The Batman Exceeds Expectations with Gripping Noir Detective Thriller

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The Batman

Where the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been so intent on the continuity of portrayal in their films (to the extent they'd rather kill off the Black Panther rather than recast him), it seems DC and Warner Brothers have no issue playing "Batman, Batman, Who Plays the Batman?" Coming off a DCEU film series with Ben Affleck, the franchise finds itself bouncing back to Michael Keaton as the Dark Knight for the upcoming The Flash and Batgirl films. But neither Affleck nor Keaton would have been right for Matt Reeves' The Batman, a story set in the second year of Batman's career, and Robert Pattinson fills the cape and cowl quite fittingly.

This is not a film of super-powered beings (indeed, they'd throw off the entire gestalt of the film if there were any). Nor is it even a film where the villain has some over-the-top scheme a la the Tim Burton films. No, The Batman is a gripping detective story, where the hero pieces together puzzling clues while a madman goes on a vengeful murder spree. The film has all the grit and drama of a 1970s Eastwood or Bronson action flick. The set feels like a real city, the plot never forces a suspension of disbelief, and -- most importantly -- the main character actually feels like the lead in his own film. This isn't a movie about Bruce Wayne who occassionally suits up when action calls. The character of The Batman is front and center nearly the entire film.

Paul Dano plays The Riddler, the character who is the most changed from comics lore. And even that change is only a superficial one: gone is the green derby hat and the tie with the question marks, replaced with a full face mask and heavy coat. But his actions, the things he does, are more on point for the character than previous film appearances. The riddles and rebuses are challenging, which serve to demonstrate Batman's keen mind as he works with a police force who begrudgingly come to accept his presence.

Robert Pattinson does an outstanding job portraying a brooding, angry Batman. The one complaint I've heard is that he has the same personality as Bruce Wayne. This is also addressed in the film by Alfred (Andy Serkis), who urges Bruce to appear more frequently in public; this is a Batman who hasn't yet learned how to be Bruce Wayne and make him the foppish playboy persona that hides the Batman. That will, one expects, come later as the films progress, as they undoubtedly will do. Zoe Kravitz's Selina Kyle never once uses the moniker of Catwoman, and only evokes the image obliquely with her knitted mask that sometimes silhouettes with cat ears. She's a cat-burglar out to find vengeance for her friend and take what she believes she is owed from mobster Carmine Falcone (John Turturro), a mobster who has connections not only to other criminals and polcie officers, but to Bruce Wayne's past as well.

Colin Farrell is simply transmogrified by makeup and prosthetics to become Oswald, aka The Penguin, a low-level mobster who runs a lounge as a cover for the Gotham underground. His role in The Batman is more of a macguffin, but his presence should continue to be felt throughout the franchise. Geoffrey Wright's Captain James Gordon is a guiding influence on Batman's vengeful acts, and serves to keep him from going too far across the line while maintaining faith in the vigilante's motives.

I went into this film with few expectations. I had liked the Affleck portrayal because it gave us a Batman who wasn't all in armor and had a flexibility of movement not seen in any previous incarnation. Reeves' vision for the Bat-suit is a nice compromise: armored yet with a mobility that allows Pattinson to move fluidly. The fight scenes showing this were well-choreographed, and, while still happening in shadows as a Batman fight should be, still let well enough for the audience to actually see and follow the action.

There is a good amount of character development in this film as well, particularly with the lead character. As this is still an early phase of Batman's career, it is the perfect opportunity to see changes in his personality and motives, and we get just that as the film's climax walks us through some repeated plot points that build to this introspective revelation.

The Batman gets our highest recommendation. It is by far one of the best Batman stories acted out on the big screen since The Dark Knight.

5.0 / 5.0