Director/writer Matt Reeves has a made a career off exploring deeper themes through fiction, namely in the genre of thrillers and science fiction. His career exploded with the 2007 film Cloverfield, but for the last decade the filmmaker has preoccupied himself with the two-critically acclaimed latter installments of the recent Planet of the Apes trilogy. One thing that became clear with those films was Reeves ability to take a pre-established franchise and give it new depth with his own vision that stems from very real and often bleak takes on contemporary culture. So, when Reeves was announced to take over the new Batman film (which originally saw Ben Affleck direct, write, and star in a DCEU connected solo film), there weren't many raised eyebrows on the matter. Reeves seemed perfect to give something new in the umpteenth iteration of the famed Dark Knight. And while he somewhat indulges in the details of his own narrative (with odd takes on some of the well-established lore and characters), his expert and refined craft has rendered perhaps one of the truest Batman films to ever hit the screen.
Unlike most of his big-budget takes, The Batman is not grand in it's set pieces. In fact, Reeves goes for a more intimate array of settings, having Batman weave in hallways, churches, and various abandoned/damaged arenas. However, Reeves doesn't do this simply for the sake of immersing audiences in perhaps the most noir-influenced take on the Dark Knight. He uses them as part of a maze that Bruce Wayne/Batman (Played by Robert Pattinson) attempts to maneuver through in a detective-focused tale where breadcrumbs are dropped by the self-righteous Riddler (Played by Dano). Reeves favors atmosphere and mystery forged by villains in a way that separates itself from the previous iterations helmed by Burton, Schumacher, and Nolan. And each revelation doesn't bring Gotham City into the light but further into darkness, leading to increasingly bleak, but visually stunning shots courtesy of cinematographer Greig Fraser that guide audiences further down the rabbit hole.
While previous Batman films (the continuous comparisons are unavoidable at this point) often have indistinguishable locations, Reeves uses the detective scenario to truly capture Gotham City in it's macabre nature. And to keep you entranced, Pattinson explores Bruce Wayne in an early phase of his vigilante days, demonstrating a more closed-off, yet perceptive on the character. Perhaps the most fascinating element here is that Reeves approaches the film like a grand series, having his narrative take place among the environment of the city, thus introducing a wide array of current and future rogues, though he never shorts on making sure each develops their own stories and personalities. While Colin Farrell's unrecognizable transformation into the Penguin has been the biggest advertisement of the group, John Turturro's more prominent role as Carmine Falcone is essential yet subtly portrayed by the veteran actor. And while Jeffrey Wright's take on Jim Gordon is one of more grit and practical than the more idealistic and driven takes on Batman's number one police ally, it works. Though the scene stealer is without a doubt Dano whose take on the puzzle-loving Riddler is deranged, yet introspective. That latter trait makes him unpredictable and thus a more exciting villain. In short, each character is a strand in Reeves densely plotted story. It is perhaps this density that is the film's one true fault.
Clocking in at 2 hours and 56 minutes, The Batman is the latest in the overly long, indulgent blockbuster, previously noted by films like No Time to Die, The Eternals, and Tenet where the philosophy seems to be the longer the film, the more epic it is. Or, in the case of Eternals and Batman, setting up future films instead of focusing on the one-at-hand. Reeves' film is handled better than any of the other aforementioned projects with a nearly perfect essentiality with every plot point, it could be argued that Reeves could have gone through a couple more readthroughs of his script with several scenes dragging out details that he further indulges with William Hoy and Tyler Nelson's editing almost matching number-of-frames of a Michael Bay film. However, while Bay attempts to entertain, Reeves seems determined to cover the most minute detail for the sake of leaving no stone unturned.
He tries to compensate by making connections with the various well-established characters in ways that don't always land, most notably shown on-screen with Zoe Kravitz's take on Selina Kyle/Catwoman. Kravitz wants to give audiences a more human Kyle, less on the femme fatale aspect often associated in previous iterations portrayed by Pfeiffer and Hathaway. However, she doesn't offer much else to fill this devil-may-care sexuality beyond ANOTHER righteous character that Pattinson and Dano already have covered in spades. Kyle doesn't need to be a sex object, but is this a better alternative for a character that often loves to push Batman's buttons out of self-satisfaction? A character whose existence is shoehorned in through a familial relation to another character which, despite being comic book accurate, felt like a whole other subplot for another film.
Composer Michael Giacchino is the final note of this rather large, expanded project. Despite having to follow God-knows-how-many-other-composers in creating a memorable set of themes for the World's Greatest Detective, Giacchino succeeds with such rapturous delicacy of violins, horns, and drums. A more operatic element is present, allowing the film's raw intensity on-screen to elevate into otherworldly dimensions of a hellish journey for a hero who hides in the shadows, fighting darkness with fear and intimidation. While clearly Reeves has a lot planned for Batman, his first outing at the helm demonstrates, if anything, ambition and dread. The latter is perhaps the most unpronounced distinction of Batman, often obscured to make him more heroic in other films. While he seems to lean that way by the end, promising hope for his city, that bleakness is the edge that sharpens the Dark Knight's greatest tales into a vicious, stake-filled experience. While most previous Batman films took note of Richard Donner's juxtaposed Superman film, Reeves smartly realizes that this is a Batman film and he treats it as such.
Performances (Pattinson, Dano, Wright)
Kravitz's performance as Catwoman.
Set-up for future films.