always and avid supporter of the Wayne family, but also a considerably less take-any-shit version. The push-and-pull dynamic between Bruce Wayne and his Alfred, the father-son dynamic denial and yet in the same instance a desperate need for love and forgiveness, is beautifully but sadly briefly rendered here.
Little attention is paid to the fact that underneath all that chiseled armor is a human in pain, the film focuses primarily on Bruce’s role as the Batman (Robert Pattinson), only touching on his role as a Wayne in a legacy aspect. This new rendition of our beloved Bats is young, and oh so angry, and brooding everywhere, which is exactly as it should be. Given the timeline we’ve come to accept for Batman’s life and legacy and where The Batman film is located within it, Pattinson’s performance is dark and rugged and at times painful to watch, and perfect within it. From the black camouflage smears he never seems to remember to remove, to the way he snarls at Alfred and then cringes for it later, to the way he trembles convincingly, in rage, or sheer frustration, to the blatant and boxed-up desire for Catwoman, every emotion this Bats goes through, we see and often feel it all with him. His heavy-treaded stalk out of the shadows that strikes fear in the heart of the bad guys, the seriously badass way he just mows down villain after villain, all that high tech gadgetry (including, inevitably, fancy camera eyes, reinforcing that whole “see as I do” ascetic) and a new Batmobile that I’m pretty sure has a jet engine stuffed into it, all combine to give us a brand new Batman worthy of dark adoration.
Amidst the many feature films, cartoon romps, comic books, graphic novels and eternal Batman fandom, it’s very difficult to make an entire Batman movie that’s your own, apart from any other in style and scope. Director Matt Reeves, along with a stellar cast and a particular vision, accomplished this in a truly unique, visually stunning way, and every single last Batman fan, old or new or somewhere in between, should see The Batman in theaters now!