Spoiler Warning – The Batman Review contains full spoilers for the movie.
Reinventing Batman is almost an impossible task, and yet it seems DC is set on giving someone new a chance every few years. With The Batman, Matt Reeves gets to jump-start a brand new iteration of the DC Universe (that isn’t tied to the DCEU or any other existing version of Batman), and to say he succeeds in delivering a pitch-perfect Batman and Gotham City, is almost an understatement.
Yes, the movie is nearly three hours, there’s a Joker tease we didn’t need, some purists may not be happy with some tweaks made to Bruce’s origins and the Wayne legacy, and it may not top the Dark Knight – but that’s going out of the way to find fault with this film. And it gets just about everything else absolutely right.
The plot is smart, familiar and yet fresh, the music is perfect, the cinematography is impeccable, the entire cast is great, the action is none stop, the detective side of Batman is brought to life perfectly, and the entire film grounds Batman in a way that I’d argue surpasses even the Nolan films.
Without getting too far into the plot (it takes three hours for the movie to do it, so I dread to imagine how long it might take me to type it), we jump into a Batman around two years into his crime-fighting career.
In this time Batman hasn’t yet won over the majority of the (as always very corrupt) Gotham police force, but has made an ally in Jim Gordon and seemingly proven himself as an effective vigilante.
But he’s also got the attention of Edward Nashton, aka the Riddler. The Riddler, inspired by The Batman, goes on a crusade of his own, exposing the crime and corruption throughout Gotham Cities leaders and elite.
Bringing the Riddler in as the primary villain, and someone who leaves Batman teases and clues towards his next steps, leads to a genuine mystery for Batman to unravel. This allows for a solid exploration of the “World’s Greatest Detective” side to Batman, which has been touched on here and there but never really taken centre stage in any of the live-action movies.
This leads to several scenes of Batman just watching, thinking, and working things out, which in turn adds something different to this version of the character and allows the crime-solving to be something the audience experiences with him.
On top of the Riddler, the movie introduces The Penguin and Carmine Falcone as central antagonists. This really adds to Gotham as a real lived-in place, where Batman is dealing with several intertwining threats and needs to unravel everything and deal with them all in turn.
Another piece of the puzzle is Selina Kyle, aka Catwoman, who has her own motivations for helping Batman. With Catwoman and Gordon’s heavy inclusion as Batman’s allies, the movie manages to tow an interesting line of team movie and yet keep Batman as a lone wolf. He differs from Selina and Gordon in fundamental ways, and yet their end goals are roughly the same, creating the perfect mix of inner conflict whilst not slowing down the film too much.
With such a long movie and a large cast, it would be understandable enough for someone or something to fall short. But the entire cast is impeccable.
Robert Pattinson is everything you want from a brooding mysterious Bruce Wayne, and a grounded realistic Batman two years into his career. His reasons and convictions make sense, his take on the role feels real and believable, and we get to see his keen detective skills and combat ability.
Zoë Kravitz matches Pattinson in every way with her Selina Kyle/Catwoman. She is again believable and rooted in reality, and also has a compelling story and arc of her own. Her action is great and she has several key reasons to be as involved in the plot as she is. And perhaps most importantly the dynamic between the Cat and the Bat sets up something that can be further explored in the future.
Jeffrey Wright’s Jim Gordon is again perfect. Not only does Wright nail the ‘good cop who breaks some rules to do the right thing’ ethos that is key to Gordon, but his relationship with Pattinson’s Batman makes sense and the mutual respect is clear throughout.
Paul Dano is the lead, or at least most prominent, villain of the film and manages to create a genuine sense of danger and threat, and yet genius, by always being several steps ahead. Despite only getting one scene where they come face to face, this version of Riddler proves to be the perfect counterpoint to the debut of Pattison’s Batman.
The rest of the cast is rounded out with Andy Serkis as a great (albeit mostly absent) Alfred Pennyworth, here a former spy (as referenced by his time “in the circus”) who will no doubt feature more prominently in the future. There is also John Turturro as Carmine Falcone, a sleazy but smart mob boss who thinks he’s untouchable, and Colin Farrell as The Penguin is complexity unrecognisable and incredible throughout.
The style of The Batman, is another element that feels fresh and unique, and yet familiar and ‘right’. The style, use of colour, and cinematography are consistently one of the most impressive and enjoyable parts of the film.
In terms of design, Gotham is the grungy DC version of modern-day New York (or New Jersey) you expect, full of crime and corruption. And yet the movie manages to bring in some extreme gothic elements that suit Batman so well in small ways, like the architecture of Wayne Manor.
This avoids the extreme stylisation we saw in the Tim Burton movies, and yet finds a place for important parts of Batman and his legacy. It also gives some context to Batman. Of course, the boy who grew up without any parents in that house would dress up as a bat and hunt bad guys at night.
Michael Giacchino joins the ranks of Hans Zimmer, Danny Elfman, (and Junkie XL), in getting to make a new Batman theme.
And like the rest of the movie, Giacchino makes it look easy – in a single movie he manages to create a Batman theme that has the perfect blend of tension, authenticity, tone, and hype. And feels like it could have been with the character all along.
Michael Giacchino’s score has to cater such a wide variety of scenes that range from shocking revelations about the Waynes, or scenes that feel like they’re taken out of a mafia movie, to Bruce working out the Riddler’s mysteries, and perhaps most importantly Batman beating up bad guys – and it does it all with ease.
Another thing The Batman absolutely nails is the action, tension, and build up. The opening sequences show multiple crimes in progress and wait until the last possible second for Batman to reveal himself. This sets the tone for this Batman and for the film as a whole.
The action feels tough, brutal, and grounded. Batman is hit and shot several times, so he’s not a perfect (or unrealistic) fighter who can avoid every punch. Instead, it’s his own relentlessness and brutality that gets him through.
Things like the flight suit (which doesn’t quite work), his Batmobile and how often we see him wearing normal clothes over his Batsuit to get around less conspicuously not only add something unique to this Batman, but add a sense of realism and grounded-ness that we haven’t seen before. This Batman makes sense, it feels real and works in a way that I’d argue even the Christopher Nolan trilogy, which is renowned for making Batman feel real and believable, didn’t always manage.
Batman is up there with maybe only Spider-Man as a character we can’t help but compare directly to previous iterations. But unlike Spider-Man, where there is only really three main live-action versions, Batman has now had seven live-action iterations in a little over thirty years. That’s across ten movies, and not counting the return of Ben Affleck and Michale Keaton in the Flashpoint movie later in 2022.
Or the hugely influential Adam West version from the 1960s, Will Arnett in the Lego Batman Movie, Iain Glen in Titans or the various other live-action and animated shows where the caped crusader shows up, is mentioned or referred to.
And so with all of that, it’s impossible to go into The Batman without comparing it to everything we know and expect Batman to be. And yet I’d argue The Batman manages to take all of that history and expectation and embrace it while also making some smart twists and turns that don’t change things simply for the sake of changing them.
Overall The Batman is an exceptional movie inside and out. It looks, sounds, feels and is amazing, and everything from the action to the actors simply works. The Batman is (as it should be) Batman’s movie, it takes time to focus on him as a hero, as a fighter, as a detective, and what all of that is doing to him mentally and physically in a way that few other movies have done. Even if Robert Pattinson’s Batman isn’t the best yet (which I think there’s already a decent case for arguing he is), after a few more movies like this he definitely will be.