When it comes to superheroes, there is none more widely known than Bruce Wayne / Batman. Ever since his debut in Detective Comics #27 in 1939, the character has graced every form of media that you can imagine: comic books, TV shows, video games, etc. One arena in which the Caped Crusader has truly flourished is film. Since 1943, there have been nine actors who have portrayed the character in film, most notably Adam West, Michael Keaton, and Christian Bale.
The most recent iteration of Batman before Robert Pattinson—more on him in a bit—was Ben Affleck, who played the character in the DC Extended Universe (DCEU). His take on the character was a broken and violent man, whose twisted sense of justice had only grown worse during his campaign against Superman (played by Henry Cavill). However, after Superman’s sacrifice—and eventual resurrection—Batman became a more hopeful and heroic figure.
Affleck’s version was slated to have his own solo film within the DCEU, in which Affleck himself was set on directing, writing, and producing. Unfortunately, those plans fell through and director Matt Reeves—known for films such as Cloverfield and War for the Planet of the Apes—eventually took his place. Instead of the DCEU-connected film that Affleck was to make, Reeves opted for a tale completely disconnected from the shared universe, allowing him more creative freedom. This ultimately resulted in The Batman, starring Pattinson in the title role. While the world may never know what the original version of this film would’ve been, the one we got was terrific, telling a dark and serious story set in a dishonorable city.
Wayne and Gain
The Batman that is shown here is a rather inexperienced one, having only been a vigilante for two years. Despite that, the greater community of Gotham City knows of his existence. In a fantastic opening sequence—complete with narration from Pattinson—he talks about how his activities as Batman have stoked fear in the hearts of criminals, cops, and civilians alike. He describes himself as a “nocturnal animal,” obsessively patrolling the streets of Gotham every night. This opening establishes Batman as a creature of the night, stalking criminals from the shadows and being truly terrifying.
The opening leads into the greater story, where Batman comes to blows with the Riddler (Paul Dano), a serial killer that leaves riddles at the scene of his crimes. The vigilante’s hunt for his enemy ultimately unravels a larger conspiracy involving Gotham’s elite, including crime boss Carmine Falcone (John Turturro). The mystery elements at play are satisfying and sometimes even terrifying, as Batman and his ally, police lieutenant Jim Gordon (Jeffrey Wright), are forced to witness frightening discoveries as they pursue the Riddler. Unfortunately, the film’s overall runtime of nearly three hours does damage to the story’s pacing at some moments but not enough in which it completely derails.
Regarding Pattinson’s portrayal of Batman, he is amazing. While there are aspects of other Batmen in his performance—particularly the introversion of Keaton and the anger of Affleck—they only make his performance that much better. Pattinson’s Batman has yet to figure out how to be a hero, so his nighttime activities only help to fuel his rage—with his persona as Bruce Wayne suffering because of it. This Bruce is not a playboy philanthropist a la Bale, but instead a seething, reclusive loner who can’t seem to delineate where he ends and Batman begins (pun intended). Pattinson captures this brilliantly, giving us a man who is so lost in his mission that he hasn’t figured out how to be a true symbol for justice.
Hey Diddle Diddle, the Cat and the Riddle
It isn’t a Batman story without a strong cast of supporting characters, and this film is no exception, giving viewers plenty to chew on: Selina Kyle / Catwoman (Zoe Kravitz), Dano’s Riddler, Wright’s Gordon, butler Alfred Pennyworth (Andy Serkis), and rising crime lord Oswald Cobblepot / Penguin (Colin Farrell).
Kravitz and Dano are the standouts here, delivering their own, unique takes on such iconic characters. Kravitz’s Selina—a cat burglar who works at the Iceberg Lounge—is seductive and outspoken, a great contrast to the brooding presence of Pattinson’s Batman. She plays a large role in the film, accompanying the vigilante on his quest to not only find her missing roommate but also unravel the Ridder’s machinations. Per previous iterations, there is a romance present between the two but it comes up at the worst possible times. (Imagine kissing your love interest while the city is going down the toilet!)
The Riddler himself is eerie, inspired by the real-life Zodiac Killer. Dano speaks with a guttural tone to his voice, leaves ciphers for the Gotham police to hopelessly figure out, and plans intricately horrifying traps for unfortunate individuals. His role in the film is a smart one, helping to illustrate the neo-noir/detective film tone that Reeves was hoping to achieve.
Wright does a good job in playing Gordon as an honest cop who is in way over his head (there are several scenes where he has to go against other officers to protect Batman), and there is a dry and almost playful sense of humor that he brings to the character. Farrell is fantastic as the Penguin, making this iteration of the character a Tony Soprano-like figure who is dragged into the larger plot because of his own doing. Lastly, Serkis makes a decent Alfred, a man who did the best he could to raise Bruce, but his small amount of screen time wasn’t enough to fully flesh him out.
An Ace Chemicals in the Hole
Despite the pun above, The Batman is gorgeous. Gotham City has never looked better, giving a beautiful amalgamation of each live-action Gotham before it. There are gothic elements reminiscent of the Tim Burton films. Garish neon lighting drips throughout the city, no doubt a homage to Joel Schumacher. Familiar, real-life locales are expertly placed within, referencing the works of Christopher Nolan and Zack Snyder. Even the grimy, disgusting climate of the city from both Fox’s Gotham and Todd Phillips’s Joker are illustrated here as well.
Cinematographer Greig Fraser—who worked on Rogue One and Dune—needs to be commended, because his work here is excellent. He captures the dark and claustrophobic feeling of every environment that the film puts on display, from the crowded halls of the Iceberg Lounge to the dimly-lit interiors of Batman’s makeshift Batcave.
Composer Michael Giacchino—a frequent collaborator of Reeves—also did a stellar job with his score for the film. Much like Fraser, Giacchino effectively encapsulates the dreary tone of both the world and story of The Batman; his compositions here are some of the best he has ever done.