It’s immediate in the opening that you’re about to witness something special, and that director Matt Reeves knows what he’s doing. As soon as you catch The Riddler hiding in the shadows in a massively rewarding jump scare, it’s clear that Reeves isn’t fucking around. He then follows that up with just one of the stone cold best sequences you’ll see this year. The “Fear is a tool” sequence that introduces us to Batman is one of the best constructed things I’ve ever seen in a comic book movie. Just watch it, I will spoil nothing, and you will know this feeling. It was perhaps only a matter of time until Matt Reeves found his way to the world’s greatest detective, and it’s fitting he’s the one to restore the caped crusader to cinematic glory like we haven’t seen since Christopher Nolan’s trilogy. Like Nolan, Reeves has that extraordinary ability to make blockbuster films that are ambitious, artful, cinematic and personal while still being able to please large audiences. His films, like Nolan’s, feel wholly original and his own even when it’s a fucking Batman movie. Reeves has long been one of the best, most unsung filmmakers working in the studio system. With The Batman, he should ascend to household name status like Nolan did. What Reeves has done here with this film is absolutely incredible, and so rare in modern blockbuster filmmaking.
The Batman’s script by Reeves and Peter Craig ignores the heavily-tread origin story, and instead puts us two years into Bruce Wayne’s crusade as he tries to solve the serial killings committed by The Riddler and unmask a mystery that threatens both his family’s legacy as well the entire city’s reputation.
There aren’t enough nice things to say about Greig Fraser’s cinematography in this film. Freshly off of shooting Dune, he delivers some truly iconic shots of the caped crusader. Getting two bangers back to back within a year of each other from Fraser is a blessing. His use of reds primarily goes a long way. Fraser’s style of building as much as he can out of natural lighting before getting electrical lighting in does volumes for making this film feel so grounded yet heightened. Even in the darkest lit scenes you still can tell absolutely what’s going on. It’s proof that films can be dark and moody while still being an absolute blast. Not since Tim Burton’s Batman films has Gotham felt this distinct of a setting. It’s raining constantly, there’s trash everywhere, you just feel how rundown and lost of a city it is. It all feels so immediate and physical yet excitingly heightened under Fraser’s touch.
The action is both clean and visceral. It’s incredible that Reeves not only thought to light a fight scene using only muzzle flares from gunfire, but also executed it so well that it’s still totally coherent. The fight scenes feel physical and very true to what combat would be like for a guy in this batsuit, if that makes sense. This film features multiple sequences – the penguin car chase, the finale, the first fight in the club – that are among the best action scenes I’ll see this year. All strikingly physical, yet giddily constructed. And for those of us with taste, there’s some excellent grappling hook stuff. And it must be said, even with how serious and dark this Batman film is, it’s also deceptively funny throughout with some rich humor. The ongoing bit with the twins at the club is just delightful. And it must also be said that the pacing in this film is just spot on. Even at 3 hours it never feels like it’s slogging. Every scene feels necessary and vital.
This is one of Michael Giacchino’s finest hours. This is the first banger Batman theme in decades. Lifting from classic Western film sensibilities, his two-note tune that slowly builds and gets louder is instantly iconic. I get chills and a huge smile whenever that theme plays in the film. The sound editing is so layered and rich, it’s just scrumptious. Just stop and focus your ears at any point and you’ll hear what I mean. You can really hear the city of Gotham in this film.
Robert Pattinson is a seamless fit in this, you can tell Reeves wrote it specifically for him. It’s hard to imagine anybody else doing this version of Bruce Wayne. This is the most interesting depiction of Bruce Wayne we’ve seen cinematically. Instead of a billionaire playboy philanthropist, he’s become a recluse who only cares about being the Batman and wants practically nothing to do with the Wayne name and company. No other filmmaker has thought to have Bruce Wayne do Paul Schrader journal monologues until now, and you just wonder what took so long. Reeves found the lightswitch into the psyche of Bruce, giving us the most interesting portrayal of him yet cinematically. You really feel how haunted and closed off Bruce is in Pattinson’s eyes. The arc of Bruce Wayne is felt in three shots of him looking at a kid who has just lost his father, seeing himself in this boy. The final interaction with them solidifies Bruce’s arc of becoming a hero, and it’s so beautifully and emotionally told in a simple action of holding out his hand to help the boy, and the boy taking his hand. Pattinson nails this arc. If you are still somehow ignorant to the absolute truth of the universe that Pattinson is one of our greatest actors, let this film be the gateway for you to discover all the other incredible work he’s done for a straight decade.
The cast is ridiculously stacked and each performer is a perfect fit. Zoë Kravitz is the definitive Catwoman/Selina Kyle. The chemistry between Pattinson and Kravitz is so utterly romantic, you just get swept up in them. After a quick fight between them when they meet, Batman grabs her and holds her against himself behind a wall when he realizes a cop is approaching. As she realizes this, her breathing begins to match his as she kind of just naturally sinks into him, and good god is it such a romantic touch. Brother, I was swooning! The final scene with them is just beautiful, I wanted to weep. You’ll know it when you see it. Jeffrey Wright is just a terrific Gordon, his chemistry with Pattinson is just an easy fit and all their scenes together are a joy. Paul Dano continues to prove just what an incredible actor he is with his portrayal of The Riddler. I’m always down for loud and psychotic Dano and this has it and then some. Reeves allows him to just take it as far as Dano wants and it’s absolutely captivating. You just have no clue what’s gonna happen when this guy’s on screen and it’s exhilarating. Colin Farrell is having a blast as The Penguin, unrecognizable underneath some massively seamless makeup and prosthetics, but holding nothing back in his scenes. He’s hysterical in every scene. John Turturro throws three innings of shutout relief as Carmine Falcone, Peter Sarsgaard lights it up off the bench, and Andy Serkis is the heart and soul of the film as Alfred in case you forgot Serkis is a terrific actor.
I don’t want this to make this a Marvel vs. DC thing, because DC has been a repeat offender of what I’m about to get into, but watching The Batman is watching cinema. Marvel films are at this point just digital noise. Actors don’t share cameras with each other, they don’t touch each other, they don’t have chemistry because all they’re doing is acting off nothing in front of a green screen. The Batman is a triumph against these industry pitfall standards. It’s a testament to the fact that real locations and practical effects, and actually having actors share a camera, will always be infinitely better than the lifeless digital noise coming out of Disney. It’s a testament to the great things that can happen when you give a creative and ambitious director the money to match their vision and get out of the way.
The Batman is a fitting title, as this feels like the definitive cinematic take on the character. This is the Batman film I’ve fantasized about since I was a teenager really starting to get into film. I’ve always wanted “world’s greatest detective” Batman and here it is in the best possible version. I’ve always loved Matt Reeves. Cloverfield holds a special place in my heart, and I’m a firm believer that his Let Me In is a superior film in every way to the original Let the Right One In. His two Planet of the Apes films are two of the best studio films of the 2010s. The Batman is his moment. I just had a big smile on my face in amazement, for three hours just going “This is fucking awesome” in every scene. It feels too soon to say it’s the best Batman movie, recency bias and all, but that is the inevitable conclusion I’m coming to. I’ve seen it twice in IMAX already, and I’ll be seeing it a few more times in theaters. I’m truly grateful that a film like this exists, in the same sense I’m grateful for a film like Dune and Blade Runner 2049 – it’s a blockbuster that is truly breathtaking and it’s a miracle it exists.