(4.5/5) A masterful neo-noir thriller for the girls, gays, and comic book nerds alike.
It’s almost jolting to see the rare comic book movie in which the creatives at the helm are given seemingly free reign to simply make a great film, without the stilting parameters of a looming studio presence. I went into The Batman with a mix of my usual reluctance when stepping into a comic book movie, and a 3 hour one at that. Going to the newest comic book movies is typically my idea of a chore, a cultural obligation so I can keep up with twitter conversations and somewhat understand the Marvel Universe. But what’s rare for me with these types of films was that a genuine intrigue outweighed my reluctance this time. I think most could sense this film would be something different, a comic book film that transcends the genre, one you can tell was made with the intention to be first and foremost, an excellent film, not a product to be consumed en masse.
Very quickly, I found myself completely lost in the world Matt Reeves and co had created. Reeves’ take on Gotham is dark, gritty, and unsettling, a reminder of just how powerful and effective an atmosphere with vision and intention can be. Gotham feels like a character in itself - a fictional New York with a palpable dystopian edge. The constant darkness, grimy streets, and torrential downpour make the city feel like a threatening and ominous presence, a place that feels rich with both danger and history. It makes the film's central plot, as Wayne uncovers the secrets of Gotham’s corrupted underground mob scene, feel especially compelling and interesting. We’re uncovering the dirty secrets of a city as well as following Wayne’s quest to stop The Riddler, who is played to unsurprisingly eerie perfection by Paul Dano, who is just alarmingly good at playing psychopaths.
Along with Dano, the entire ensemble is well casted, each of them fitting their roles like a glove - from John Turturro’s menacing turn as Carmine Falcone to Colin Farrell’s so unrecognizable transformation as the Penguin that I completely forgot he was playing him and was utterly shook when reminded after the film. And as a Barry Keoghan fan, it was exciting to see his appearance at the end, a swift but satisfying glimpse of his rendition of The Joker. But of course, this is Pattinson and Kravitz’ film, and they own it with ease. Time for a confession: I was not formerly in the Robert Pattinson fan club, like seemingly all of film twitter is. As someone who missed the Twilight phase, I never quite got the appeal, that is…until now. Pattinson’s Batman was endlessly alluring, fascinating, and fresh. Suddenly, all of the Robert Pattinson hype clicked into place as I watched his emo, quiet, sad, boyish interpretation of Bruce. Pattinson emotes so much wordlessly through his mask and black smudged eye makeup, bringing to life a brooding, complex, and captivating Bruce Wayne that felt entirely new.
Zoe Kravitz is perfection as Catwoman, and her casting here is a reminder to us all that sometimes nepotism is okay. The nightclub that Kravitz’ Selina Kyle works at, which much of the film takes place in, is a genius set piece, one reason being that it offers for endlessly chic wardrobe and wig changes for Selina Kyle. It’s refreshing to see a female superhero get to express herself through her fashion, makeup, and hair - a reminder that femininity and badassery can in fact coexist. Kravitz’ Catwoman is brazen and hot-headed to Wayne’s soft but cold exterior, and it makes for that sort of onscreen chemistry kin to lightning in a bottle. Their scenes together are electric, and Reeves directs the moments between Bruce and Selina brilliantly, letting the chemistry and attraction between them take center focus. From close-ups on hands touching to lingering glances, it’s one of those rare screen romances that feels straight out of a romance novel - all the components click into place that make it both thrilling and fully convincing.
The music, scored by Michael Giacchino, also does much to set the tone with an eerie instrumental tinged with 90’s grunge. Nirvana’s Something in the Way plays at the beginning and end of the film, a musical bookend that’s odd and intriguing in the best way, somehow perfectly encapsulating the vibe of Pattinson’s emo goth Wayne. While there is so much good here, one of my few gripes with the film would be the frustrating presence of copaganda, subtle at times, and cringe-inducingly blatant at others. There’s a moment at the end where Falcone is about to be caught, and he remarks that he’ll be free in no time because the entire police system works for him. Wright’s Detective Gordon remarks in what’s supposed to be a gotcha moment that these guys don’t, as he leads Falcone to a swarm of cops surrounding him ready to take him into custody. What’s supposed to be a satisfying conclusion misses the mark, because it’s just so starkly out of touch with the reality of our policing system. The “copaganda” problem is deeply embedded into much of our media, so while it’s unsurprising, it’s still disappointing to see it on display in a film that’s attempting to reflect real societal issues.
I definitely don’t mean to embroil myself in the DC versus Marvel war, but I think there are interesting conversations to be had when comparing the studios’ approaches. At this point, Marvel is a massive cultural touchpoint, and with this, naturally comes a constant stream of content with a sanitized, glossy vision, a creative output that feels molded to follow a rigid formula, with the goal of widespread satisfaction and appeal. There’s something refreshing about the rare comic book film that feels completely free of these limitations. DC clearly does not have the same stakes due to their track record, and they have no reason to compete with Marvel when Marvel has long surpassed any competition. Therefore, it’s exciting to see DC push boundaries and allow for fresh directorial visions, with Suicide Squad and now The Batman, there has been a level of risk-taking and edge that feels like an exciting and stark contrast to the formulaic comic book films we typically see. There’s nothing better than watching a film and feeling that you’re in the hands of a director with an assured vision, who is allowed to execute it to its fullest potential.