Review | ‘The Batman’ is the best take on the character yet


Image via DC Comics

Poster for “The Batman.”

By Mera D'Aquila, Staff Writer

Picture this — it’s summer 2008.

A 5-year-old kid sits in a dark IMAX theater, her wide eyes glued to the enormous silver screen. Hans Zimmer’s music begins to swell in a flourishing crescendo, adding a pulsating rhythm to the breathtaking images before her — even if she has arguably no coherent idea what to make of them.

The movie was none other than Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight.”

Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy was my gateway to what has developed into a lifelong love affair with film. His adaptation of the caped crusader’s story remained my all-time favorite for years until Matt Reeves — who has already proved himself to be a promising, visionary director with films such as “War for the Planet of the Apes” and “Cloverfield” — created something even more powerful with “The Batman.”

“The Batman” is not another exhausted origin story. To invoke a comic book term, think of it as a slightly later “issue.” The film bypasses the formality of the tragic murder of young Bruce Wayne’s parents by a lowlife Gotham criminal, and instead gives a very different introduction to the character.

The movie revolves around the titular protagonist (Robert Pattinson) working alongside police lieutenant James Gordon (Jeffrey Wright) as he tries to piece together the twisted puzzles of a mysterious and elusive internet figure known as the Riddler (Paul Dano). What begins as a way to finally put an end to the Riddler’s heinous crimes becomes a deep dive into the doldrums of corruption — revealing members of the police force and Gotham’s most notorious criminals alike to be its guilty suspects.

Bruce Wayne — who has yet to become the fully fledged purveyor of justice we know and love — provides exposition through his own narration, donning the perspective of a vengeful antihero hungry to rid Gotham of its filth and desperation. The dialogue comes over a riveting opening sequence that plunges into the darkness lurking behind every street corner, and is very reminiscent of the one in Martin Scorsese’s “Taxi Driver.”

The influence of films like “Taxi Driver,” “The Conversation” and “The French Connection” are subtly interwoven into Reeves’ picture. It’s the perfect encapsulation of 1970s crime cinema and the detective stories at the forefront of the original comics, pierced with vignettes of characters with murky motives — and characters that are constantly subverting the audience’s expectations. “The Batman” is an eye-opening reflection of what can be a narrow line between politics and crime, conveying the message that justice is seldom administered with a level hand.

The most unlikely inspiration for the film? Long-revered Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain, who reportedly influenced the Bruce Wayne character. In an interview with Empire about the film, Matt Reeves even admitted to writing the screenplay while listening to the “Nevermind” track “Something in the Way,” traces of which can perhaps be heard in Michael Giacchino’s haunting score.

Cobain and Bruce Wayne share one striking commonality — they have both become symbols for something bigger than themselves, giving hope to a lost generation. Wayne — who has been thrust into the public eye as a result of his family’s enormous wealth and political influence — struggles with his tragic past and an inner desire to do more for the people of Gotham City.

Using the movie’s massive three-hour runtime to his advantage, Reeves introduces the audience to some of the most compelling and well-performed characters I have ever seen in a “superhero film.”

Take bullied debutant-turned-underworld legend Penguin, for example, who is brilliantly played by an unrecognizable Colin Farrell. In fact, he’s so unrecognizable beneath the bird-like prosthetics and almost De Niro-esque facade that I’m privy to doubt the authenticity of the credits.

Not to mention, Zoë Kravitz’s mesmerizing and complex Catwoman is the only iteration of the character I could ever need. Her charismatic and powerful presence complements Pattinson’s more subdued, angsty Wayne — which draws the two to each other whenever they share the screen.

Beyond the breadth of characters, “The Batman” is a masterpiece in its use of the visual medium. The cinematography is absolutely stunning and incredibly dark. It’s a bold choice that succeeds in adding a layer of depth and dread to Gotham’s atmosphere, where the people who are actually “pulling the strings” of the city operate behind a veil of blackness.

What ultimately emerges from the shadows are the elements of a story that tells of the purgatory between good and evil — a beautiful, poignant epic that reaffirmed my love for cinema as I stepped out of the theater.