Matt Reeves’ take on the Caped Crusader leans into the grittier side of Gotham
More than a year of stalking the streets as the Batman (Robert Pattinson), striking fear into the hearts of criminals, has led Bruce Wayne deep into the shadows of Gotham City. With only a few trusted allies — Alfred (Andy Serkis), Lt. James Gordon (Jeffrey Wright) — amongst the city’s corrupt network of officials and high-profile figures, the lone vigilante has established himself as the sole embodiment of vengeance amongst his fellow citizens. When a killer targets Gotham’s elite with a series of sadistic machinations, a trail of cryptic clues sends the World’s Greatest Detective on an investigation into the underworld, where he encounters such characters as Selina Kyle (Zoë Kravitz), Oz, aka The Penguin (Colin Farrell), Carmine Falcone (John Turturro), and Edward Nashton/aka The Riddler (Paul Dano). As the evidence begins to lead closer to home and the scale of the perpetrator’s plans becomes clear, Batman must forge new relationships, unmask the culprit, and bring justice to the abuse of power and corruption that has long plagued Gotham City.
We’ve had Batmans before, but this is The Batman. An effort to stand apart, and to draw a line under Robert Pattinson’s (Good Time, High Life) distinct portrayal of a relentless force. This take on the Dark Knight, crafted by writer/director Matt Reeves (the modern Planet of the Apes trilogy), delivers plenty of familiar fare, but makes great efforts to adopt its own tone, embrace other facets of the character, and plant us in the early years, as Bruce/Bats is still finding his footing as a masked vigilante. Gotham is engulfed by a drugs epidemic and corruption, something that has helped drive Bruce Wayne’s vigilante crusade, but also spawned a mysterious figure. The Riddler (Paul Dano) has been intent on bringing his own brand of justice to bear. Elaborate death traps, to punish his targets, alongside clues on calling cards and social media. To install fear and whip up interest, but more-so to draw in Batman and his partner in the police dept, Lieutenant James Gordon (Jeffrey Wright). Setting them on a trail to uncover a bigger crime that has long gestated in the city. As they are led on this chase, Bruce finds that he himself is a target, and personally linked to the information The Riddler is set on revealing to the public.
The film leans hard into the procedural elements, DC stands for Detective Comics after all. And while involved in some of the Batman features, never before to this extent. Intricate schemes, crimes scenes, analysis, navigating shady locales and figures, good old fashioned footwork, its all here. These victims are breadcrumbs, leading Batman along a path to uncover the culprit of the crimes, and what The Riddler wants out in the open. Along the way, though the underbelly of the city, we get introduced to other players, from mob boss Carmine Falcone (Turturro), along with his right hand man Oswald “The Penguin” Cobblepot (Colin Farrell), and even cat burglar Selina Kyle, aka Catwoman. So far so Batmany, but what really sets this version apart is an immersion not just in realism, but in a bleaker and more gritty tone. These traps set by The Riddler are not goofy affairs, but more akin to something out of the Saw movies. The detective work is befitting a David Fincher film, that out of the pages of a colorful comic book. This darkness permeates practically every aesthetic and design choice the film has to make. Even Waynes’s apartment feel lifted out of a Gothic church and somehow transplanted to the innards of a modern high-rise. Cinematography by Greig Fraser delivering amber hues, shadows, rain soaked streets, industry meets medieval.
This version of Bruce and Batman is similarly grim. A youthful and tortured recluse, fully embracing the emo aesthetic. A glimpsed journal in the film tells us this is Year 2 of Wayne’s winged crusade to restore justice and order to the city. The early years sees a more brutal and unrefined Batman, physically and practically. It adds a refreshing sense of danger, as he plunges fist-first into some of his encounters. Pattinson brings a tortured, human weight to the role, one befitting the tone. While supporting performances from Andy Serkis (Alfred), Turturro, and Wright also impress, the real standout is Kravitz, with an assured and alluring performance that proves delightfully adept at throwing Pattison’s Batman off-kilter.
There’s much to appreciate in Reeves’s take on Batman, but plenty to quibble about too. A running time of 176 minutes doesn’t exactly fly by. I’m all for lengthier movies, if it services the story, but The Batman is replete with repetition and redundancy, those 176 minutes often grate. A scene that deftly conveys meaning,m is often followed up by a more obvious reminder of the same message. This dumbing down is doubled down upon by an overuse of moody voice-overs. This all feels like spoon feeding the viewer rather than letting the words or physicality of the actors do their intended purpose. The dark brooding is overly slathered on at times, and stands in contrast to a final that feels a little too grand in scale and spectacle, especially considering the grimy street level work that leads up to it. Even with these issues, Reeves’s and Pattinson’s collaboration is a thoroughly engaging endeavor, and admirably proves there is still life in the Batman franchise.
Gothic in tone and appearance, this version of Gotham is even more grungy than any previous depicted. Having seen this film on streaming via HBO Max, the physical 4K copy is notably superior. Detail comes across superbly, evident in costume and set details alike. Blacks are deep and inky, contrast and color range impress, allowing all the details in the shadows to come through. It looks like the 4K disc is just the movie, no extras, and they make good use of all that space to deliver a great transfer free of any artifacts or compression issues. In addition to the 4K disc, the release includes a digital copy of the film, a Blu-ray version, and a third disc which hosts the extra features.
- Vengeance in the Making: Just under an hour in length, and packs plenty in to that decent runtime. Touches on all aspects of the production, from original conception, to script development, casting, design, while providing other insights via on-set footage
- Looking for Vengeance: Very short featurette covering the fight choreography, specifically ‘this’ Batman’s fighting style
- The Batman: Genesis: Reeves and Pattinson talk about the decisions made and path taken in this particular depiction of Wayne/Batman, notably in terms of leaning into the detective elements, and also the youth of this iteration. A shame its runtime is just over 6 minutes
- Vengeance Meets Justice: Reeves and Pattison are joined by Paul Dano to compare and contrast the Batman and The Riddler
- Becoming Catwoman: Zoë Kravitz talks about her approach to playing the character, and shares some on set tidbits too
- The Batmobile: Special effects supervisor Dominic Tuohy, along with a few other cast and crew members, chat about the new take on the car, with some additional info on the design and building process
- Anatomy of a Car Chase: A short but interesting breakdown of the film’s most impressive action set piece
- Anatomy of the Wing Suit Jump: Insights to this action set-piece, concerning costume design and filming tech
- Unpacking the Icons: Rundown of some of the aesthetic/costume choices for the film and what makes them distinct from previous iterations
- A Transformation: The Penguin: A pretty detailed look at the process of transforming Farrell into the Penguin
- Deleted Scenes: Scene 52 Joker/Arkham and Scene 56 Selina Gets 44 Below Keycard: These have circulated quite widely online. Presented here with a commentary from Reeves, who explains their exclusion
The Bottom Line
While there is plenty of familiar stuff here, Reeves manages to imbue his take on Batman with a very distinct flavor. A detective story that immerses us in the grimy underbelly of Gotham like never before. It’s the kind of film that truly benefits from being seen in the highest detail available, and 4K is the best option. This quality, combined with an extensive series of extra features, make this a great package.
The Batman is available on 4K UHD now
Get it at Amazon:
If you enjoy reading Cinapse, purchasing items through our affiliate links can tip us with a small commission at no additional cost to you.