‘The Batman’ is the DC juggernaut’s first standalone film in ten years, following the ‘The Dark Knight’ trilogy.
Matt Reeves’ film puts back the ‘Detective’ in ‘Detective Comics,’ conjuring up a suspenseful noir thriller that feels like it is ripped straight from the 1970s.
In the trailers leading up to the film, we hear Penguin exclaim, “This Guy’s Crazy!”, and wow, does that claim ring true for this version of Batman.
Most critics of the franchise complain that the rogues’ gallery of Batman i.e. the villains have always overshadowed Batman with their intriguing idiosyncrasies and the actors’ unique interpretations of them.
Matt Reeves and Robert Pattinson finally deliver a Batman who is just as insane as his villains and just as intriguing — stealing every scene he is in.
The film’s production has a five-year history, dating back to Reeves’ hiring in 2017. The film took a year to shoot and another year to post-produce, in part due to COVID.
Matt Reeves, the writer/director, is no stranger to big challenges.
He shot ‘Cloverfield’ with only two weeks of prep time and dared to remake the beloved ‘Let The Right One In’. He took over directing duties from Rupert Wyatt for ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,’ and somehow managed to make the CG spectacle movie in two years to huge success—losing his voice in the process.
With ‘The Batman,’ he had to deal with the challenge of the pandemic: work was halted when the film crew’s dialect coach Andrew Jack died of COVID, making the entire shoot stressful.
When the lead actor, Robert Pattison, contracted COVID, the situation worsened with the several lockdowns that occurred during the period contributing to the stress.
Writing / Direction
With influences from the 1970s noir films such as ‘Chinatown,’ ‘Klute,’ and ‘Taxi Driver,’ among others, the film is a tense mystery brimming with a moody atmosphere, unlike any other Batman film we’ve seen before.
Reeves places the audience directly in the shoes of Batman (and occasionally the Riddler) by using a lot of POV (point of view) shots, a voyeuristic Hitchcockian staple that he used effectively in ‘War for the Planet of the Apes.’
This is also the longest Batman movie and one of the longest comic book movies in general, clocking in at 2 hours and 55 minutes.
However, Matt Reeves’ direction keeps the film moving at a breakneck pace, and the time flies as you become engrossed in the story’s mystery, second-guessing each character and deciphering all the clues alongside Batman.
Pattinson immediately shuts down the skeptics by fully immersing himself in the role and transforming into Batman.
His Batman is instantly recognisable and unforgettable thanks to his requisite authority, body language, presence, and charisma that connects very well with the character.
You can feel it when he strikes a street thug, you can notice it when he works his intellect, and his Bruce Wayne is merely a mask that he has trouble keeping on, making his version of Batman darker and more brooding than other iterations.
Despite this being his first appearance, he’ll almost certainly go down in history as one of the best live-action Batman portrayals, right alongside Keaton and Bale.
The supporting players are perfectly realised and well cast.
Jeffrey Wright (who plays Gordon) serves as the Watson to Robert Pattinson’s Sherlock – streetwise and straight-laced (and hilariously so), while Zoe Kravitz is a fully realised Catwoman – the femme fatale with a tragic backstory.
A truly unrecognisable Colin Farrell plays The Penguin, a mash-up of Al Capone and Fredo Corleone, who resembles the hardboiled gangsters of the Golden Age of Hollywood.
However, it is the Riddler who serves as the main antagonist in the film. Brilliantly portrayed by Paul Dano, this version of Riddler is sinister, diabolical, and downright scary—a far cry from Jim Carrey’s campy 90’s version of the character.
While not an origin story, this Batman is still in his second year and has yet to perfect the role of Batman. He makes errors, fails, and is intense in doling out punishment, yet he is also righteous, heroic—saving people in need.
He is also methodical—writing journals, recording and, analysing his work as he is embroiled in the mystery of the story.
Inspired by the Zodiac Killer, this version of the Riddler targets corrupt high-ranking officials while leaving clues, ciphers, and messages for Batman to decode.
Greig Fraser (the Oscar-winning cinematographer who recently shot Dune) deserves credit for anchoring the comic book film with the grit and grime of a 1970s hardboiled noir.
Of course, Production Designer James Chinlund contributes to the creation of a tangible and lived-in Gotham, but Greig truly immerses you in the city.
He accomplishes this by employing Panoramic lenses, which the studio deemed “unsuitable” for a comic book film but which produce a distorted shallow focus, making many of the scenes tense and keeping us on edge throughout.
The cinematographer also utilises a bleach bypass to generate a more high-contrast image by printing the digital print of the movie onto film. This combination of both film and digital elements helps ‘The Batman’ in displaying a grainier and more textured image and creates a moody atmosphere.
The use of an exclusively orchestral score is another feature that distinguishes this Batman film from the previous movies. While other films have dabbled in similar terrain—who can forget Hans Zimmer’s string sections for The Dark Knight?
However, composer Michael Giacchino crafts a score that eerily evokes the moods of Batman: The Animated Series.
The sound, which includes piping brass sections, ominous trumpets, and sinking bass trills, keeps you immersed in the plot at all times.
However, the recurring four-note piano motif associated with this Batman became instantly iconic — a repetition that suggests intensity and obsession, and this Batman is intensely obsessed with vengeance.
Speaking of vengeance, the film’s core theme revolves around its effects,—how it can be destructive to the soul, as well as how hope, while not always easy to come by, can provide true healing.
The film also touches on privilege—how it can cause blind spots in one’s life experiences, as well as why empathy is so crucial in our disparate and divided world.
Criticisms and Final Thoughts
Of course, the film isn’t free of flaws, as the first two-thirds of the film leads to a third act that rushes towards a large action set-piece with a distinct CG feel to it – which isn’t exactly bad, just very noticeable.
Reeves also makes the choice to not use flashbacks, which is interesting narratively, but that means a lot of the characters have to deliver monologues about their past.
The film also can’t seem to find its ending—with two or three extended codas—including one that sets up the future of the trilogy very explicitly.
That being said, the film is chock-full of memorable moments and stunning visuals, and watching the central mystery unfold is incredibly gratifying.
All in all, assuming Martin Scorsese’s outlook, it is fair to say that ‘The Batman’ is ‘cinema’.
Written by Shivraj Herur for MTTN
Edited by Pahal Duggal for MTTN
Featured Image by Warner Bros. Media