Gotham City is on the verge of a new mayoral election, and it’s also facing a first of its kind killing spree. A masked man with glasses identifying himself as the Riddler (Paul Dano) is targeting the elites of Gotham city with Riddles and twisted-Hallmark-style cards that are addressed to “The Batman.” After each kill, the Riddler exposes the secrets of the elite on live streams or via pre-recorded videos, which seems to energize the citizens of Gotham against its elected leaders.
This villain is the first major challenge for Robert Pattinson’s version of Batman. Through an introductory voice over, the audience learns that Pattinson’s caped crusader just wrapped his first year delivering vigilante-style-justice to the criminals of Gotham… but he remarks that things are worse than ever… cue the Nirvana.
Directed by visionary filmmaker Matt Reeves (Cloverfield, War of The Planet of the Apes), Reeves’ The Batman is unlike anything that’s come before it. This Batman meticulous with his nightly journals, acts as a mechanic on his own vehicles, and he adeptly uses the tech of the future to capture clues (his detective element finally makes it into the feature films).
The film creates a clear and intriguing partnership between Commissioner Gordon (played brilliantly by Jeffrey Wright) and the young Batman. However, it’s Batman relationship with Zoe Kravitz’s Selina Kyle that’s the real winning element of the cast’s chemistry.
Outside of its brilliant script and performances, there’s a lot working behind the scenes to make this Warner Bros. & DC outing the success that it is. If one looks back to Tim Burton’s game-changing Batman films, it’s clear that the camera remains stationary many of the scenes — allowing its actors to work the space like a stage play.
With The Batman, director Matt Reeves and cinematographer Greig Fraser, currently Oscar nominated for his work on Dune), treat the camera as if it’s the missing tool in the Dark Knight’s utility belt.
In fact, Oscar Cinematography frontrunner Ari Wegner (The Power of the Dog) may be edged out by Fraser thanks to The Batman‘s March release reminding voters what a genius Fraser is.
Whether it’s the POV shot of Batman walking into the crime scene at the Mayor’s home, or the capturing of the brutal fights and stunning car chases, the camera and aesthetic of Reeves’ Gotham City is a character in the film all on its own.
The cast delivers in this film, with standout performances from Jeffrey Wright as Commission Gordon, an unrecognizable Colin Farrell as the Penguin, Zoe Kravitz as Selina Kyle, and John Turturro as a mob boss with more than a few secrets.
Even with everything listed above, it’s clear that the film rests heavily on Paul Dano’s shoulders. Without his vividly believable and brilliantly disturbed take on The Riddler, the film couldn’t reach the heights that it does.
Reeves envisions The Riddler as a tortured orphan and underdog character who say the city’s underbelly far too early. It’s revealed that the Riddler was inspired by Batman, and imagines them in leagues together to eliminate the city’s vermin (and he’s not entirely wrong as we learn much later).
The Riddler initiates his plan to rally the mentally unwell of Gotham City’s through his kills and his network of dark web fans. It’s a well-designed plot and evolves nicely along the way. Pattinson plays this younger Batman well and, and he’s not given much to do with Bruce Wayne (his PTSD-experiencing alter ego).
The relationship between Bruce Wayne and butler Alfred Pennyworth (Andy Serkis) in this film was arguably the weakest of every theatrical Batman incarnation thus far. Serkis as Alfred is running in fourth place behind Michael Gough, Michael Caine, and Jeremy Irons.
The film’s Sound design and sound mixing will have a real shot at Oscars 2023, on top of Fraser’s cinematography. The charging of the batmobile engine alone is akin to a spiritual out of body experience. (If can handle the first ten rows of an IMAX theater experience, this is the film to do that with).
It’s unusual for a March release to have any real Oscar hopes, but Warners Bros. should save some money from the Don’t Worry Darling campaign and throw it Batman’s way. This is not only a top tier superhero film, it’s a top tier film. This will be a winner at the box office for weeks to come, and likely picking up a few statues in 2024.
Letter Grade: A