“The Batman”: A Gritty Detective Thriller That Borders on Horror (Spoiler Free Review)

For the past decade, we seem to be going through a trend of re-inventing Batman every couple years in an attempt to make him even darker and grittier than before.  The latest iteration, Matt Reeves’ The Batman continues this tradition and the result is downright brilliant, but not for the reasons you’d think.

It’s not without its flaws, but The Batman delivers with a creative story, compelling performances, and and overall tone and style that complement the type of story it’s trying to tell.  For the first time in perhaps ever, we actually get a Batman detective story adapted to the big screen.

The Long Halloween
Opening on Halloween night, the Gotham City we see is quite literally the darkest and grainiest thanks to a cloudy, rainy night.  We hear Batman narrating via diary entries that feel very close to Watchmen’s Rorschach, minus the vulgarity.

We’re now two years into Bruce Wayne donning the cape and cowl at night and it’s starting to have an effect on street level crime, as the Bat Signal deters (some) would be criminals.  But the corruption of Gotham runs deep and a new serial killer seeks to expose this.

In a series of high profile murders, the Riddler picks off Gotham’s corrupt elite, exposing the many lies and crimes they had covered up.  And which each murder, he leaves a creepy Hallmark card containing a riddle for Batman.

Batman 6
The Zodiac similarities aren’t very subtle, but it works for the story.

Long hailed as “The World’s Greatest Detective”, most live action Batman movies have taken the traditional action movie approach when it came to the crime-fighter.  This iteration is very much a film noir-esque detective story that feels most in line with the universally celebrated Batman: The Animated Series.

Batman 4
Even the Batmobile gets a makeover and doesn’t even really look like a Batmobile…

David Fincher’s Batman?
Despite what the visuals and overall tone and style might suggest, The Batman was in fact directed by Matt Reeves (Cloverfield, Let Me In Dawn/War of the Planet of the Apes) and not David Fincher.  But most audiences would be forgiven for recalling images and scenes from classics like Se7en or Zodiac (which just celebrated its 15th anniversary) when watching The Batman.

As previously mentioned, DC has taken Batman further and further into the metaphorical dark with the tones of the movies, and this one is by far the darkest, but it’s also the one that best fits the type of story Matt Reeves is trying to tell.  One of the major criticisms of Batman v. Superman was that Ben Affleck’s Batman was far too brutal and bloodthirsty.

To be fair, this was the same universe that removed all the joy from the usually optimistic Superman character.  But we’re not here to praise or criticize the DCEU or Snyderverse.  The point is only being made to demonstrate how this movie’s dark and gritty tone were very much justified for this kind of story.

The Batman at its core is a film noir-inspired detective story, filled with corrupt police/government officials, femme fatales, and a very surreal world that blends 1940s aesthetics with modern day technology.  Even redesigning the Riddler into a Zodiac-like killer feeds into this detective/mystery genre.

Batman 7
The dynamic between Batman and Gordon (Jeffrey Wright) is really interesting. Gordon seems to be the only one on the police force that trusts Batman, partly because he’s among the only who isn’t corrupt.

When it comes to the villains, Paul Dano really does steal the show.  He’s not on screen for that long, but he’s genuinely scary as an obsessed and psychotic maniac who believes he’s on some noble mission.  We’ve mentioned Zodiac, but there’s also a bit of Unabomber in him as well.  Colin Farrell’s Penguin is more a minor villain, and while it’s hard to forget Danny DeVito’s monstrous turn as the character, Farrell plays him up like a gangster, more in line with his original design.

And we’re not even sure you could classify Zoë Kravitz’s Catwoman as a villain.  She’s more an antihero who winds up being a partner to Batman rather than an opponent.  The real unexpected and underrated villain is John Tuturro’s Carmine Falcone.

Batman 3
Their chemistry rivals that of Michael Keaton and Michelle Pfeiffer.

Given that this is a more film noir detective story, it makes sense the the head of Gotham’s organized crime would be a major villain.  And Tuturro plays him with such a fascinating blend of gentle humanity and brutal psychopath.  He’s the kind of person who would go from being kind and courteous at a family dinner to brutally murdering someone for the sake of “business”.

Different Kind of Batman Movie
Gone is the whimsical, but epic score of Danny Elfman.  Gone is the booming and intense score of James Newton Howard and Hans Zimmer.  Frequent J.J. Abrams collaborator Michael Giacchino replaces both with a haunting and emotional score that will definitely be stuck in your head by the end of the movie.  Between its ominous piano riff and emotional strings (which feel reminiscent of his score in Lost), the music is the perfect blend of enhancing the movie scenes that it’s in, while also being a joy to listen to on its own.

Reeves’ direction is also a large step away from what we’ve seen before with Snyder or Nolan.  The two previous Batman iterations were largely shot in IMAX style wide shots, meant to convey a grand scale of events.  Matt Reeves shoots The Batman in a much more closeup, subjective style, which is fitting given its overall tone.  In a strange way, it’s the most indie style you’ve probably ever seen from a mainstream Batman movie.

Batman 5
It’s arguably Matt Reeves’ best movie!

Pattinson’s Interpretation
Of course, we can’t talk about this movie without discussing the newest take on the character.  For those who only know Pattinson from Twilight, he’s a far better actor than that movie allows him to be.  Movies like Tenet, The Devil All the Time, The Lighthouse, and many others demonstrate his acting range and it’s on full display here.

Pattinson had once stated in an interview that his Bruce Wayne was loosely based on the late Nirvana lead Kurt Cobain.  And as strange a comparison as that sounds, it actually makes a lot of sense.  This version of the character is the most overtly tortured we’ve ever seen.  Granted, Ben Affleck’s version was worn and weary from 20 years on the job, but Pattinson is still reeling from the deaths of his parents and trying to reconcile with their complicated legacy.

Batman 2
His relationship with Alfred (Andy Serkis) seems strained from the start. Alfred clearly loves and cares for Bruce, but he’s far too distraught to fully appreciate it.

In Batman Begins, Ra’s Al Ghul described a vigilante as “a man lost the scramble for his own gratification” and that’s very much Pattinson’s Bruce Wayne/Batman.  He opts to use words like “vigilante” and “vengeance” rather than “justice”.  But he goes through a genuinely interesting character arc, which feels like him coming into his own.

Third Act Misstep (Still Spoiler Free)
The Batman is well-written, well-directed, well-shot, well-scored, and damn well-acted.  It has all the ingredients of a classic, but unfortunately it is not entirely well-paced.  There’s absolutely nothing wrong with a nearly 3 hour runtime if it’s justified and if the pacing is right.  For the most part, the movie never feels bloated, until it reaches the third act.

We won’t get into any spoilers, but the entire last 45 minutes, probably could have been shortened to about 15 minutes without really losing anything.  There are at least a few times in the third act that you feel like the movie could end, but it wants to keep going and even features a “twist” that wasn’t entirely necessary.

It’s not a big issue, but for a movie to do so well for so long and not quite stick the landing is admittedly frustrating because it very easily could have been the one of (if not the) best live action Batman movie we’ve ever seen.  That honor still goes to The Dark Knight (just my opinion, you are allowed to disagree), but The Batman comes very close.

What did you think of The Batman?  Who is your favorite actor to play the Dark Knight?  Let us know in the comments!

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