REVIEW: ‘The Batman’ is a brilliant caped crusader story

Some of the best elements of the “Batman” interpretations by directors Tim Burton and Christopher Nolan are melded into the new crime epic featuring the Dark Knight.

In director Matt Reeves’ “The Batman,” Robert Pattinson stars as Bruce Wayne, who spends his nights out in Gotham City as the caped crusader. The film picks up with him meeting with Lt. James Gordon (Jeffrey Wright) after a night of fighting criminals to consult on a murder case.

The victim is the city’s mayor, and the suspect is the Riddler (Paul Dano), who leaves behind haunting clues. The killing sets Batman on an investigation, where he partners with Gordon and a cat burglar, Selina (Zoe Kravitz). The investigation brings him in conflict with the city’s underbelly, with the likes of the Penguin (Colin Farrell) in his way.

Burton’s Batman films were Gothic and dark, with a sort of dreary romanticization. The Nolan films, meanwhile, were grounded, gritty crime pictures. “The Batman” is a movie that hits a wonderful sweet spot between the two.

The film is a crime noir murder mystery on an epic scale, with the Riddler’s rampage having ties to figures across Gotham. The atmosphere is superb, too. It’s set around Halloween, rain is often falling and the city of Gotham reflects its corrupt, unbecoming nature throughout its streets.

In the middle of it all is a young Batman. He’s a newer presence to Gotham City, one who describes himself as a force of vengeance. That vengeance comes out often when he finds wrongdoing, unleashing a near-unrestrained fury upon criminals.

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Courtesy Warner Bros.

With this latest investigation, though, Batman not only has to find a brutal killer, but also confront what he’s been doing. What is the outcome with acts of vengeance? Does vengeance equal justice? Will his actions be enough to change Gotham for the better?

These are all questions that begin to confront Bruce in the film, and the way the character grows because of these subjects offers a compelling look at the Dark Knight.

On the macro-level, “The Batman” also explores how systemic corruption can be in institutions. There’s doubt throughout the film about how much Gotham can change for the better, expressed by heroes and villains alike.

Real systemic issues can persist despite heavy attempts to correct problems. It’s something that “The Batman” captures honestly, as Bruce not only is met with hardships, but downright failures in his efforts to improve Gotham.

All of this is done among a twisting and turning crime film, with a fantastic mix of action set pieces and dramatic moments.

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One moment a viewer is treated to an edge-of-your-seat car chase, and the next a well crafted discussion between characters will take place. With the latter, the dialogue is often moody, snappy and biting. Confident characters speak with authority and intensity.

The writing not only makes for interesting interactions and engaging monologues by the Dark Knight, but also creates solid characterization as well.

Reeves, who co-wrote with Peter Craig, properly captures the brooding of Wayne, the suave but scarred nature of Selina Kyle, the hardened outlook of Gordon and the respect-demanding personality of Penguin.

The characters all feel right, and in addition to the writing, credit has to go to the talented cast.

Pattinson is spot on as Wayne. This Batman has somewhat of a one-track mind, he’s obsessed with making Gotham better through his quest for revenge. Pattinson succeeds in portraying that obsession, and nicely gives credence to the character’s growth as he learns what it means to be Batman.

Wright is a great choice as the grizzled, veteran police lieutenant, while Kravitz nails the seductive Catwoman who’s full of her own secrets. Farrell, under a lot of make-up, is entertaining as the bombastic Penguin while John Turturro appears in the film as a more refined, but still ruthless mob boss.

Andy Serkis is also present as the ever loyal butler Alfred. Somewhat similar to the Alfred featured in “Batman V. Superman,” this Alfred is rather blunt and upfront with Wayne, especially considering it’s a younger hero, and Serkis really gets the tough love aspect right.

Then there’s Dano, who does indeed portrays the manic energy of this Riddler. Certainly different than other versions of the character, this Riddler is less playful and more straight to the point, making him all the more dangerous. This isn’t my favorite version of the villain, but Dano still makes the character menacing enough.

As for its runtime, coming in at just under three hours, “The Batman” overstays its welcome just a small bit. One wishes the film was tighter here and there.

It’s one of those films that has multiple endings, for example, one of which doing nothing more than teasing a potential sequel. That’s not to say the movie was too long, but more that the time could have been used more wisely in just a few cases.

As a whole, this is a “Batman” film that hangs with the best of them. Up there with “Mask of the Phantasm” and “The Dark Knight,” Reeves’ “The Batman” excels as a noir crime drama, a character study on obsession and an entertaining action film. 4.75 out of 5.

Author: Matthew Liedke

Journalist and film critic in Minnesota. Graduate of Rainy River College and Minnesota State University in Moorhead. Outside of movies I also enjoy sports, craft beers and the occasional video game.

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