Review: ‘The Batman’ is a fresh take on the familiar

Robert Pattinson is Bruce Wayne in Matt Reeves’ “The Batman.” Courtesy Warner Bros. via

Clara McCourt, managing editor

“The Batman” is a feat of filmmaking that manages to find something new in the tried-and-true superhero saga.

After over 80 years of the caped crusader, Warner Bros.’ newest adaptation pits Batman against the villainous Riddler, who leaves a trail of sadistic clues for the world’s greatest detective to uncover. As the Riddler creates a Gotham City full of questions, Batman’s inability to find answers pushes him to question his own morality as he uncovers the ugly truths of a justice system he has defended. 

The film picks up two years into Bruce Wayne’s Gotham City vigilantism, perfectly suited for an audience sick of origin stories. Marvel tried something similar with “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” leaving a gaping hole in its titular character’s past. But “The Batman” arguably executes this time jump better: Wayne is given enough room for his relationships to exist without tedious character introductions, such as his formal back-and-forth with Commissioner James Gordon (Jeffrey Wright) and his father-son dynamic with butler Alfred (Andy Serkis), but he also has room to grow.

“I knew that I wanted to take this iteration of a younger Batman, who was early in his arc that there was room for an awakening, and put him at the center of this mystery that would pull us into the path of all of these characters,” said director Matt Reeves in a Feb. 17 virtual conference for international, college and domestic press.

“The Batman” marks the first superhero outing for Batman actor Robert Pattinson, and his first major franchise since the “Twilight” saga. Pattinson’s Bruce Wayne is significantly less polished than other iterations of the character — his Wayne is highly reclusive and introspective, an emo-adjacent billionaire perfectly suited for his dark academic manor. But Pattinson’s brooding, messy-haired Wayne isn’t reminiscent of his sparkly vampire days — the actor is able to ground the character in something very real and intriguing.

“Batman’s always been kind of fallible, he’s just a man in an armored suit. But this [film] really embraces that,” Pattinson said. “I loved all of the frailties he has.”

While “The Batman” shines in its heroic moments, the real highlights of the film are its elements of mystery and true crime as Wayne clashes and collaborates with Gotham City’s underground network of powerful criminals, enemies and allies. Among them is Zoë Kravitz’s captivating yet underused Catwoman, John Turturro’s intimidating mob boss Carmine Falcone and Colin Farrell’s unrecognizable turn as the Penguin. Reeves’ Gotham City, lavishly introduced to us before we even meet Wayne, is a dark metropolis with an even darker underbelly. 

Paul Dano’s Riddler, a bold departure from his fedora-clad comic book counterpart, is a terrifying figure evocative of internet troll terrorists. The Riddler doesn’t feel like a stereotypical supervillain — he feels like a genuine threat. He leaves a blood-stained trail for Batman to follow which is simultaneously fascinating and horrifying — yet his actions aren’t altogether unjustified. The film’s opening shot is a long sequence from the point of view of the Riddler as he eyes his first target, exemplifying the Riddler’s perspective as a vital piece in this story’s intricate puzzle.

“I love the idea that you can’t really have Batman without his villains or his rogues gallery. But I love that you couldn’t have this Riddler without the Batman,” Dano said. “There’s some boundary there that is beautifully explored … there’s more murkiness in the morality. It’s less just hero and villain in black and white.”

The film’s dim, imposing tone is largely thanks to a magnificent score by composer Michael Giacchino. The film’s score is a definitive underline to everything that makes “The Batman” great.

“The sound and the music are both totally critical. I mean, that the whole idea was to put you as much as possible in the point of view of the characters and specifically, the point of view of a Batman and the sound is one of the tools to do that,” Reeves said. “The music by Michael [Giacchino] is incredibly emotional. He’s talking about the emotional landscape of this movie.”

A key scene near the film’s ending alludes to a major character’s introduction in a future Pattinson-led Batman film, paving the way for a potential sequel. Hopefully “The Batman” is the first of many more outings of the caped crusader led by Matt Reeves. 

“The Batman” hits theatres March 4.