I took my time in pondering Matt Reeves’ The Batman this weekend and how to best write a SPOILER-FREE review of it. I originally saw the movie in a theater full of cosplayers on the Friday night opening. I saw it again on Saturday morning in a largely empty theater I use to safely social distance when I have a film to review. The fact that I felt compelled to pay to see the movie twice on opening weekend is probably all I need to say regarding whether or not I enjoyed it. Take that for what it is worth if you want a considered opinion free of any story details or analysis. For the rest of you, read on.
Set near the end of the second year of Batman’s vigil, the plot of The Batman finds the Dark Knight Detective (Robert Pattinson) called upon to investigate a series of murders by a puzzle-loving serial killer, who dubs himself The Riddler (Paul Dano). There is method to the Riddler’s madness, however, and the clues he leaves behind point Batman to a larger conspiracy connecting the most powerful men in Gotham City and the corruption they’ve hidden behind closed doors for decades. Along the way, he allies himself with a cynical sex worker who dabbles in burglary (Zoë Kravitz) who has her own reasons for solving the mystery.
Fans of the Batman comics will be able to easily spot most of the influences on the film’s script, which was co-written by director Matt Reeves with Peter Craig. The film’s basic story is taken from The Long Halloween, with Holiday replaced by the Riddler of Batman: Earth One. Zoë Kravitz’s Selina Kyle is straight out of Batman: Year One, right down to her haircut and bustier. There’s even a few nods to the recent Batman writings of Scott Snyder and Tom King. Despite this, I think the film’s greatest influence is Batman: Ego; an often-ignored one-shot by Darwyn Cooke.
While Ego is largely a psychodrama in which Batman and Bruce Wayne debate their motivations for vigilantism, that core conflict lies at the heart of The Batman. For all the criticism The Batman has received for being too dark, the film is surprisingly hopeful and ends on a high note. The darkness leads to a new dawn and Batman finding a new clarity in why what he does has value beyond giving him an outlet for his anger. It’s an angle I was not expecting and was gratified to see. For that reason, I encourage anyone who feared The Batman might be negative or emo to give the film a shot.
Beyond the script, Reeves is a compelling director and the production team does a fantastic job of bringing Gotham City to life. The film has a number of solid performances, but many members of the ensemble don’t get much development, presumably because they’re optioned to appear in the inevitable HBO spin-off series already in the works regarding the GCPD and Gotham’s underworld. Colin Farrell is all but unrecognizable as club owner Oz (aka The Penguin) and not just because of the fantastic character make-up. Jeffrey Wright is excellent as always as Jim Gordon (still a Lieutenant rather than Commissioner) and some of the best parts of the movie involve the interplay between him at Pattinson’s Batman.
For what my opinion is worth, The Batman is easily the best live-action distillation of the Batman comics ever made. I would go so far as to say that Robert Pattinson and Zoë Kravitz deliver the most comics-accurate performances ever of all the many actors to play Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle. If you are reluctant to risk a theater, it is well worth watching once it arrives on HBO Max in a few weeks.