The Batman Review: The world’s greatest detective has arrived
Batman has had many incarnations on the big screen over the last couple decades, but none have truly brought the iconic DC hero to life in the way that writer/director Matt Reeves, Robert Pattinson, and company have with The Batman.
Batman has gone by many names throughout his legacy: The Caped Crusader, The Dark Knight, and the Brave and the Bold. However, his most iconic moniker, The World’s Greatest Detective, has rarely been displayed on-screen. Sure, Val Kilmer did solve some riddles in Batman Forever and Michael Keaton and Christian Bale had their own mysteries to solve in their respective films, but most Batman films have favored action and style over mystery making them just short of embodying the defining traits of a Batman story. That isn’t the case with The Batman though as it’s a true detective mystery that’s inspired by some of the best Batman stories ever told.
The film sees Bruce Wayne (Pattinson), only two years into being his vigilante persona Batman, desperately trying to find The Riddler (Paul Dano), a dangerously unhinged serial killer, as he unearths Gotham’s historic corruption sending the entire city into a downward spiral. Now, I know what you’re thinking, doesn’t this just sound like The Dark Knight? In some ways, sure. The idea of sending Gotham into a tailspin by unearthing its ignored corruption is certainly something that both films share, but the means for doing so are what make them different. Heath Ledger’s Joker was simply an agent of anarchy who derives his joy from simply turning the world upside down, but Dano’s Riddler has a plan and purpose that’s not only tied to himself, but also Batman.
With each cryptic letter Batman receives from each of Riddler’s horrific crimes, it truly feels like they’re connected and that their stories are unfolding simultaneously. Both are trying to find themselves in this gloomy and dark Gotham that’s displayed excellently through Greig Fraiser’s cinematography and the overall depiction of this iconic comic city. The constant heavy rainfall throughout the film and ominous shadows instantly evokes the vibes of dark detective noir stories and make Gotham an unsettling, unsafe place. It’s a setting filled with palpable corruption and grime that’s fitting for both Riddler’s violent endeavors and the kind of Batman that’s roaming Gotham every night.
It’s pretty amazing that we actually get a Batman movie that has Batman in it more than Bruce Wayne and it’s a purposeful choice that showcases the dark state Bruce is in. The opening perfectly embodies the impact Batman’s presence has on Gotham making criminals fear that he’s looming over them even when he’s not there and the more violent approach to combat he takes in taking out bad guys. The trailers were just a taste of the grittier, more realistic approach to Batman’s hand to hand combat and the action really leaves its mark in defining this angrier, vengeful Batman. Pattinson’s Batman is truly unlike anything done before and it’s largely in part to how this film tackles Bruce’s origins as Batman.
Thankfully, The Batman mostly skips retreading Bruce’s parents being killed and instead smartly focuses on the impact of their death on Bruce. This is not the charming playboy millionaire many know Bruce Wayne to be and he’s rather an obsessed recluse that’s haunted by loss and driven by his anger. Pattinson’s perfectly moody performance as Bruce ultimately creates a darker Batman who’s domineering stature is excellently personified through the badass Batman suit that easily ranks among the best of all time and Michael Giacchino’s foreboding Batman theme that makes you tremble at the mere sight of him. Truth be told, there aren’t a lot of differences between Batman and Riddler and it’s what makes this experience kind of a coming-of-age story for Batman.
Along with some mirrored behavior to Riddler throughout and Bruce discovering some hidden truths about his family legacy, Bruce goes through unique growth that breathes new life into the character as he’s forced to confront the unintended impact he’s left as Batman. The entire third act that fleshes out Riddler’s inspiration stemming from Batman’s impact in Gotham is miraculous storytelling that’s rarely seen. It tests Batman in unexpected ways and forces him to fight his inner demons before succumbing to them. He must essentially face an enemy he didn’t realize he created and its not only what makes Pattinson’s Batman so complex and broken, but Dano’s Riddler so captivating.
With the help of Reeves and Peter Craig’s flawless script, Dano creates one of the most compelling villain portrayals of all time that treads new ground while adding in familiar traits. This Riddler is certainly more darkly deranged than previous incarnations, yet that calculated wit and maniacal supervillain ego still remain making him this incredibly complex character. Dano’s emotional shift between crazed and calm is legitimately scary at times, and he constantly keeps what Riddler really knows ambiguous making you hang off every word. Batman and Riddler’s big confrontation is more of a mental game that flexes Riddler’s prowess of being in Batman’s head without knowing it and delivering a true cherry on top of his master plan – which is thrilling to watch unfold.
The Batman’s central detective mystery is gripping to watch from the start with how Riddler’s clues create an engaging guessing game that features many players and carries unseen meanings with answers that are nerve-racking to see come to light. It’s so jam-packed that it can become a little bloated in the second act but manages to stay intact with all the vivid details, connections, and characters that end up creating some of the best world-building for a comic book movie to date.
Before its release, Reeves talked about how The Batman is less of an origin story for its titular crime-fighter and more of an origin story for Gotham’s greatest criminals, and Reeves wasn’t lying. The Batman presents a world filled with intriguing personalities and weaving storylines that’ll easily hook fans and newcomers alike. Zoe Kravitz’s Catwoman is the definitive version with how she brings out Selina’s seductive persona that makes every moment of her and Pattinson on-screen absolutely smoldering, as well as the charm she brings in her line delivery that’ll make you grin from ear to ear. Her story boasts a lot of potential for Kravitz to lead her own film series without Batman, something I’m dying to see happen, and it’s incredibly satisfying to see Catwoman’s strengths and story get the respect it deserves. It’s equally impressive to see a run of the mill mobster like Falcone (John Turturro) be such a relevant player in this story. Even Colin Farrell’s Penguin and Jeffrey Wright’s Jim Gordon are greatly used within Riddler’s game and even provide some welcomed laughs.
More importantly, The Batman gives DC and Warner Bros. something they’ve been desperately trying to achieve for years, a competent and intriguing cinematic universe with a lot of potential. Yes, there is a hint as to where things are going next for Batman with a glimpse at a shadowy Arkham prisoner with a big smile and an even bigger laugh, but the story potential goes even beyond just the next movie. Batman’s character arc and some hints throughout the story point to even bigger, more ambitious stories and characters to make an appearance down the road and provides the opportunity for fans to theorize and guess as to what the future holds for Batman.
There’s no reason to question if The Batman is one of the best Batman, DC, and comic book movies of all time because it is. Reeves’ incredible vision for Batman results in him earning his world’s greatest detective title through the film’s enthralling mystery, and its standout cinematography, story, performances, and world-building embody everything that defines the best of what Batman is.