The Darkest Knight
From the moment The Batman begins, it easily establishes how it intends to make its mark in the superhero's long legacy on the silver screen. Perhaps the biggest way it does this is by giving us a fresh glimpse at Bruce Wayne's second year of crimefighting, as opposed to the older, more well-adjusted takes we've seen in the past. With crime in Gotham city on the rise, Batman's job, and mere existence, are made all the more complicated, especially due to a volatile relationship with the GCPD tentatively held together by detective Jim Gordon. In an effort to deal with these ever increasing odds, this younger dark knight wields fear unlike any other iteration that has came before him, propagating the myth that the Batman is a relentless and uncompromising defender of justice that won't think twice about putting you in the hospital. But despite striking fear into the hearts of common criminals with the simple turning on of the bat signal, his toughest challenge yet emerges in the form of an elusive and cunning serial killer threatening to turn the city upside down with the revelation of a deep-rooted conspiracy. What follows is one of the most unique and layered Batman tales ever told, where he must face the truth of Gotham's true nature, as well as his own, if he is to save the day.
What's most interesting about The Batman is how much it tries to separate itself from the superhero genre and its predecessor's (with a minor exception being given to Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy). This shows through how the film plays out as a dark detective drama, influenced more by film noir than the traditional superhero action flick. Because of this, the film is very deliberate with its pacing, carefully drip feeding the audience enough fight scenes and car chases to make up for its otherwise sole focus on building intrigue. For some, this might make The Batman feel like a bit of a slog, but in my experience, the high degree of intrigue is what makes this film so damn exciting. With every new development in Batman's investigation, something else follows, which keeps both the characters, and the audience, in suspense and constantly looking for answers. It wasn't long then that I was completely immersed in the ever escalating stakes of the narrative, which is not only brimming with excitement, but also an unparalleled intensity. This, in addition to the added touch of Batman's inner monologues, is what makes The Batman the detective story he deserves, allowing him to finally flex his title as world's greatest detective in glorious fashion; while still giving you plenty of tantalising twists and turns to keep you on the edge of your seat.
However, that's not to mean The Batman doesn't provide a large does of action, only that it is delivered in accordance with the films unifying aesthetic. For example, every strike, kick, and punch made by the vigilante can be felt around the room, signalled by crunching thuds and subtle cracks. This serves as a reflection of the films darker approach to this iconic character and setting, demonstrating through his actions how comfortable Batman is walking the ice thin line between light and dark. Several points in the film tend to tip the balance one way or the other, but rest assured, the sheer brutality of The Batman's combat ensures you know exactly which side of the scale its currently on. It's this relentlessness that makes every fight, car chase, and quick getaway absolutely thrilling, and, at times, terrifying, with several moments making you genuinely question whether or not the caped crusader is about to break his golden rule.
But what makes The Batman truly stand out is how it marries this brutality with its incredible mastery of setting. Gotham City becomes a character in its own right, personified by its rain-soaked streets, dark corners, and even darker inhabitants. Much of the film being shot at night contributes heavily to this, and is honestly what makes the setting so crucial to the films success. It demonstrates a recognition that Batman and Gotham are, at least to some degree, one and the same, nocturnal animals fighting against a deep-rooted darkness within. This careful attention to setting is also mirrored in the beautiful cinematography on display throughout its nearly three-hour runtime, whether that be a simple shot of the Gotham skyline, or in those impactful scenes we see our characters change. All of this is an essential component in what makes The Batman feel so true to not only the character himself but the world he inhabits.
