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  • Writer's pictureCharlie Turner

The Batman — Nocturnal beauty

Introducing Blade Runner with capes

Released March 4, 2022 | PG-13 | Thriller | Runtime: 176 minutes | Directed by Matt Reeves

From Tim Burton's Germanic expressionism, to Christopher Nolan's postmodern grit, to Zack Snyder's CGI glamour, Batman has taken on many forms over the past few decades. With director Matt Reeves now tossing his batarang into the ring, we are once again re-introduced to the caped crusader, this time with Robert Pattinson — an actor who seemingly can't pass up any role having to do with bats — behind the cowl. And while it may share source material with the films that came before it, The Batman is profoundly unique, choosing to stray from the traditional superhero path and instead embrace arthouse noir as its lifeblood. The result is beautifully poetic, contemplative, and a premier example of masterful filmmaking.

Two years into his vigilante career and Bruce Wayne has become a nocturnal animal. The playboy billionaire is nowhere to be found because he's been devoured by the responsibility of crimefighting, and when we do see him without armor and grappling hooks, he's a shell of a man — beat up, depressed, and full of anguish.

As the hero, he's skillful but still in need of experience. The flaws in his detective skills and fumbles in combat are great indicators of this, and ultimately make him a more believable and grounded character than previous iterations. He doesn't use any flashy tech, nor is there someone in his ear calling the shots. This is Batman down to his skin and bones, where wit is his greatest weapon.

In a similar fashion, Gotham is also dilapidated and overrun with gloom. Relentless organized crime and political corruption have infected every street corner, and when the masked serial killer known as The Riddler (Paul Dano) starts carving his villainous mark across the city, The Batman will need to hone his detective skills in order to stop a true madman.

Dano is terrifying as the film's core villain. He fully commits to the character's unhinged mental state, embracing insanity like a weapon. There's something about his shrill, pain-filled voice that is both so sad and so horrifying to hear, especially as his murderous plots get increasingly brutal. The Riddler leaves clues behind for The Batman to find like a trail of bloody breadcrumbs, and while other villains may cause some chaos along the way, such as Colin Farrell's Penguin — the actor, of course, hidden beneath pounds of prosthetics and makeup — it is The Riddler who pushes the plot to some truly terrifying places.

Joining the caped crusader on his vengeful journey is Zoe Kravitz as Catwoman, the femme fatale whose personal agenda often clashes with that of her vigilante partner. The on-screen chemistry between Pattinson and Kravitz is purr-fect (see what I did there?) and never once feels forced or directed. This can also be said for Jeffrey Wright's James Gordon, who fits the hard-boiled detective roll flawlessly. These three actors create a strong foundation for the narrative and ultimately make the three-hour runtime move at a surprisingly digestible pace.

All of these elements alone would make for a terrific superhero film, but it's how the actors, the story, and the fully fleshed out characters harmonize with the consistent noir tone that transcends The Batman. Cinematographer Greg Fraser's use of heavy shadows and candy-colored neon is bewitching, often feeling like a metaphor for the deeply split ideologies of the hellish city. As I sank into this world I couldn't help but feel overwhelmed by the visual beauty and how powerfully it contrasts the savage criminal world. And with a melancholic score that serves as the glue to hold everything together, I'm left in awe over Matt Reeves' bold step forward. Even with its longer than necessary runtime and occasional plot fumbles, I was entranced from start to finish.

- Final Thoughts -

The Batman is a deeply intriguing detective thriller that explores the darkest corners of the iconic superhero's source material. Gritty and gothic, it also possesses a distinct aesthetic beauty powerful enough to earn it a home alongside other noir heavyweights, like Chinatown (1974), Sin City (2005), and Blade Runner (1982), while also paving its own path. It is simply a profound piece of modern cinema.

(The Batman image courtesy of Warner Bros.)


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