“The Batman” is finally here, and it’s a doozy. Ominous, moody, and violent, the highly anticipated DCEU film from director Matt Reeves is a very dark crime drama, not a traditional family-friendly superhero movie. It’s bleak and challenging in a way that will test (and possibly anger and / or delight) audiences. If you’re a casual DC Comics fan, you’ll appreciate this warning before buying a ticket: this most likely isn’t the Batman you’re expecting. But damn if it isn’t absolutely terrific.
After a sadistic serial killer (Paul Dano) leaves behind a trail of cryptic clues along with a body count of key political figures, Batman (Robert Pattinson) dives into the seedy underworld of Gotham City to bring those responsible to justice. He aids James Gordon (Jeffrey Wright) in investigating the crime scenes, solving complex riddles in a matter of seconds, and showing the local police force why he’s often called the world’s greatest detective.
But Batman isn’t exactly an honorable defender of law and order. He’s a flawed man, a superhero without superpowers who feeds off a need for revenge. This masked vigilante version of Batman is more frightening than reassuring, especially when he is forced to question his own family’s involvement in the city’s long-buried corruption.
The film itself is very complex, especially in its narrative content. Heavy adult themes (like corruption, abuse of power, and what justice really means) add a level of intensity and ominous sophistication to this crime noir drama. Batman is supposed to be one of the good guys, fighting crime and helping the residents of Gotham City. But at what point does his thirst for vengeance make him part of the problem instead of part of the solution?
Not only does this film not portray the more heroic side of Batman, it also doesn’t feature the confident, well-heeled playboy version of Bruce Wayne. In this version of the story, Bruce is a reclusive billionaire who likes to don his costume and work over bad guys in fits of rage. Only towards the end does Batman get any glimmer of hope and redemption.
The film travels to some really dark places (so much so that I wish it was rated R instead of PG-13, as to remove all MPA limitations), and is extremely violent (but not bloody). There are fist fights and gun play and car chases that bring bursts of grand scale action, lending a more conventional superhero movie feel to what’s essentially a detective story. This thing is harsh and intense and, it should go without saying at this point, NOT for kids.
The film packed with a talent-heavy cast that includes smaller supporting roles for Peter Sarsgaard, John Turturro, and Andy Serkis, and an unrecognizable Colin Farrell (as the Penguin, Oswald Cobblepot) who is buried beneath a mountain of makeup that has him looking like an ailing Joe Pesci. Zoë Kravitz is strong as Selina Kyle, and she has a smoldering chemistry with Pattinson that’s absolutely electrifying.
While Pattinson is undeniably one of the more accomplished and capable actors working today, I still don’t like him cast as Bruce Wayne / Batman. He’s just not a great fit for the role, and there are only a few moments in this film that almost convince me otherwise. He isn’t terrible, but this casting choice is also the weakest link. The strongest? That would be Dano as the Riddler, in a performance that is downright terrifying. His take on the character is the stuff of nightmares, as he creates a truly spine-chilling psychopath.
The biggest hurdle faced by “The Batman” isn’t its extremely bleak tone, but its too-epic story. There’s just way too much here plot-wise, and co-screenwriters Reeves and Peter Craig could’ve condensed the story to shorten the arduous 2 hour and 56 minute runtime. It’s challenging to sit with that level of darkness for so long, and it is a lot to take in one film. Those with the most stamina will be rewarded with an unforgettable, if unsettling, take on one of the most popular DC Comics characters.