Review: Reeves crafts a brutal epic with ‘The Batman’

Robert Pattinson in The Batman / Warner Bros.

Director Matt Reeves’ “The Batman” is a bold and violent super-hero epic that tracks the character’s evolution from a vigilante to a hero.

The Batman’s ascension is contrasted by the Riddler’s descent from vigilantism into homicidal madness on a monstrous scale.

Both characters are seeking vengeance for the wrongs Gotham City’s corrupted political and justice system has imposed on them and the other denizens of the dark and twisted city. The two just choose different paths of meting it out.

The different-side-of-the-same-coin trope is well worn, but Reeves and his co-writer Peter Craig craft a layered story around it and the classical hero’s journey that proves riveting and compelling.

Reeve’s direction and vision is luridly and violently seductive as we watch Robert Pattinson’s Batman/Bruce Wayne attempt to untangle the wicked web of retribution that Paul Dano’s Riddler/Edward Nashton has weaved for key figures of Gotham’s justice system, its underground crime hierarchy, the surviving member of the Wayne family, and the city itself.

The Batman, who has been operating in Gotham for two years when the film opens, works in tandem with police Lt. James Gordon (Jeffery Wright) on a series of murders by the Riddler, who is portrayed as a brutal serial killer. The relationship between Gordon and the Batman makes the rest of the police force uneasy.

Robert Pattinson and Zoë Kravitz in The Batman / Warner Bros.

The Batman is also aided by Andy Serkis’ Alfred Pennyworth, who was Bruce’s bodyguard, mentor, and is now his surrogate father in this version of the tale.

Influenced by the real-life Zodiac Killer who left cryptograms taunting the California police at the scene of his murders in the late 1960s, Reeves has his Riddler use his word puzzles to infuriate and embarrass the police. He also leaves a special one just for the Batman as a calling card at each of his crimes.

Unwittingly, the Batman becomes a tool for the Riddler’s plans during the investigation because of those riddles. The Dark Knight Detective is essentially coerced into unknowingly helping the Riddler in his quest for city renewal. The schemer’s plans come to a nightmarish fruition on a nigh biblical scale during the third act when the Riddler seeks to wash away the sins of the city.

While the film only alludes to the tragic murders of the Batman’s parents Thomas and Martha Wayne in exposition, it calls their integrity into question when mob boss Carmine Falcone (John Turturro) explains to Bruce what he believes prompted their murders.

Falcone not only has a connection to Bruce, but also to Zoe Kravitz’ proto-Catwoman Selina Kyle, whom the Batman uses as an informant while tracking down the disappearance of one of Selina’s co-workers at the Ice Berg Lounge, operated by Oswald “Oz” Cobblepot/the Penguin (Collin Farrell).

The film is convoluted, textured, and layered with sumptuous cinematography by Greig Fraser, who boldly keeps his camera steady during gorgeously shot fight and action sequences that are as brutal as they are satisfying. Fraser’s work can also be experienced in movies like “Zero Dark Thirty,” “Rouge One,” and “Dune.” Often we see the action from the Batman’s eyes or perhaps from the perspective of one of the thugs he’s tracking.

Paul Dano in The Batman / Warner Bros.

Michael Giacchino’s score enhances the film with themes for the Bat, the Cat, and the Riddler that perfectly amp up the film’s intensity, while underscoring its pathos.

Those concerned with Pattinson being a fit for the role of the Batman should be pleased with his understated yet dead-on performance as the still developing Batman. In this film, set relatively early in Batman’s career, Bruce and The Batman are the same. He’s not yet using Bruce’s personal life as a mask for the Batman. He’s the Bat 24/7, just sometimes not in his armor.

Pattinson’s suppressed rage is palpable as the Batman who is still seeking his North Star. His shark-like eyes convey so much with a glance, particularly in an effective funeral scene featuring an orphaned boy, whom Bruce relates to.

The Batman’s walk is intimidating as he clomps out of the shadows to take down a gang of thugs harassing a man just off the subway in a nod to the real-life vigilante Bernie Goetz, who famously took justice in his own hands on a New York subway in 1984.

Kravitz is equally appealing as Selina/Catwoman, who is seeking to learn the whereabouts of her friend as well as score a ton of dough from the Falcone crime family that she believes she is owed. Her burglary scene is beautifully shot in near silhouette as are several twilight rooftop meetings with the Batman.

I never thought I’d want a Catwoman feature or HBO Max series, but now I do if Kravitz is the star and Reeves is somehow involved.

Colin Farrell in The Batman / Warner Bros.

Dano’s Riddler doesn’t dominate the movie like Heath Ledger’s Joker did “The Dark Night,” but the character might be even more horrifying as a gas-masked figure who creeps from the shadows and uses electrical tape to gruesome effect.

The Batman’s interrogation scene with the Riddler in which most of the secrets come pouring out is telling and maddeningly wicked, as the hero learns he’s been duped and the crisis is hardly over. Dano is eerily chilling and demented when confronting The Batman with whom he shares an odd and awful kinship.

With all due respect to Gary Oldman, who played the character in director Christopher Nolan’s Batman series, Wright’s interpretation is the best iteration of James Gordon on film. He’s perfect in the role.

