The Batman Review: Better Than The Dark Knight

The Batman has done the unthinkable and has managed to surpass the game-changing entry The Dark Knight as a Batman movie for the ages. Read our full review!

By Drew Dietsch | Updated

This article is more than 2 years old

the batman review

The Batman looked like it was going to be a similar continuation of what Christopher Nolan did with the character in his now-iconic trilogy. It would be more gritty realism that took the hero even further into a realm that shrugged off his comic book style origins. Thankfully, Matt Reeves has a much better understanding of how to blend the pulp nature of Batman into a world that is even darker than Nolan’s version. Somehow, through dark magic and incredible craftsmanship, The Batman has managed to bring some truly fresh and invigorating elements to the franchise that are sorely needed.

A big part of that comes in The Batman‘s decision to be the first movie about the Caped Crusader that shines a legitimately critical eye on Batman himself. Other movies have flirted with the idea or paid lip service to it, but none have made it the true foundation of their story. Matt Reeves and Peter Craig have looked at what’s actually wrong with Batman as a concept and decided to integrate that into the character’s arc. It’s an understanding of the character that feels necessary if we are going to continue to make Batman stories. Comics like Batman: White Knight and The Long Halloween are pulled from not just for plot points, but for their understanding that Batman is not a character above criticism. This is a movie that gets the negative effect a character like Batman can have in the fictional and real world, and its examination is one that immediately makes this stand out.

Add to that Matt Reeves’ grasp of stylistic filmmaking and The Batman is well on its way to being something of a masterstroke. While the grimy streets of Gotham City feel somewhat close to reality, Reeves is not striving for it in his filmmaking style. The movie is continually dynamic and paints the world in rich blacks, browns, reds, and blues. Gotham City is not just blatantly Chicago like in Nolan’s last two films but instead feels closer to a more industrial version of what we saw in Tim Burton’s Batman. It’s not hard to imagine this taking place in the same unnamed city as Saw and its sequels.

And then there is Robert Pattinson. Of all the actors to play the Batman, Pattinson is the first one to truly capture the broken little boy hiding underneath all that intimidating costume. There is sorrow peeking through all of his anger and it’s mostly done in extreme close-up, allowing Pattinson to emote in near-microscopic ways. His vocal performance also rarely steps into the grumblecore we’ve gotten recently. Instead, Pattinson whispers as if the only person he’s often talking to is himself. He is easily one of the best to ever don the cowl on the big screen.

He’s also bolstered by a plot that keeps The Batman moving along nicely considering its almost 3-hour running time. This is the first time since Batman: Mask of the Phantasm that the world’s greatest detective has had an engaging mystery to solve. Taking its cue from movies like Se7en, Zodiac, and even Dirty Harry, the story here is a sprawling and deep one that manages to walk an extremely thin tightrope without ever falling off. Part of that is due to Matt Reeves bringing real horror back into the franchise with scenes that are artfully crafted to narrowly avoid an R-rating for violence and terror. There are pieces of this movie that are sure to be controversial for just how shocking they go, but it’s been a while since a big blockbuster comic nook movie has felt this dangerous at times.

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It doesn’t hurt that this is an A+ cast putting in real work. This isn’t the Marvel style of quippiness and meme-heavy performances. Everyone treats the material with the gravitas it implies without coming off as so serious as to be grating. Paul Dano’s Riddler is monstrously chilling while still being able to be a piece of big comic book acting. Jeffrey Wright is cementing the possibility of being the best James Gordon in the Batman’s feature film canon. Colin Farrell somehow manages to make his gaudy makeup work like gangbusters and delivers a pitch-perfect gangster Penguin. Zoë Kravitz is perfectly sultry, suspicious, and sympathetic as Catwoman, but her part in the story is the one element that feels it could have been reconfigured. Still, there is no complaint here about her in the role and the hope is she will return for a sequel.

In fact, looking at that lineup above should show you one of the things Reeves understands so much better than Nolan: the Batman is only as good as his villains. Where Nolan felt almost frustrated by figuring out how to work such colorful foes into his Michael Mann take on Batman (with the true outlier being Ledger’s Joker), Reeves wants to build his rogues gallery and create a real universe for Batman. The fact that no less than five major villain characters are in The Batman should be a testament to Reeves’ delight at getting to really take advantage of this legendary group of baddies.

Christopher Nolan’s version of Batman will always have its fans and those movies have their place in the history of the character, but Matt Reeves has crafted something that pushes forward into new territory while still firmly embracing the undeniable comic book nature of the property. It’s a perfect blend that shows so much promise. But if this is the only Batman movie we get from Matt Reeves, he can rest easy knowing he’s made a lasting mark on the world’s most popular superhero. And with this, The Suicide Squad, and Peacemaker, DC has finally taken the lead over Marvel when it comes to consistent quality productions.

4.5 robots

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