While DC’s extended universe will continue to move forward with or without Ben Affleck as the Caped Crusader, another version of the Dark Knight emerges from the shadows.
Like Joker in 2019, The Batman aims to free the iconic comic book character from the tangle of shared universes and push the genre in a new direction. This is less of a superhero movie and more of a hard-boiled detective story that happens to center around a vigilante dressed like a bat.
Behind the cowl this time around is Robert Pattinson, who has built up a distinctive résumé in the 10 years since the Twilight franchise came to a close. His casting allows director and co-writer Matt Reeves to depict a younger version of Bruce Wayne and Batman, one who’s more hot-blooded and eager to prove himself to a crime-addled Gotham.
When the city’s mayor is murdered in his home on Halloween night, Batman and Lt. Jim Gordon (Jeffrey Wright) head up the crime scene as bizarre clues begin to emerge. A card addressed to The Batman contains a cryptic message and suggests a new serial killer, soon dubbed The Riddler (Paul Dano), is likely on the rise. More evidence at the scene draws Batman to a notorious nightclub in town run by Oz Cobblepot (Colin Farrell) and frequented by crime lord Carmine Falcone (John Turturro). While infiltrating the club, Batman crosses paths with waitress Selina Kyle (Zoë Kravitz), whose search for her missing friend finds her plunging deep into Gotham’s criminal depths. As Riddler’s connected murder count rises, Batman works with allies to take down the new supervillain.
Just as Joker leaned on specific entries from Martin Scorsese’s filmography, The Batman draws its influences from the psychological thrillers that David Fincher mastered in the 1990s.
The partnership of Batman and Gordon often resembles the pairing of detectives Mills and Somerset in Seven, accentuated by the torrents of rain that permeate both films. The labyrinthine design of The Riddler’s plan echoes the paranoid plotting of The Game, while unexpected visual allusions to Fight Club pop up like pretty punches to the face.
In comic book lore, Batman is referred to as the World’s Greatest Detective. While he doesn’t exactly live up to that title in this latest cinematic entry, this film attempts to evoke that side of his character more successfully than any other Batman movie.
While he doesn’t bring much to Bruce Wayne besides mascara and moodiness, Pattinson packs a formidable presence and menace to a type of Batman of which we’ve only seen glimpses in movies like The Dark Knight Rises and Batman v. Superman. He and Kravitz also ooze a sensual “Bat and Cat” chemistry that gives this entry a tangible romantic spark missing from the franchise since Batman Forever.
On the villain side of things, Colin Farrell is truly unrecognizable in a deliciously over-the-top take on Penguin that rivals what Danny DeVito did with the role in Batman Returns. Andy Serkis also brings a more rough-and-tumble and adversarial demeanor to an Alfred the butler character who is traditionally depicted as more kindly and obsequious.
Where issues like overstuffed plotting and sluggish editing threaten to put The Batman on ice, the stellar technical aspects underscore the project’s level of aptitude and ambition.
Composer Michael Giacchino contributes another instantly memorable musical score, driven by a new theme that is overpowering and operatic, especially in IMAX. Director of photography Greig Fraser, who brought Denis Villeneuve’s vision of Dune to the screen last year, shoots the fight scenes with clear precision but cleverly uses shallow depth of field in moments that could otherwise compromise the precious PG-13 rating.
Reeves’ The Batman takes a character that we’ve seen on-screen in myriad contexts and somehow adds a new perspective that feels raw and essential.
New movies coming this weekend
Premiering on Disney+ is Turning Red, the latest Pixar offering starring Rosalie Chiang and Sandra Oh that’s about the hormonal struggles of a 13-year-old Chinese-Canadian girl who turns into a giant red panda whenever she gets too excited.
Playing on Netflix is The Adam Project, a sci-fi adventure starring Ryan Reynolds and Mark Ruffalo that follows a time-traveling pilot as he teams up with his younger self and his late father to come to terms with his past while saving the future.
Streaming on Showtime and continuing in select theaters is After Yang, a sci-fi drama starring Colin Farrell and Jodie Turner-Smith that takes place in a world where robotic children are purchased as live-in babysitters and depicts one father’s journey to repair his family’s robot.