the batman matt reeves robert pattinson review

The Batman is the Dark Knight for our Dark Age

Director Matt Reeves takes big risks that pay off in this new Batman adaptation.

In crafting his vision for The Batman, director Matt Reeves leaned into darkness. Sombre and overcast, much of the movie takes place in dark corners and pouring rain. The world seems cast into an endless shadow, and our titular hero sits in his Cathedralesque penthouse, trying to keep crime at bay. Bruce Wayne has already decided to become Batman when the film starts. His presence in Gotham is strained at best, hostile at worst. Corruption has eked into almost every facet of public life. Paranoia and distrust are at an all-time high. Not even Wayne knows if he’s doing the right thing. 

Structured like a detective mystery embedded in techno-gothic imagery and the macabre, The Batman centres on our hero’s endeavours to stop the Riddler. One by one, the madman who leaves riddles and streams his cryptic rants online picks off notable and influential men in Gotham. Along the way, he gets help from Catwoman (Zoë Kravitz), Alfred (Andy Serkis) and James Gordon (Jeffrey Wright). Each new thread of discovery pulls Batman deeper into the underbelly of the city. Shedding light on the city’s vermin does little to illuminate the deeply entrenched connections between the worlds of crime and justice.

Unlike most superhero films that begin with long exposition sequences, Reeves makes a bold choice and leans heavily into the atmosphere. It’s 2022, and there’s no need to explain the whos and whats of the Batman franchise — instead, he uses voice-over and movement to establish a sense of time and place. The film feels like a reflection of contemporary anxieties, articulated narratively and visually. Even though the film has sparks of inspired humour and palpable sex appeal, there’s no mistaking that an almost apocalyptic thread informs the movie. Fear has metastasized, and it’s unclear whether any of us can be saved. 

The Batman Robert Pattinson Zoe Kravitz
Zoë Kravitz and Robert Pattinson in The Batman

Under Matt Reeves, Gotham blends old and future worlds. The city centre borrows from the smoky, neon futures of Blade Runner and his interiors feel torn from the middle ages and the early industrial age. Factory lofts serve as homes and clubs. The skeletal remains of churches feel ever-present in the design not only of Wayne’s house but with a pivotal scene that unfolds at a church. It feels cavernous and abandoned. The hope offered by God seems long lost, and the fight for justice often feels like a fight for the city’s very soul.

Despite its “gritty” appearances, it would be a mistake to call The Batman “realistic.” It’s Gothic in much the same way as Tim Burton’s iconic Batman Returns, just with a 1970s crime twist. The film parallels images and ideas from that pivotal film, transforming their bright cartoonality into something far more grim and macabre. The expressionistic shapes and colouring create a deep sense of dread. The heavy use of computer technology means watching and rewatching sequences through heavily distorted lenses, lending the movie textures and impressions that often feel closer to dreams than waking life. 

The idea of double-identity, an integral trope of superhero storytelling, is used here to reveal our dark dreams and nightmares. The line between waking and dreams seems to inform the characters’ identities. When characters dress up, they’re fulfilling fantasies and reveal deeper monstrosity. Characters who seem grotesque pale in terms of cruelty compared with the buttoned-up men who call the shots. The obvious markers of villainy are there, but they don’t offer unique insights into people’s allegiances. The effect destabilizes, offering monsters paths towards redemption (however temporary). It also means that good intent does not always equal positive consequences. As Batman emerges from the fog of uncertainty, he must choose a path of good and justice, knowing it might not bring any palpable change to the city.

The Batman Robert Pattinson Jeffrey Wright
Robert Pattinson and Jeffrey Wright in The Batman

Though largely bloodless, the movie uses violence quite effectively. The fights are often expressionistically framed through light and space. It creates an all-together different feel than most contemporary superhero films that linger on long (often CGI-laden) battles that contribute nothing to character or mood. 

The climactic sequence pushes this idea to the very limit. Echoing anxieties around radicalization and even apocalyptic climate-crisis imagery, the long sequence is unquestionably distressing — without question one of the more disturbing series of events in a mainstream superhero film. It’s daring, but it’s unclear whether it pushes too far and becomes outright unsettling. It certainly makes sense in terms of plotting and character. Credit to the filmmakers — they don’t pull back and manage to create disconcerting images without pushing themselves into the R rating.

Even running at nearly three hours, The Batman barely feels its length. The movie’s purposefully convoluted mystery draws the viewer in like Film Noir cinema of the past. Nothing about the resolution is clean and tidy, and the backdrop of crime and corruption offers a compelling landscape to explore moral questions in an untidy world. Pattinson is great as Batman, but the supporting cast equally rises to the occasion. If more superhero movies were at this calibre of craft and intention, maybe I’d be more excited to watch most of them. ■

The Batman, directed by Matt Reeves

The Batman opened in Montreal theatres on March 3 and is streaming now in Canada on Netflix.

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