The Batman stars Robert Pattinson as billionaire vigilante Bruce Wayne, but that doesn’t really matter because The Dark Knight is taking center stage here. Batman is currently in Year 2 of his crusade and might have met his match when The Riddler (Paul Dano) starts a killing spree. With the help of Detective Jim Gordon (Jeffery Wright), an alliance with Catwoman (Zoë Kravitz), and of course, the aid of his loyal butler, Alfred Pennyworth (Andy Serkis), Batman will have to outsmart the Riddler and save Gotham City.
What makes The Batman different from its predecessors is the focus on the detective side of the character. After all, he is called The World’s Greatest Detective, so director Matt Reeves (War for the Planet of the Apes) leans hard into that aspect, creating a Film-Noir tone, evident from the movie’s opening moments. The moody atmosphere and Michael Giacchino’s outstanding score makes Gotham feel like a character in its own right. Bringing that classic Batman comic book tone we’ve seen in classic stories like Batman: Year One, The Long Halloween, and Hush.
We’re following Bruce on this journey, trying to solve these murders and uncovering the truth of Gotham’s criminal underworld. This film rests on Pattinson’s shoulders, and he delivers a very somber and reserved take on Bruce Wayne. This version of Batman is brilliant, a capable fighter, and operates on a strict sense of justice. It works for the most part, but a few issues start to show up.
We spend so much time with Bruce that the rest of the cast becomes an afterthought. This is a Batman story, so he needs to be the primary focus, but characters like Gordon, Alfred, and Penguin (Colin Farrell) suffer from underutilization. Zoë Kravitz’s Catwoman stands out from the supporting cast because she is given the most crucial role outside of Batman himself. With that said, I still found myself wanting more from Selina Kyle. She’s honestly deserved her own story removed from The Riddler plot.
Aside from Batman and Catwoman, The Riddler is a standout as well. He works as the perfect foil to Batman and keeps Gotham’s Knight on his Bat-toes for most of the film. Paul Dano delivers a strong performance as both a legitimately terrifying and sadistically deranged serial killer. Honestly, at times he feels like Heath Ledger’s Joker, and that both works for and against the movie in general.
The Batman has the near-impossible task of succeeding The Dark Knight trilogy, and it comes very close to the quality of those Nolan films. Pattinson’s emo take on the character works because he is still finding his way, even though he’s darn good at this vigilante thing. It doesn’t quite reach Nolan levels, though, because the character of Batman is so isolated to the point where you question why Gotham is worth saving.
We see that (like the comics) Gotham is a cesspool of crime and villainy, but the key difference in those stories is that there was always a glimmer of light. The film struggles to convincingly show that Gotham is worth fighting for and why Bruce is willing to give his life for it. Adding a few moments of Bruce Wayne seeing the good in a character like Lucius Fox or Barbara Gordon would’ve made an enormous difference. Making it feel like Gotham City isn’t just the crime and villains that overrun it, but that those citizens are decent people worth protecting. Still, it doesn’t ruin the film but just highlights why the ending of The Dark Knight is so special.
The Batman is a genuinely fantastic film and shows why this character stands the test of time. However, it struggles to balance its comic booky elements and construct a genuinely believable city with living, breathing characters. It’s a film every Batman fan will love, but a casual watcher might grow tired of Riddler’s games. Making for an enjoyable but flawed viewing experience.