“The Batman” of Matt Reeves isn’t a superhero flick. Not at all. All of the trappings are in place: the Batmobile, the tough suit, and the gadgets courtesy provided by Alfred, the Bat’s trusted butler. The Caped Crusader, of course, is at the heart of this story. He’s brooding, tormented, and looking for his own brand of nighttime justice in a Gotham City that is on the brink of falling apart and immerses in squalor.
However, everything comes to life and becomes shockingly new in Reeves’ skillful hands. As director and co-writer, he has taken what seems to be a typical story and transformed it into something huge, getting closer to operatic. Instead of being an action-packed, high-flying smash hit, his “Batman” is more in the vein of a dark, ’70s criminal thriller. “The French Connection,” with its fast-paced, unexpected action, is reminiscent of films like “The Warriors” as well as “The French Connection,” two of the genre’s all-time greats. In addition, a string of high-profile killings is propelling the storyline, making it seem as though the Zodiac murderer is terrorizing Gotham.
In spite of these iconic yardsticks, the picture still brings unmistakable features of a Matt Reeves one. When it comes to creating an exhilarating, exciting spectacle, but one that has genuine, emotional implications, he succeeds in the same way he did with the Planet of the Apes franchise. Instead of winkingly meta-referencing its own position in history, this Batman film examines and reinvents the character’s backstory in a manner that seems significant and risky while yet acknowledging its roots in popular culture. The screenplay, written by Reeves and Peter Craig, forces this hero to question his past as well as his purpose, and in doing so, presents an opportunity for us as spectators to examine the narratives we hold to in our own lives as well.
In addition, Robert Pattinson, who has been cast as Bruce Wayne, is an actor who is not just willing but eager to explore this character’s strange, dark tendencies. In other words, this is not your dashing billionaire goofing about while dressed to the nines. This is the Batsuit-clad Travis Bickle, disillusioned and aloof. He’s been Batman for two years now, and his use of Wayne Tower to keep an eye out for criminals is an ingenious departure from Wayne Manor’s customary expanse. In an introductory voiceover, he shared, “They believe I’m hidden in the shadows. “However, I am only a shadow.” We can feel hungover indie rock star vibes from Pattinson in the harsh light of day. However, even behind the tactical gear and eye black, you can sense the rush he gets from swooping in and delivering his version of revenge in the dark of night.
As he’s performed in almost every role he’s performed since “Twilight” catapulted him to worldwide stardom in 2008, collaborating with distinctive filmmakers ranging from David Cronenberg to Claire Denis to the Safdie siblings, Pattinson is at his greatest when he plays characters who make you feel uneasy. Pattinson, maybe more than Christian Bale in the role, is so adept at making his lovely, angular face seem unsettling. Thus, when he first catches a glimpse of the incomparably seductive Zoe Kravitz as Selina Kyle slinking into her leather motorcycle gear and shimmying down the fire escape in her own quest of nighttime justice, there is an undeniable spark of a charge in his eyes: Ooh. She, like me, is a weirdo.
Pattinson and Kravitz have an incredible chemical connection. Every step of the way, they are a match made in heaven, both physically and emotionally. This is no flirtatious, purring Catwoman: she is a fighter and a survivor with a strong sense of justice and a dedicated heart. Following her starring role in Steven Soderbergh’s high-tech thriller “Kimi,” Kravitz has continued to demonstrate a ferocious charm and quiet power in her subsequent roles.
She is one of a murderer’s row of supporting players who all have substantial roles. As the future Commissioner Gordon, Jeffrey Wright is a rare voice of idealism and morality, and he should be heard. Carmine Falcone, played by John Turturro, is a low-key chilling mob lord. As Alfred, Andy Serkis (Caesar in Matt Reeves’ “Apes” flicks) exudes a sense of fatherly wisdom and tenderness to the role. Colin Farrell’s performance of the sleazy, malevolent Oswald Cobblepot, better known as The Penguin, is diametrically opposed to any of his prior portrayals. And Paul Dano is downright frightening as The Riddler, whose own quest for revenge serves as the story’s core. It’s reminiscent of his striking work in “There Will Be Blood” in that he goes to extremes in this picture. You may find yourself laughing unintentionally merely to relieve the suffocating tenseness he generates. However, there is nothing humorous about Dano’s depiction; instead, Dano creates the impression that you are seeing a guy who is sincerely, profoundly distressed.
This is not to mean that “The Batman” is a depressing film; just the contrary. With a running time spanning more than three hours, this is a film that never ceases to be viscerally gripping. During one of the film’s most action-packed moments, the Batmobile is transformed into the coolest Batmobile yet, a powerful car right out of “Mad Max: Fury Road.” I genuinely applauded throughout the viewing because of the spectacular automobile pursuit and chain-reaction accident that culminates in an upside-down image of blazing wrath. You can feel every punch and kick thrown at you during a fight at a rowdy nightclub lit by throbbing red lights. (When you witness this superhero in his early days, it’s one of the most engaging aspects of the experience: he isn’t invincible.) It’s both terrifying and breathtaking to see the gunfight take place in a pitch-black corridor, lit only by the bursts of shotgun fire. The music, composed by legendary composer Michael Giacchino, greatly amplifies the impact of such scenes significantly. He is best known for his work on Pixar films, but with “The Batman,” he takes a completely different approach: it is percussive and horn-heavy, it is huge and demanding, and you will feel it deep down in your core.
By collaborating with accomplished artists and artisans, Reeves has created a film that is both ethereal and robust, robust but impressionistic. Greig Fraser pulls off the same kind of spectacular magic trick that he accomplished with his Oscar-nominated work in Denis Villeneuve’s “Dune”: Through the use of pouring rain and neon lights, his artwork has both lightheartedness and heaviness inside it. His superb use of shadow and silhouette contributes significantly to convey a feeling of gloom and suspense. I could write a whole thesis on the film’s many uses of red to convey energy, danger, and even optimism. And Jacqueline Durran’s costume design — with Dave Crossman and Glyn Dillon creating Pattinson’s rough-and-tumble Batsuit — added the perfect final touch to the film’s stylish, edgy mood.
This is the most visually stunning Batman film you’ve ever seen—even if it isn’t truly a Batman film.