Farrell’s Oz/Penguin is a disgusting character whom I didn’t get enough of in the film. Reportedly he will be featured in an HBO Max spinoff series in the future.

While I’m not a fan of car chases, the one featured here is edge-of-the-seat stunning as the Batman runs down Oz on dark, congested, rain-soaked highway. This version of the Batmobile is a beast despite being more realistic than all other versions seen on screen. Its chest-shaking rumble has to be felt to be believed.

Gotham City acts as crushing, smothering force in the film and is perhaps the dominant antagonist for the Batman. The film’s theme isn’t as much man vs. man or man vs. nature, but man vs. civilization gone rancid.

Robert Pattinson in The Batman / Warner Bros.

From a comics-to-screen standpoint, Reeves gets so much right with this movie – more so than any other Batman film — cherry picking material from more than 80 years of four-color Batman lore.

The film’s opening that introduces us to the Riddler mirrors the early 1940s work of Batman co-creator and ghostwriter Bill Finger, while the movie’s plot draws inspiration from more recent but still classic sources such as Frank Miller and David Mazzuchelli’s “Batman: Year One,” Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale’s “The Long Halloween,” Miller’s “The Dark Knight Returns,” and the Denny O’Neil-conceived “Batman: No Man’s Land.”

The more you know the comics, the more you will appreciate the movie, although little to no prior knowledge of the characters is necessary to enjoy the movie. It’s all up on the screen.

The film is simply one of the best and most faithful adaptation’s of super-hero material to the big screen ever made. Maybe I’m still awash in the afterglow of experiencing the film, but as a longtime comic-book reader, it is my favorite Batman movie to date, and Pattinson gives my favorite performance as the character.

The film’s nearly three-hour running time and convoluted plot might be a drawback to some, but I never found myself bored, tired or confused during the movie. It was an engrossing cinematic experience.

(PG-13) 2 hr. 56 min.
Grade: A

  New in Local Theaters

The Batman (watch trailer) / (PG-13) 2 hr. 56 min. / AMC Fiesta Square, Malco Razorback, Malco Springdale, Malco Pinnace, Malco Towne, Skylight

Jhund (watch trailer) / (NR) 2 hr. 57min. English subtitles / AMC Fiesta Square

Sebastian (watch trailer) / (NR) 2 hr. 15 min. Telegu / Malco Pinnacle

Classic Corner – Turner Classic Movies 31 Days of Oscars underway

Each year to celebrate the Oscars, Turner Classic Movies dedicates March to showing only films that garnered an Academy Award for some aspect of the film. This is the 28th year for the this showcase. HBO Max is also cooperating with the celebration within its Classic Curated Hub.

Here is a link to the full schedule on Turner Classic movies:–march-version–2022

While the celebration features a host of great films to watch each day in March, here are my daily top selections for the following week.

Saturday, March 5, 3:15 p.m. – Doctor Zhivago (1965)

A lush epic, directed by David Lean in 1965, features a grand love story set against the strife of the Russian Revolution of 1917, starring Omar Sharif and the lovely Julie Christie. It won an Oscar or Best Cinematography.

Sunday, March 6, 3 p.m. – Woman of the Year

This 1942 classic romantic-comedy is the first of nine films starring Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn. He is a sports writer and she is international corespondent who marry but experience trouble because of her unwavering dedication to her job. The movie won an Oscar for Best Screenplay.

Monday, March 7, 9:30 p.m. – The Adventures of Robin Hood

Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland star in this rambunctious retelling of the Robin Hood legend from 1938 that features lush technicolor cinematography. The film won Oscars for Art Direction, Film Editing, and Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s rousing score. It was also nominated for Best Picture.

Tuesday, March 8, 9 a.m. – The Devil and Daniel Webster

The 1941 version of the Faust legend stars James Craig as Jabez Stone, who sells his soul for riches and fame to Mr. Scratch, played by Walter Houston. In the fantasy, noted lawyer and politician Daniel Webster wagers his own soul in order to defend Stone in the afterlife against the ruthless Mr. Scratch. Huston was nominated for an Oscar, but the film won an Academy Award for Best Score.

Wednesday, March 9, 11:45 p.m. – From Here to Eternity

Winner of eight Academy Awards out of 13 nominations in 1953, the drama deals with the lives of three soldiers played by Montgomery Clift, Frank Sinatra, and Burt Lancaster, stationed in Hawaii just before the Dec. 7, 1941 bombing of Pear Harbor. It co-stars Deborah Kerr and Donna Reed. It won Oscars for Best Picture, Director (Fred Zinnemann), Adapted Screenplay, Supporting Actor (Sinatra), Supporting Actress (Reed), Cinematography, Editing, and Sound.

Thursday, March 10, 4:15 p.m. – The Dirty Dozen

The 1967 war movie, starring Lee Marvin, Charles Bronson, Robert Ryan, Jim Brown and Ernest Borgnine, pits a crew of Allied war criminals on a suicide mission against the Nazis during World War II. The extremely popular movie captured the Oscar for Best Sound Editing.

Friday, March 11, 11 a.m. – Summer of ‘42

In the 1971 coming-of-age drama, set on Nantucket Island during World War II, teenage Hermie (Gary Grimes) comforts Dorthy (Jennifer O’Neill), a young widow who lost her husband in the war, during his summer vacation. The film won an Oscar for Best Original Score.