With the annual bombardment of comic book movies we see every year, it’s hard to believe that it has been a decade since we last saw a Batman solo movie (The Dark Knight Rises). During that span, some of those films have left a lasting impression on cinema consumers while others merely have been the equivalent of junk food that audiences have crammed to fill the void. But leave it to the Caped Crusader to save the day and once again elevate the comic book genre with The Batman, a sprawling epic that’s dark, thrilling, and also surprisingly intimate. Saying this is the best comic book movie since The Dark Knight is no exaggeration. And if you need early evidence, exhibit one is the film’s opening scene, which establishes the tone of the film while giving the infamous opening bank heist sequence from the 2008 Batman film a run for its money in terms of anticipation and suspense.
Rightfully skipping past Bruce Wayne’s upbringing and becoming Batman, The Batman fast forwards us two years into Batman’s fight against crime. However, instead of his efforts having a positive impact on Gotham City, crime has only increased across the gothic-soaked landscape since his arrival. And to make things worse, the Riddler has sprung up and started killing public officials connected to something bigger involving the Wayne family’s legacy, leaving behind a trail of clues to his grisly murders. Batman must work to solve the mystery and conduct an investigation, with or without the help of some of Gotham City’s most well-known characters.
If you thought The Dark Knight was “dark,” then brace yourself because The Batman sets the bar at a whole new level for that term. The Batman’s action sequences are not only exhilarating, but also violent, while packing plenty of brute force. When the film focuses on the Riddler’s games and puzzles it may remind you of similar scenes in unforgettable crime thrillers from years past, which means some audience members will squirm or look away. Settings around Gotham City feel adult-appropriate with a gothic silhouette and were beautifully shot by cinematographer Greg Fraser. The memorable score from Michael Giacchino, especially the spine-chilling segments whenever the Riddler is on screen, gives the film a horror-esque vibe.
Despite all the elements that make Batman cool–like his fighting, gadgets, and the Batmobile–The Batman, at its core, is a detective story, finally demonstrating why one of the hero’s nicknames is “The World’s Greatest Detective.” We see the masked vigilante as an investigator trying to figure things out while also trying to make fewer mistakes. Making things more difficult is the fact that, other than James Gordan of the Gotham City Police Department, Batman conducts his investigations having yet earned the trust of citizens of the city. And this time, the script is flipped, making the Bruce Wayne character more of a myth to the people of Gotham City than Batman. The amount of time we see Bruce Wayne out of costume will surprise audiences, as Bruce is focused on delivering justice every night, which takes a toll on him, causing him to come off as a bit of an introvert when not in his mask.
Director Matt Reeves’ character study of this pop culture icon and his supporting characters breathes new life into the hero for audiences, who, due to previous memorable takes on the character from Michael Keaton and Christian Bale, have become accustomed to thinking they know what to expect from a new Batman film. Not only is it fulfilling to see a different side of Batman and his world that feels more akin to its rich comic history than any previous film Batman, but it is also engrossing to get a closer look at the character fighting a psychological battle within himself that he may have inherited along with the family fortune. That brings us to Robert Pattinson, who dons the cape and cowl as the titular character of this story. Pattinson is exceptional as both Batman and Bruce Wayne and forges a new path for the character that deserves to be recognized alongside the greats who have played the character before. Some of the film’s brightest moments are the quieter ones with Pattinson’s Batman observing a crime scene or in one-on-one conversations when the action stops.
Zoe Kravitz as Selina Kyle/Catwoman is another character given a new path that works out terrifically as her chemistry with Pattinson is undeniable. Jeffrey Wright as James Gordon, Colin Farrell as the Penguin, and Andy Serkis as Alfred are all great in their supporting roles. But two other roles offer the film’s biggest surprises. First, John Turturro is excellent as Gotham City crime boss, Carmine Falcone, and is actually in the film for more time than what previews led us to believe. And second, and more importantly, is Paul Dano as the Riddler, whose puzzle-loving character is given a modern-day Zodiac killer update. Dano almost steals the show and, thanks to a number of commanding scenes, undoubtedly will go down as one of the best comic book film villains in recent memory.
Batman, the character, is the crown jewel of the Warner Brothers brand, which means expectations are always incredibly, if not impossibly, high whenever a new iteration of the role is introduced. And while releasing a film that’s almost three hours in length right now is a risk no matter how big your source material is, The Batman demands your attention the entire time. It keeps you guessing until the end and comes to a conclusion that’s perfect for its main character’s journey. As an added bonus it also provides endless exciting possibilities to what the sequels would bring. Enormous credit for The Batman goes to director Matt Reeves, who made the most of the unlimited creative freedom he obviously was given for his take on the character. Shining as brightly as the bat signal itself in the night sky, The Batman is as richly satisfying as it is bold, and the result is a new gold standard for the comic book genre.