Almost every live-action Batman film has presented a fully developed Batman who has been doing his thing for years, if not decades. Even in Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins Bruce Wayne pretty much has most things figured out from the start with what the core idea of Batman represents. The Batman feels much more like an origin story. It’s an unrelentingly bleak portrayal of the Caped Crusader in his early days where Bruce Wayne is still learning what it means to be a vigilante. The Batman is a dark and gritty noir detective story that explores trauma and fear and the impact they have. It’s vastly different than anything we’ve seen before, and I can’t wait to dive deeper into its shadows and see what’s hiding in the darkness.
It’s Bruce Wayne’s second year of patrolling the nights as the vigilante Batman, and while he has been able to strike fear into the hearts of criminals all across Gotham City, crime remains at an all time high. The city is plunges further into danger when a madman who calls himself the Riddler murders the mayor and vows to reveal the truth about Gotham. And at the center of it all is the Wayne family. Batman must uncover all the clues and solve this new serial killer’s riddles if he is going to save the city from completely falling into total chaos.
Robert Pattison is the latest actor to put on the cape and cowl and he delivers a phenomenal performance as a young Batman who is still discovering what it means to be the Dark Knight. There’s a madness to his portrayal. Bruce Wayne has been driven to become Batman by grief, trauma, and fear, and Pattinson captures his mental instability wonderfully. He doesn’t sleep, barely eats, and his fixation on catching the Riddler pushes him to the edge. He wants to clean up Gotham’s criminals and is absolutely brutal in doing so. The film’s introduction to him has him saying, “I am Vengeance” to a group of street thugs before singlehandedly taking them all out with relative ease. Every footstep and every punch carries weight. Batman is clearly someone who is feared by everyone, not just criminals, which is evident when the guy who Batman just saved begs him not to hurt him, too.
That’s one of the most interesting things about The Batman. Batman hasn’t been established as Gotham City’s hero quite just yet. He has the trust of police lieutenant James Gordon (Jeffrey Wright) but that’s about it. No one else really trusts him, but almost everyone fears him. At this point in his experience, all Bruce Wayne cares about is vengeance. It’s shown in how he handles criminals. Yes, he still has his one rule of not killing anyone – that’s already been implemented – but there’s a brutality to his actions that is absolutely intimidating. The Bat signal strikes fear in everyone, not just the criminals. Batman himself doesn’t even need to show up for people to rethink robbing a bank or pulling a gun on someone. That’s the idea Bruce Wayne has cultivated in his short time as Batman.
It’s also interesting how the film focuses mostly on Batman and not Bruce Wayne. It’s long been established in the comics that Batman is his true identity and Bruce Wayne is actually his mask, and The Batman appears to be pulling in that direction. As Bruce Wayne, Pattinson often looks sickly and frail. He’s a recluse who is barely seen by the public. The black eyeliner he uses makes his eyes even more sunken in. But when he puts on the suit everything changes. He’s powerful and intimidating, and everything feels more natural. Pattinson is perfect as both and is able to effortlessly switch between the two. The difference is like night and day.
The Batman is a detective film, first and foremost. The majority of the film is spent with Batman deciphering the clues left by the Riddler as he tries to get one step ahead of him. It’s actually welcoming to see a Batman film focus on the detective aspect and not so much the pummeling bad guys part, although there is still plenty of that. Paul Dano is fantastic as the Riddler, who forgoes most humor or charm and instead embraces a more serial killer vibe that’s reminiscent of Zodiac or Seven. It’s terrifying and fits perfectly into this depiction of Gotham. The city is bleak and full of corruption. There is no glitz or glamor associated with being a vigilante. Michael Giacchino’s haunting score perfectly captures the noir vibe.
And yet the charade of it all works as well. Everyone wears a mask of their own making, whether it’s to hide their true intentions or feelings. People walk around all day telling lies to themselves or each other. It just so happens that the Riddler and Batman wear literal masks to reveal their true selves. The Riddler wants to unmask Gotham City and bring all its corruption into the light. Batman does as well, but not through killing people. In a way, they’re too sides of the same coin. And no, that’s not in any reference to Two-Face.
It’s refreshing to have a superhero film where it isn’t necessary to have seen all the films that preceded it, the spin-off show that featured that one obscure character, or any number of other related material from the same universe. The Batman is its own stand-alone film that doesn’t tie into any other versions of the caped crusader and instead focuses on its own depiction of Gotham City and its inhabitants. It doesn’t rely on some vast well of knowledge the viewer has amassed over the years that only the most hardcore of fans will understand. The film does setup the potential for expanding into it’s own universe and franchise, but for the time being, everything is contained.
The Batman is as good as origin stories get. There’s a familiarity to the characters that we all know and love, but Matt Reeves also shows their imperfections and flaws, allowing them to grow and develop, whether it’s over the course of this movie or potential future installments. I cannot wait to see where he take the franchise from here. It’s three hour runtime flies by, although its third act feels a little overstuffed with what could be considered three ending points. Still, more Batman is never a bad thing, especially with this film. There have been many versions of Batman that have made it to the big screen, and The Batman stands among them as one of the best.
The Batman is a dark and gritty noir detective story that explores trauma and fear and the effect they have on a person. It’s vastly different than anything we’ve seen before, and I can’t wait to dive deeper into its shadows and see what’s hiding in the darkness.