How do you compete with the Marvel Cinematic Universe? By rejecting the question entirely. The smartest move Warner Bros. Pictures made with their DC franchises was to abandon the promise of a vast, interconnected universe of films. Instead, they just let filmmakers film, unburdened by trying to beat the MCU at their own game.
The result? Films that concern themselves with quality before continuity. So, in the same way Todd Philip’s JOKER takes place in a totally different universe than Zack Snyder’s JUSTICE LEAGUE, we now have Matt Reeves’s THE BATMAN, the first entry in what I hope will be a series of films in its own self-contained trilogy.
The latest actor to don the cape and cowl is Robert Pattinson, a dude who has worked so freaking hard to make you forget about the TWILIGHT movies, it’s almost scary. Pattinson is a terrific actor, and if you haven’t seen THE LIGHTHOUSE, load that up on Amazon Prime pronto.
So how does Pattinson’s Batman compare to all the other Batmen? Honestly, it’s a question I’m uninterested in answering. The time spent comparing this film to Christopher Nolan’s trilogy or any of the other takes on the Caped Crusader could be better spent examining exactly what’s here. And what’s here is so compelling on its own, that trying to figure out who did it the best feels off topic.
As a fan of superhero movies, the first thing I noticed was that this movie is not really a superhero movie. Or at least, most of it isn’t. At its core, it’s a crime thriller. A detective story with some action scenes interspersed with clue solving. Reeves and Pattinson embrace the freaky side of this character instead of the savior side. Let’s be honest: A vigilante who dresses up like a bat and beats the crap out of criminals is pretty messed up. This Batman doesn’t prowl the night looking for people to save, he looks for people to stop. He suits up to pummel bad guys, not necessarily help good ones.
What drives a person to do this? Someone with trauma. Scars. Someone with their own darkness inside of them. But darkness begets darkness. Batman’s methods draws the attention of the Riddler, another creature of the night with a mission of his own. He’s a sadistic killer bent on targeting the city’s corruption and proving his point through increasingly shocking murders.
The disturbing duel between the Batman and the Riddler makes this a noir-driven detective story in a way we haven’t really seen on the big screen before. At least not to this extent. Sure, Christian Bale’s Batman used some gadgets to figure one or two things out, but this Batman literally does forensic analysis at crime scenes. He puzzles over the killer’s nefarious riddles. He even writes in a journal every day, delivered in voiceover. He’s a contemplative, methodical criminal hunter, one vigilante tracking down another who has a totally different definition of the word.
Paul Dano’s Riddler is terrifying. The Riddler commits some truly disturbing crimes in this movie, and I was honestly shocked at how hard it tests the limits of PG-13. There’s probably a rated-R cut of this movie somewhere. (Shall we start the #ReleaseTheRcut trend now?)
Though I imagine if you did release an extended R-rated cut, you’d get some pushback from viewers who already think this movie is too long. They have a point. At 2 hours and 56 minutes long, that’s just a few minutes shy of AVENGERS ENDGAME’s beefy runtime. Matt Reeves lets the camera linger a little longer than necessary, and in my opinion, the script does feature two villains that probably should have been consolidated into one.
But other than those small gripes, I found THE BATMAN riveting. I loved seeing the mystery of the Riddler’s crimes unweave. I cared about nearly every character. And the action was thunderously good fun and insanely beautiful to watch. Reeves and his DP Greig Fraser do gorgeous work here, shooting visceral action scenes with creative use of light and dark, no better exemplified by a certain hallway scene where the only illumination comes from muzzle flashes. It’s a sequence that’s only a few seconds long but my jaw was on the floor for every one of them.
Also: I’m not convinced Robert Pattinson wasn’t beating up those guys for real. For a vigilante with his “one rule” against killing, he sure does inflict a lot of blunt force trauma. I mean technically speaking, a criminal can’t do crimes if he’s in a medically induced coma. Mission accomplished, Batman?
So while some may take issue with the film’s indulgent run time, I didn’t have too big an issue with it. I couldn’t wait to see what happens next, and I am thrilled to report that unlike so many comic book movies these days, the third act absolutely rules. THE BATMAN lands on a powerfully emotional conclusion that makes me eager for a sequel.
And by that, I mean a sequel to this movie and only this movie. The most tragic thing that could happen would be some studio exec strongarms the filmmakers into making some movie where Robert Pattinson’s Batman fights Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker. Please don’t get any ideas.