The Batman is a triumph – a masterpiece!
The Batman isn’t a superhero movie. It’s more of an epic, three-hour mix of film noir and psychological thriller – and the best thing I’ve seen at the cinemas in months.
First off, my review contains no spoilers. Any information stated here is featured in trailers already released.
Steps. Muffled, heavy footsteps. Boom. Boom. Boom… There’s something lurking in the shadows. Stalking. Circling its prey. All of a sudden, a silhouette appears. Barely visible, at first. Boom. Boom. Boom… A broad-shouldered man with a cape and pointed ears. Two eyes staring blankly from the shadows. Boom. Boom. Boom… Approaching. Boom. Boom. Boom.
«Who the hell are you?» asks his unsuspecting prey.
«I’m vengeance,» Batman replies. Then he pounces.
What is The Batman about?
Gotham City. A diseased city. Billionaire’s son and orphan Bruce Wayne (Robert Pattinson) has been roaming the streets and shadows as Batman for two years, alone, terrifying the city’s criminals. However, what difference does it make? Trying to heal the city is a fruitless task. But someone has to take it on.
Even when an important political candidate is murdered in his home. The perpetrator: unknown. The only trace he leaves behind is riddles. He seems to have a thing for those. Only Lieutenant Gordon (Jeffrey Wright), unlike the rest of the police force, is brave enough to let Batman onto the crime scene – not to everyone’s liking. His investigations soon lead from one sadistic murder to the next – the Riddler has it in for Gotham’s elite. And not just them.
His plans are much greater and more dangerous than they first appear.
Matt Reeves – remember the name
It was a smart move to entrust director Matt Reeves with this Batman movie. Precisely because it wasn’t the most obvious move. Not at all. Most directors would’ve needed an expansive body of work, something the American can hardly boast, with only three films in 14 years.
Or is there something more to him?
Reeves’ first directorial effort – «Cloverfield» – was well received in 2008, but isn’t considered a milestone in science fiction. It’s his two «Planet of the Apes» films that earned him much Hollywood recognition in 2014 and 2017. Precisely because Reeves succeeded in doing more than he was given credit for. Not only did it rake in nearly a billion dollars at the box office – Reeves was also instrumental in ensuring that the trilogy is still more celebrated by critics and audiences than its iconic predecessors starring Charlton Heston.
Hardly anyone saw that coming. To Reeves’ credit, he never takes the easy option. This, although he had a strong brand like «Planet of the Apes» behind him, where even a «merely» solid film would’ve been enough to become a box office hit. Reeves, however, had other plans. No brainless action underlined by an effortless story. Relatable characters full of hopes, dreams – and deep flaws. He takes time for this in both films. Even at the expense of mainstream spectacle. That’s what distinguishes his unexpectedly dark «Planet of the Apes» films. This also characterises «The Batman».
It’s what sets Matt Reeves apart.
Simply masterful craftsmanship
The Reeves treatment is doing the Batman franchise an awful lot of good. In fact, Reeves’ film feels like an epic, with a story that starts out compact, only to be slowly and gingerly unwound. And the overall picture, which finally becomes visible after almost three hours, is pleasing. No, fascinating.
In terms of genre, Reeves initially makes use of film noir. Surprising if you think about superhero adaptations in recent years. Less so if you think about Batman’s origins. He made his first appearance in 1939 as «Batman, the world’s greatest detective», in the 27th Issue of «Detective Comics», which would be shortened to «DC» much later.
A film noir origin. Consequently, many elements are represented in the film: Batman, the anti-hero, initially inhabits a cynical, pessimistic world, narrating while trying to solve a murder. Riddle after riddle. Clue by Clue. The plot itself fades into the background, but vital characters do not.
Just take Colin Farrell’s club boss «Penguin» – the actor is barely recognisable under all that make-up – Zoë Kravitz’s shrewd «Catwoman», Jeffrey Wright’s charismatic James Gordon or Peter Sarsgaard’s whiny Gil Colson. Together with Batman, we dive deep into the cesspool that is Gotham. Similar to David Fincher’s «Seven», you keep asking ourselves when you’ll finally reach the bottom.
A journey that manages without action for a long time, and yet, or perhaps because of it, fascinates even more. Complete immersion in this atmosphere is also easy thanks to cinematographer Greig Fraser, who was responsible for the sheer visual power in films such as «Dune» or «Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.» None of his choices are trivial. Chance never rules. With grace, Fraser constructs each shot down to the smallest detail.
