“Happy fuckin’ Halloween.”
Rain pours down over a towering landscape of concrete, glass and steel. While trick-or-treaters and party-goers crowd the city streets, drug addicts rob convenience stores, vandals firebomb a bank, and gang members stalk the innocent through what might as well be the Crossroads of Hell. Across town from one another, two masked men emerge from the shadows to inflict violence on the unsuspecting, their paths on a collision course.
Welcome to Gotham.
Director Matt Reeves’ immediately drops the viewer into the soaked boots of Bruce Wayne and Batman (Robert Pattinson), complete with voiceover narration that echoes the neo-noir of the 1970s, particularly the insomnia-ridden musings of Travis Bickle in “Taxi Driver.” Bruce has donned the cape and cowl every night for two years now, but feels he isn’t making a big enough impact, if any. The Caped Crusader is in a more detached, vulnerable mindset than audiences have ever seen from the character on screen. The makes for trouble when an enigmatic killer calling himself The Riddler (Paul Dano) arrives on the scene, murdering the incumbent Mayor of Gotham just a week prior to the election. The slaying sets off a chain of events that make “The Batman” one of the most disturbing, gripping and spectacular comic book movies ever made.
In many ways, “The Batman” is a film about seeing and being seen – perspective and image. The film often engages in voyeurism that is akin to the work of Alfred Hitchcock and Francis Ford Coppola, whether it’s Bruce Wayne leering through binoculars at a scantily-clad Selina Kyle in her apartment, à la “Rear Window,” or Riddler eyeing his target like the opening of “The Conversation.”
Thematically, the heart of the story focuses on how Batman views himself on a symbolic level. The character constantly examines what he means to the city of Gotham, as well as how he views the likes of Selina Kyle, Alfred and even his own parents, all of whom have perhaps the most nuanced depictions of their characters that we have seen in live-action. Rather than a clear good and bad, “The Batman” brings a gray morality to the entire world that other films have certainly attempted – succeeding or failing – to varying degrees.
Bruce Wayne is more broken, stunted and reclusive in this than any previous cinematic version of Batman. He is desperately trying to be a force for good and change in the city, but he’s doing it through fear and by beating criminals to a pulp. Once Riddler invites him on his trail of clues, Batman is like a moth to a flame, obsessively diving into the sea of corruption that Riddler seeks to unveil. Pattinson makes the viewer lean into his performance, listening to his whispery voice and focusing in on the intensity of his gaze. His reserved nature makes him an intriguing mirror image to Dano’s Riddler, who delivers what may be his most unhinged performance yet, constantly raising his voice’s volume and pitch. He too has been deprived of a “normal” upbringing and has succumbed to the darkness of the world around him.
These two are surrounded by a fantastic ensemble that includes the likes of Zoë Kravitz as Selina Kyle/Catwoman, Jeffrey Wright as Jim Gordon, Colin Farrell as Oswald Cobblepot/Penguin and John Turturro as Carmine Falcone – all of whom are set to go down as the definitive iterations of these characters. Selina is more independent and likable than the versions played by Michelle Pfeiffer or Anne Hathaway, Wright is a perfect Watson to Batman’s Sherlock Holmes, and Farrell is downright unrecognizable and scene-stealing, while Turturro feels like a crime boss ripped from “The Godfather.”
Now, a cast of characters that colorful needs a world to match, and the iteration of Gotham City in “The Batman” has atmosphere and mood to spare. Two-time Oscar-nominated cinematographer Greig Fraser combines his photography with the Gothic and industrial production design of James Chinlund and seamless visual effects to craft a metropolis that is recognizable yet unplaceable. From the Iceberg Lounge to Gotham Square and Wayne Tower, each remarkable frame looks like a Greg Capullo or Tim Sale page from the comics splashed onto the screen. All of this is wrapped up in a score from Oscar-winner Michael Giacchino that is instantly iconic and nails the tonal shifts with its motifs throughout. Prepare to be humming – in your head or aloud – for days afterward.
Matt Reeves dropped two of the best blockbusters of the 21st century with 2014’s “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” and 2017’s “War for the Planet of the Apes,” but “The Batman” stands to be his crowning achievement – at least, until the next one.
It will go down as one of the most technically and formally spectacular blockbusters of the decade and its twisting detective plot is the perfect reinvigoration of this character for his eighth live-action solo film. From world building to character development, “The Batman” does everything to give an exciting reintroduction to this universe, shake it to its core, and send it off in a direction that will leave audiences satisfied, yet desperate to see the story continue.
“The Batman” is now playing in theaters.
Johnny Sobczak is an entertainment journalist and graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he majored in Media and Journalism and minored in Global Cinema. Johnny is a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association and has been with Inside the Film Room since August 2019. He was named Senior Writer in January 2020 and co-hosts the Inside the Film Room podcast with Zach Goins. Johnny spends his days job-hunting, watching films and obsessing over every new detail of Denis Villeneuve's "Dune."