‘The Batman’ is an Extremely Dark and Epic Piece of Noir That Captures Many Classic Elements of the Comic Book's Mythos
Matt Reeves delivers a stylish and brutal version of the Caped Crusader that combines ‘Se7en’ and ‘Chinatown’ with Christopher Nolan’s ‘The Dark Knight,’ but also removes much of the fun that audience’s expect from a popcorn superhero movie.
Opening in theaters on March 4th is the highly-anticipated new DC Comics based movie ‘The Batman,’ from director Matt Reeves (War for the Planet of the Apes). This time around, Robert Pattinson (‘Twilight,’ ‘The Lighthouse’) puts on the cowl to protect Gotham City from the Riddler (Paul Dano), the Penguin (Colin Farrell), and mobster Carmine Falcone (John Turturro), with the help of GCPD lieutenant James Gordon (Jeffrey Wright), his butler Alfred (Andy Serkis), and of course, Catwoman (Zoe Kravitz).
The result is a dark and brutal version of the character that perfectly captures many important elements of the mythos that have been missing from previous cinematic outings, but also fails to inject any of the humor and fun usually associated with popcorn superhero movies.
The film begins on Halloween, as Gotham Mayor Don Mitchell Jr. (Rupert Penry-Jones) is brutally murdered by a serial killer known as the Riddler (Dano). Billionaire Bruce Wayne (Pattinson) has been moonlighting as the vigilante Batman for two years, and works closely with lieutenant James Gordon (Wright), much to the dismay of the rest of the GCPD.
Gordon invites Batman to the crime scene as Riddler has left a note addressed directly to him. As the Riddler continues to target and kill Gotham’s wealthy and powerful, Batman and Gordon investigate, which eventually leads them to gangster Carmine Falcone (Turturro) who owns an exclusive club run by the Penguin (Farrell), where Selina Kyle (Kravitz) works.
Through their investigation, Gordon and Batman soon realize that Falcone helped the police takedown his rival Sal Maroni, so he could take over Gotham’s criminal underworld, and Riddler is now targeting anyone involved. In order to stop him, they must find the police informant who helped Falcone. Soon realizing that their agendas align, Batman and Kyle, also known as Catwoman, begin to work together to bring Falcone down and stop the Riddler once and for all.
‘The Batman’ may be the most brutal and violent cinematic appearance in the character’s over 80-year history, which is the correct tone for this source material. However, director Matt Reeves' approach also loses a lot of the fun of Batman that was certainly captured in the 1966 TV series, the Tim Burton movies, and to a lesser degree the Christopher Nolan films. I’m not saying I want ‘Batman & Robin’ level silliness, but I think the character can still be fun, even if the tone is dark and violent.
‘The Batman’ is like ‘The Dark Knight’ on steroids, with elements of ‘Se7en,’ ‘Zodiac,’ ‘Chinatown’ and even ‘The Godfather’ thrown in for good measure. Much of the basic tone and aesthetic of the movie is taken from ‘Dark Knight’ and then just made bigger with more violence, a bit of a darker tone, and the noir aspect.
What Reeves does capture correctly is that Batman is the world’s greatest detective, an element not really included in any previous on-screen incarnation. The film is narrated by Batman, giving it a noir detective feel, not unlike ‘The Third Man’ or an episode of ‘Magnum, P.I.’ The relationship between Gordon and Batman is also perfectly displayed, as the two work together to stop the Riddler.
The look of Batman’s iconic costume, his utility belt, the Batmobile, the Batcave, and even Wayne Manor have been stripped down to more realistic versions, but again, it’s a little too similar to Nolan’s approach. And I am sick of seeing Batman on screen in black rubber outfits! Just once, I would like to see Batman in live action wearing his classic grey and blue outfit with the yellow bat symbol. That being said, I loved the new Batmobile, as I was never that excited about Nolan’s Tumbler or the tank used in Zack Snyder’s films. This Batmobile is more of a muscle car and looks like something Dom Toretto might drive in a ‘Fast & Furious’ movie.
I also have a bit of an issue as to how they depicted the Riddler. He’s relegated to be a demented serial killer, which doesn’t really match the source material. He was always more of a common criminal in the comics. In fact, the character in some ways is closer to what we expect from the Joker, a madman who just wants to see the world burn. Again, it would have been nice to see Paul Dano have a little more fun with the character.
It’s also worth mentioning that Barry Keoghan (‘Eternals’) has a cameo at the end of the movie. Many fans are going to read a lot into his appearance and instantly think he is playing an iconic Batman character. I think the filmmakers definitely want you to think that, and it may even be proved correct in future installments. But I say slow your roll fans, because if you really look at the scene, there is nothing truly concrete to confirm who the actor is or is not playing.
Robert Pattinson gives a very strong performance as Batman, and surprisingly, Batman is in much more of the film than Bruce Wayne is. In fact, in many ways, Bruce Wayne is not that important of a character in this movie. I really liked that approach, however, playing Bruce Wayne is the weakest part of Pattinson’s performance. You really leave the theater feeling that you know who Batman is, but Wayne is much more of a mystery, which perhaps was intended by the filmmakers. I hate to keep saying this, but I just wish Pattinson injected a little more fun into his role.
But it’s the supporting cast that really makes the movie pop, thanks to great performances from Wright, Kravitz, and Farrell. Jeffrey Wright was perfectly cast as James Gordon and brings a gravitas to his performance. The character’s trust in Batman never waivers and the two make a dynamic detective duo. Farrell is absolutely unrecognizable as Penguin and actually does bring some humor to his menacing role. Unfortunately, the actor is not in a lot of the movie, but his performance is so good that I really look forward to seeing more from him in future movies and possibly an HBO Max spinoff series.
For her part, Zoe Kravitz steals every scene she is in and is absolutely captivating when she appears. She has great chemistry with Pattinson, and in many ways is really the heart of the film.
In the end, Matt Reeves has taken a big swing with ‘The Batman’ and while he didn’t exactly hit it out of the park, he did deliver something new, even if it copied some of ‘The Dark Knight’s DNA. The director has assembled some amazing sequences, including a car chase that rivals the classic movie ‘Bullitt,’ as well as a very strong cast. And adding the detective noir element was a stroke of genius! However, the lack of at least a little humor, not fleshing out the Bruce Wayne or Riddler characters, and the over-the-top violence, stops the movie short from surpassing, in my opinion, ‘The Dark Knight’ or 1989’s ‘Batman’ for the title of greatest Batman movie ever made!
‘The Batman’ receives 4 out of 5 stars.