Movie Review: The Batman
Review by: Aditya Thiyag
Directed by: Matt Reeves
“Something in the Way” was one of the most understated songs on Nirvana’s 1991 magnum opus Nevermind. Consisting of just a few chords, Cobain’s whispering vocals, and with many fans believing the lyrics to be about Cobain’s time homeless, it is a vulnerable record about a broken person seemingly struggling through their every waking moment. Which is why it was an absolute delight to hear in Matt Reeves’ crime thriller The Batman.
Robert Pattinson plays Bruce Wayne as a battered husk of a person that spends his days journaling his vigilante exploits and piecing together crime after crime only to leap out into the night and fight Gotham’s never ending war on crime in the hopes of honoring his family’s legacy. As Batman, he’s “vengeance”, a force of nature that even the innocent are fearful of, but as Bruce, he’s still a scared little boy reeling from the death of his parents 2 decades later, and Pattinson relays all of this flawlessly through every guttural scream and every longing glance. His body language is what truly characterizes this introverted Bruce, since his verbal interactions with those around him are limited but poignant nonetheless. The performances throughout the cast are all just as stellar. Paul Dano makes for an almost Zodiac killer-esque Riddler, Zoë Kravitz’s Selina Kyle is the most complex the femme fatale has ever been on the big screen, and Colin Farrell steals every scene that he’s in as The Penguin.
Every cast and crew member showcases only their best work, with composer Michael Giacchino in particular delivering his strongest score since Up and The Incredibles. From the poignant strings and twinkling piano melodies of Catwoman’s sensual theme to the operatic vocals and drumless instrumentals of Riddler’s haunting theme, every piece is aptly suited for their respective characters and often reinforces the tone of any given scene, with “All’s Well That Ends Farewell” being a prime example. Playing over the final shots of the film, the poignancy of the on screen drama is ramped up by this swooping orchestral track and brings a sense of finality that is unparalleled. And it would be remiss to not include Giacchino’s two part score for the dark knight; while the first half contains a majestic brass symphony that elegantly conveys the complexity and nuances of Bruce Wayne, the last three minutes are a constant crescendo of two major notes, striking fear into the hearts of the audience as the caped crusader does to the criminals of Gotham City.
Speaking of the city, production designer James Chinlund worked with Reeves to craft the most nightmarish version of Gotham ever put to film. Smoke rises from every pothole imaginable, the brown hues of the cityscape illuminated by the neon billboards of the town square elevate themes of classism present and all of it is drenched in a seemingly endless downpour. Individual sets like Wayne Tower revel in the gothic architecture established by visionary director Tim Burton three full decades ago and this take on Gotham City Police Department feels like it belongs in an 80’s cop drama rather than a superhero tale. Cinematographer Greig Fraser additionally shoots these sets with an intimacy unseen in comic book films for years, as every scene is framed and lit darkly to reflect the grime of the character and the city while allowing individual colors to pop, leading to genuine contrast in every shot and a style guide being established for this interpretation of Batman. Never has there been such intense discussion around the filming techniques and behind the scenes for a superhero movie, and the batmobile chase alone is a gleaming example of what future films in the genre should aspire to achieve.
However, the nearly three hour runtime could easily be trimmed without excluding key character beats and its effect on the film’s pacing is only exacerbated on future viewings. This is made even more egregious when considering the lack of attention given to one major character in the Batman mythos – the trusty butler and father figure Alfred Pennyworth. Andy Serkis’ tries his best but there isn’t much to be said here and his lack of screen time undermines his relevance in this universe. And while deviations from the source material are perfectly acceptable in adaptations, including Alfred just to relegate him to the sidelines is disappointing.
Overall, The Batman is a display of passion intent on proving that superhero films can be more than just mindless of entertainment. Reeves has a clear handle on what makes the character tick and relays it in the most visually arresting and emotionally compelling manner possible, and it’s truly inspiring to see nothing stand in the way of this creative’s vision.