Matt Reeves’ “The Batman” is the latest theatrical rendition of the popular DC Comics superhero. The long-running franchise has seen various actors portray Batman/Bruce Wayne — Robert Pattinson is the latest actor to take on the role. In his adaptation, Reeves brought back classic characters such as Jim Gordon, Catwoman, The Penguin and the main antagonist of the film, The Riddler.
The opening minutes establish a dark, mysterious tone, as The Riddler, portrayed by Paul Dano, is seen stalking the family of Don Mitchell Jr., the Mayor of Gotham portrayed by Rupert Penry-Jones. Drastically different from previous versions of the Riddler — which featured the character in an infamous green suit covered in question marks — Dano’s character appears with a leather mask covering his entire face, only showing his eyes. This new Riddler is much more terrifying as he covers his victims in duct tape or forces them into cruel contraptions.
On Halloween night, audiences are given insight into Gotham and its array of costumed delinquents. The city is dealing with all-time peak levels of violent crime and government corruption. Within the first few minutes, viewers of the film witness a debate for the ongoing mayoral election. The two candidates of the election are current mayor Don Mitchell Jr. and Bella Reál, portrayed by Jayme Lawson. Reál is hoping to bring change to Gotham.
Unlike the more common adaptations of playboy Bruce Wayne, Pattinson’s version is philanthropically uninvolved in the city, a quiet introvert who mainly stays inside his inherited mansion accompanied by butler Alfred, played by Andy Serkis. Though his somber personality — likely the result of his parent's death — defines much of his character, Wayne still makes his presence noticeable through fighting crime by night as the iconic caped crusader. Stated numerous times in the film, Wayne’s only intention is “vengeance,” rather than a flashy lifestyle.
Batman returns to his roots of close-hand combat, starkly different from Ben Affleck’s version of Batman who was known for machine guns. Pattinson’s version of Batman uses classic and new weapons including a taser, a grappling hook, a set of camera lens contacts and a batarang — the bat-shaped sharp metal weapon similar to a throwing star. A tribute to the original comics, the inclusion of Batman’s taser is a delight to see, as well as the batarang, which is now stored in the center of the chest.
The film highlights the detective side of the hero, as he joins Commissioner James Gordon, portrayed by Jeffrey Wright, in investigating murders committed by The Riddler. Despite his help to the city, Batman is still seen as a vigilante by the media and police force, who despise the mutualistic relationship Gordon has with Batman, since Wayne has no legal authority to pursue criminals. In light of his investigations, Batman comes across Catwoman, played by Zoë Kravitz.
Similar to past portrayals of Catwoman, Reeves taps into her seductive nature. In one of the first scenes featuring Catwoman, viewers witness the character taking off her clothes and putting on a skin-tight black leather jumpsuit. The impressive chemistry between Pattinson and Kravitz creates an amazing romantic dynamic duo. As Kravtiz does most of the talking, fans get to witness her range of an emotional yet fierce antihero shaped by a traumatic childhood.
Batman and Catwoman’s pasts intertwine as Batman discovers Catwoman’s absent father — Carmine Falcone, portrayed by John Turturro — was involved in the murder of his parents. Throughout the film Wayne’s own story unravels as he pursues The Riddler, allowing this creative twist to culminate in an integral point of reflection for Wayne. Furthermore, the three-hour film and its detailed script allow for multiple favorable scenes that go beyond Dano's character, giving The Riddler depth and intrigue.
Visual highlights of the movie include the funeral of Don Mitchell Jr. featuring Gil Colson, a car chase where Batman pursues the Penguin and a brawl in a dark hall where the sequence can only be seen when illuminated by the enemy's gunshots. Numerous scenes filmed on the roof of a tall building also stand out, beautifully lit and fully embracing the captivating skyline. Once again, Matt Reeves does an excellent job helming a film.
Reeves is not the only person behind the camera that enhances the film. The costume design by David Crossman, Glyn Dillon and Jacqueline Durran is phenomenal — they deliver a realistic but accurate look for characters like Batman and Catwoman. The makeup team also deserves a round of applause, specifically for Colin Farrell’s transformation into the Penguin. The team's extensive effort in producing a mature, visually pleasing film is noteworthy, especially to older audiences of superhero films.
One of the main aspects of “The Batman” which is very notable is its sense of realism. Instead of feeling like a superhero movie, the film is more akin to a crime drama. No characters have magical or supernatural powers that define who they are. More so, the antagonist uses media — disturbing videos and live streams — to grow his following. Fantastical elements are not utilized to advance the narrative of the film. Bruce Wayne is simply a man tortured by the death of his parents struggling to follow in the footsteps of his father to turn Gotham into a safer city. Fantasy is nice, but the realistic nature helps the film’s themes of politics and class resonate even more with audiences.
The realistic details add to the horror factor of the villian. Only using a DIY costume and his social media following, with enough malicious intent anyone could be The Riddler. It becomes all too real when the last resort — Batman — can't even stop this average man. Although The Riddler does end up in Arkham Asylum, it is chilling that he inherently wins by causing destruction and countless deaths in the city.
When The Riddler is locked up in, the audience hears a background monologue that concludes with a sinister laugh. Though the speaker cannot be seen, it can be assumed that the character is no other than The Joker. The gimmick is clearly an attempt to leave audiences on a cliffhanger in hopes of a future film, but the effort is unoriginal – previously seen in “Batman Begins.”
This does not take away from the overall creativity of the film. The new concepts of Bruce Wayne and Gotham are easily accepted by how they are sprinkled into the plot. It is not a complete transformation of the hero seen in “Batman v Superman” nor is it a close representation of the comics seen in The Dark Knight Trilogy. Reeves “The Batman” is a perfect balance of the modern perspective on the classic comic book hero.
Based on the excellent acting, writing and technical work behind the scenes, “The Batman” is a film all audiences will be entertained by. Whether a person likes superhero films or not, the film expands on what a superhero movie can be by entrenching itself in realism. Hopefully more films within the genre will be inspired by this distinctive film.