However, what I found most surprising wasn't The Batman's brutal action or detailed setting. Instead, it was its main antagonist that really blew me away. Matt Reeves concocts a completely unique and horrifying interpretation of the Riddler that allows Paul Dano to breath new life into a character that for many has always been a bit of a joke; at least compared to to the rest of batman's rogues gallery. The last time we saw Riddler on the big screen was in Jim Carrey's rather flamboyant, cane wielding, portrayal of the villain in Batman Forever; and let me tell you the Riddler you'll see in this movie is a far, far cry from that. Dano's performance as Riddler is perhaps the best in the entire film, as he becomes the character of a broken and twisted man, who, like Pattinson's Batman, is capable of inspiring fear in a number of ways. In some scenes he's a cold blooded killer, waiting in the shadows to murder his next victim like some supernatural serial killer. In others, he's a cunning criminal mastermind, teasing and taunting both Batman and law enforcement with elaborate clues hidden within riddles and complex cyphers; ensuring that only one man is able to find the exit of the maze he's so carefully created. In combination, these two aspects of his character make him incredibly menacing and spine-chilling, who's identity, ambitions and goals are a riddle masked by an overwhelming intelligence - one that surpasses even that of the world's greatest detective. Considering how much of the film's tension and terror originate from Paul Dano's Riddler, I can easily say that he's in a league of his own when compared to almost every other batman villain we've seen on screen so far.
But even though Dano's Riddler steals the show, that's not to mean Pattinson's performance as Batman, or Zoe Cravitz's damn near impeccable performance as Catwoman are anything to be scoffed at. Cravitz's Catwoman serves as an excellent counterpart to Batman, her elegance and compassion challenging his rugged and cold demeanour. But Batman aside, Cravitz stands proudly on her own two feet amongst an exceptional cast, as it is abundantly clear how much she understands and enjoys the role, which allows her to play the cat burglar to perfection; leaving me and I'm sure many others hoping to see her return to the role sooner rather than later.
Main stars aside, The Batman is still abundant in standout performances. Jeffery Wright makes for one of the best Jim Gordon's we've ever seen, his strong moral compass and stoicism making him an excellent good cop to Batman's bad cop. Colin Farrell is made memorable too as Penguin, his performance accurately reflecting the characters overconfidence and guile; matched by an equally convincing appearance. And, of course, Batman's trusty butler, Alfred (played by Andy Serkis), who despite receiving very little screen-time, shines as a character always striving to help Bruce in any way he can, resulting in some of the movies more emotional scenes.
Though while the narrative, action, and setting make up the body of the film, its soul is found in Batman himself. Rather than just become another action flick that see's the caped crusader battle killer croc's and clown princes of crime, The Batman opts to be an honest and captivating case study of its titular character, which immediately feels like a breath of fresh air for a hero that has graced our screens for so many years. As such this is one of the few times we see extremely little of Bruce Wayne, with most of the spotlight taken up by his crimefighting alter-ego. But this is where the first of many close examinations of this character is presented to the audience, that being how Bruce is slowly losing himself through Batman, who's identity and mission has completely consumed his life. This is reinforced by the fact that Bruce has completely isolated himself from public life, and the few times he is on-screen he is either still in detective mode or planning his next move as the bat. In this sense, Robert Pattinson isn't having to play two personalities but one. This enables Pattinson to paint a complex portrait of a man haunted by his past to the point where he is subservient to his own sense of duty, and deep-seated need for, vengeance. His greatest struggle then isn't his race to unravel the films deep-rooted conspiracy, but rather his own inner conflict, one that revolves around the central question of whether he is the cure or the catalyst for crime in Gotham. But what makes his arc truly exceptional to witness is seeing how he battles with his own identity, not in the traditional sense of is he Bruce or Batman, but rather who he wants Batman to be. This is what leads to the single most powerful scene in the entire film, that allows it, unlike many of its predecessors, to show the dark knight as more than just a bruiser in a batsuit. In sum, The Batman shows great respect for Batman's legacy, and the many stories and character developments that have made him so iconic, both to fans of the comics and his cinematic appearances.
Director Matt Reeves delivers a truly grounded and gritty crime thriller that stands proudly isolated from the rest of the superhero genre, giving fans an experience characterised by its brutal action, thrilling intrigue, and fully realised characters, ultimately lifting Batman beyond the sum of his titles, and finally giving justice to one of the most complex and multifaceted heroes in superhero history.