But what makes «The Batman» most distinct from any previous Batman movie is its world. Its city. Gotham. Never before has the Petri dish of crime, corruption and violence seemed more vivid and real. Worldbuilding at its finest. As if the city had its own character. Whereas previous films used it more as a theatrical backdrop, here it seems more like a living microcosm that existed before Batman. Which will still exist after him – and which can hardly be saved.
Composer Michael Giacchino underscores the whole thing with a score that puts even Hans Zimmer’s «The Dark Knight» to shame. Zimmers’ score can be enjoyed even without a visual. But when you connect Giacchino’s music with what you’ve seen, it unleashes an additional force – gloomy and heavy, as if you were watching a horror movie, waiting for the monster to appear.
Except that the monster is Batman.
The elephant in the room: how good is Robert Pattinson’s Batman – and Paul Dano’s Riddler?
Actor Robert Pattinson provides the stoic calm we viewers need to anchor us. Nothing about his schtick resembles the glittering vampire Pattinson played in «Twilight» all those years ago. The British actor has matured. Grown. We all should know that by now, at least since his performances in Christopher Nolan’s «Tenet» or the indie film «The Lighthouse».
«The Batman» is no exception. His Batman interpretation could even be the best yet – a bold claim, just hours after the press screening. And yet: Pattinson embodies Batman like no other. His posture. His heavy footsteps. How he analyses his environment. His prey. A glance there. A head tilt there. Then he stalks – and attacks. At first bold and calculated like John Wick. Then falling more and more into pure rage. There’s no doubt: I’ve never felt the fear of his «prey» more strongly than here.
«Fear is a tool. And when that light hits the sky, it’s not just a call. It’s a warning,» he says at the beginning of the film. Goosebumps.
What’s striking is that Pattinson always plays his character the same way. Christian Bale, for example, didn’t do that. In «Batman Begins,» he embodied three characters in one film: the real Bruce Wayne, the philanthropist-playboy Bruce Wayne – and Batman. Pattinson, on the other hand, does not discriminate: Bruce Wayne no longer needs to pretend, because he has long since retired from the public eye. The world-weariness, the bitterness and even disgust for life in the light – all this is completely believable.
Opposite him is the Riddler, played incredibly menacingly by Paul Dano. Perhaps because he shrouds not only his crimes, but his own persona in mystery. What’s more frightening than the unknown? It is precisely this madness that Dano plays with masterfully. He was clearly inspired by the mystery surrounding the Zodiac Killer, who terrified San Francisco police and residents between December 1968 and October 1969; to this day, the true identity of the alleged 37-time serial killer remains unknown.
The parallels sent endless shivers down my spine. Such as when the Riddler announces upcoming murders in the form of riddles, symbols and coded texts. Or when he boasts about them. Riddler’s sadistic methods resemble Jigsaw’s, and even if «The Batman» is by no means as bloody as «Saw,» I wonder who the heck gave the film «only» an FSK-12 rating.
In fact, actor Paul Dano himself has repeatedly spoken in interviews about having had trouble slipping out of his role during filming and falling asleep peacefully at night. Because if «The Batman» is a film noir at heart, then it’s one with a heaping helping of psychological thriller, which only reveals its grandiose but never overblown penchant for action in act 3.
Verdict: simply great cinema
For me, there is no doubt that director Matt Reeves has created a masterpiece in «The Batman». Reeves doesn’t settle for a solid average despite a strong franchise. Instead, he takes risks. Takes time to establish his world and the characters within it. Especially slowly at the beginning. This isn’t mainstream. But it wouldn’t be the first time that the mainstream nevertheless appreciates such great cinematic art.
Take «Dune» and «Joker», just to name a few.
In addition, «The Batman» has a great cast, right down to the smallest supporting roles, and its craftsmanship is beyond reproach. From the impressive camerawork of veteran Greg Fraser to Michael Giacchino’s hauntingly sombre score. Anyone watching the film at night will find themselves shook, even after the credits roll. And it stays with you, when stepping out into the darkness, away from the cinema hall, watching every shadow.
Boom. Boom. Boom…
«The Batman» hits theatres March 3. Runtime: 175 minutes.
I'm an outdoorsy guy and enjoy sports that push me to the limit – now that’s what I call comfort zone! But I'm also about curling up in an armchair with books about ugly intrigue and sinister kingkillers. Being an avid cinema-goer, I’ve been known to rave about film scores for hours on end. I’ve always wanted to say: «I am Groot.»
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