Matt Reeves’s The Batman reboots the franchise and takes the audience back to Bruce Wayne’s (Robert Pattinson) second year as the Dark Knight in a film that focuses on the dark in numerous ways. The people of Gotham predominantly see Batman as a vigilante. The Batman presents a detective story as Batman tries to stop another vigilante, the Riddler (Paul Dano), who is also going after criminals, but the ones he focuses on are the political elite of Gotham.
Gotham’s mayor is brutally murdered. Batman’s only ally is Lieutenant Jim Gordon (Jeffrey Wright), who allows him into the crime scene to the confusion a police officers, establishing the character’s relationship to law enforcement. A card with a riddle inside is left there for the Batman, a pattern the Riddler repeats to communicate with him.
Batman’s investigation and the Riddler’s clues lead to the Iceberg Lounge, a nightclub operated by mobster Carmine Falcone (John Turturro). There, Batman encounters the Penguin (Colin Farrell, unrecognizable thanks to the make-up team), an underling of Falcone, and Selina Kyle (Zoë Kravitz), who is conducting her own investigation when her friend Annika, who had been seen in compromising photos with the late mayor, disappears. Batman and Selina work together until their goals conflict, but their paths continue to cross.
When the Riddler kills, he exposes the corruption of his victims on his social media channel. When he reveals the late Thomas Wayne’s secrets, Bruce questions what he knows about his family and what his butler Alfred (Andy Serkis) has told him. Unable to punish Thomas, the Riddler intends for Bruce to pay for the sins of his father.
Inspired by Batman: The Long Halloween, Batman: Ego and Other Tails, and Batman: Year One, the script by Reeves and Peter Craig is strong. They created a compelling mystery populated by intriguing characters brought to life by a talented cast. Bruce is still dealing with the grief of his parents. His desire for vengeance drove him to become Batman yet blinds him from his duties as Bruce Wayne to the city and its residents. Pattinson plays the layers of Bruce/Batman well. The Riddler, though psychotic, has motives and goals that are understandable. Dano’s best scenes are when he is out of his garb. Selina, more a variation on Catwoman than how the character is typically presented, is another character driven by vengeance. Hers is for multiple people she cares about. Wright’s Gordon and Serkis’s Alfred make wonderful partners for Batman/Bruce. While Farrell is good as Penguin, his character could have been any tough, mob guy as there’s nothing that brings to mind the Penguin character.
Cinematographer Greig Fraser and production designer James Chinlund have created a dark looking film for the Dark Knight, and Reeves, to work. Bright colors are limited, from orange flames and multicolored lights in the clubs. Mostly browns, blacks, and whites, which contribute to feeling of the film, and of Bruce.
There’s a lot of great action sequences. In the trailer, there’s a scene of the Batmobile leaping out of flames. That whole chase sequence is riveting, from the moment the Batmobile’s powerful engines rumble to its conclusion. Reeves also isn’t afraid to shoot in darkness and there are great visuals of Batman fighting thugs in a scene that only becomes lit when bullets ricochet off Batman’s armor. The climatic battle in the rafters of an arena is a memorable sequence. The stunt team, led by Supervising Stunt Coordinator Robert Alonzo, deserve kudos.
The Batman runs nearly three hours in part because Riddler has a much bigger plan, which Batman figures out too late. While the film’s story will be too dark for some, I enjoyed this new iteration of the Batman franchise under Matt Reeves, which highlights the character as a skilled detective as much as a fighter. I am curious what he has in store, though not fully on board yet with the Riddler’s new friend.