With many iterations of DC Comic’s caped crusader littering the last 40 years of blockbuster cinema, Matt Reeves’ The Batman may seem at first blush simply another go around the same old song and dance. It is certainly not without its comparisons. Most clear among them is this film’s affinity with Christopher Nolan’s trilogy, which DC has taken noticeable steps to visually and tonally distance itself from in recent years. Perhaps that is why this critic—more a fan of Nolan’s Batman than Zack Snyder’s—was immediately more engaged by Reeves’ take on the character.
But The Batman is no carbon copy of The Dark Knight. It comes with its own style. Nolan’s sleek and wide vision of Gotham City is replaced here with a decidedly more shallow-focus view. Shallow depth of field, imperceptible looks into the shadows, and blurred or otherwise obscured images dominate this Gotham. Lack of clarity is a driving visual motif, and it colors the action in some appealing ways.
This choice is also narratively and thematically motivated, as Bruce Wayne’s (Robert Pattinson) present problems involve a deep-seated web of political obfuscation and corruption, which is slowly revealed to him by The Riddler’s enigmatic letters left in the mysterious criminal’s violent wake.
Nothing in Gotham’s political system is as it seems. The film flutters through a series of loose political signifiers—the war on drugs, class disparity, the failed promise of urban renewal, the specter of online anonymity and fringe groups, etc. It also focuses on a young Bruce Wayne disillusioned by the possibility that, no matter what he accomplishes as the Batman, there may be nothing he can do to fix the city. The world becomes a blur of structural uncertainty.
The Batman activates its narrative through quietly thrilling depictions of Batman’s detective work. The film does better than any other when it comes to showing Batman in his primary occupation, something which fully disappears in some adaptations of the character.
It is when the movie reveals its cards and steps away from this mystery-solving that it starts to crumble under the weight of its (mostly hollow) themes and bulky runtime. When the bombs go off–literally–more comes down than just the walls. An extended climax in Gotham’s equivalent of Madison Square Garden drops the moody aesthetic in favor of gaudy action—a real shame considering other scenes feature creative, relatively slick combat movements.
By and large, though, the film justifies its nearly three-hour runtime with a compelling and knotty mystery, serviceable chemistry between Pattinson (or, more accurately, Pattinson’s eyes behind a mask) and Zoe Kravitz’s Selina Kyle, and a fresh view on Gotham from Reeves and DP Greig Fraser.
The Batman: B
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