Movies Reviews

The Dark Knight Rages in Matt Reeves’ The Batman

For the last two years, Bruce Wayne has given his life to cleaning up the streets, becoming the batman who stalks the criminals hiding within the shadows of Gotham as they prey on the vulnerable; picking and choosing his petty crime battles with only the aid of a signal that shines in the darkened sky. Broken promises, dreams and politicians vowing to make Gotham great again, still festers as its citizens silently whisper for a true savior.

It’s Halloween night and everyone is in costume. Bruce Wayne is patrolling the streets not as himself, not in the Batsuit, but as someone in between Bruce and the Bat—a shadowy persona that drifts between man and hero. Clad in nondescript, dark clothing he broods nihilistically as the weight of Gotham rests heavy on his shoulders…and his soul. 

Amongst the city’s corrupt network of officials and high-profile figures, a lone vigilante has established himself as the sole embodiment of vengeance. This is where Bruce Wayne thrives; within the depths of a shell of a man at the edge of despair, who sees no hope for the city and its residents, looking for a reason to attack. Rage lives here as it looks for trouble Batman can literally beat out of one’s system.

But can the dark knight do more than stalk the streets looking for petty criminals? While it’s emotion that drives him, at what point does rage push Bruce Wayne over the edge into self-destruction? 

During the height of a Mayoral election campaign, a killer targets Gotham’s elite with a series of sadistic machinations. A trail of cryptic clues sends the World’s Greatest Detective and a cop with no allies in this corrupted system, Jim Gordon, on an investigation into the underworld, where he encounters such characters as Selina Kyle (Zoë Kravitz), Oz, aka The Penguin (Colin Farrell), Carmine Falcone (John Turturro), and Edward Nashton/aka The Riddler (Paul Dano).  

As the evidence begins to lead closer to home, the scale of a man dubbed The Riddler becomes clear. Batman must forge new relationships, unmask the culprit, and bring justice to the abuse of power and corruption that has long plagued Gotham City.

But can the reclusive scion of Gotham’s richest family, who is in the mists of questioning his family’s legacy, employ a lethal combination of mental mastery, physical strength and expert technology?

Director/Writer/Producer Matt Reeves has created an epic, suspenseful, high-octane action film that is both a cinematic experience on a massive visual scale and an intimate, gritty, edgy and emotional exploration into the twisted inner workings of the mind, all set within an iconic city on the brink of imploding.

Pattinson conveys a masterclass of fragility behind the façade of his impenetrable armor that leads Bruce Wayne further down the rabbit hole he has to fight to climb out of, and that shift is excitingly different from previous incarnations of the character.

As seen in previous movies not titled Twilight, Pattinson is a chameleon; he escapes into the role of Bruce Wayne and Batman; two separate characters inhabiting the same body. Bruce is quiet, anti-social and vulnerable as he longs for life when hope existed, and ignorance was bliss. He lashes out at Alfred at times, (“You’re not my father”), but there is genuine love for the man who continues to raise him, a toll Alfred knows is necessary or Bruce will succumb to the darkness.  

Stripping away everything seen in previous Batman iterations, Reeves’ The Batman is a brutal, almost three-hour crime noir that’s both authentic and a genius take that redefines the superhero genre. Screenwriter Peter Craig, Reeves’ script is less constrictive as its meant to exist in its own carved-out portion of the DC filmdom, unconnected to previously (or soon-to-be) explored territory within the Multiverse because it doesn’t carry the weight of having to connect various established stories and characters. The Batman is not an origin story but relies heavily on his origins and how it shaped him mentally. He is not a superhero in the classic sense, but a man driven to try and make sense of the world while discovering the person he wants to become. It is his drive to make the world better that makes him a superhero to others.

But what is a superhero without a villain? In steps The Riddler, one of Gotham’s greatest and most twisted and creative minds. But this is not an over-the-top The Riddler who dons bright green suits with question marks; Reeves’ Riddler, played with disturbing intensity by Paul Dano, is as confident as he is questioning, slow and methodical as his riddles (which are a work of art) will shake you to your core.

Acting awards exist for performances like Dano’s, whose transformation into a serial killer is refreshing and unshakeable. It’s easy to see Reeves drawing inspiration from the early Bob Kane and Bill Finger stories in which Batman was solving crimes as a means of describing Gotham as a dreadful, corrupt place. The Riddler interacting with the case he is involved in is another layer to his sadism; a serial killer who kills for a reason that will bring both Gotham and Bruce Wayne to his knees. In the wake of the murders, through the crime scenes and cyphers he leaves behind directed at The Batman, The Riddler’s aftermath not only leaves the Gotham Police Department at a standstill but causes Batman to lose his control, descending into a psychologically fragile freefalling state.

Both Bruce Wayne and Edward Nashton represent two sides of trauma. Bruce Wayne has lost his parents and responds to his trauma by trying to do something good with that pain. And you have the trauma of Edward Nashton, who has suffered in his own way and takes that pain and thinks he’s doing something good, but it is misguided. This fresh point of view creates an emotional backstory as the driving force for that character.

Dano’s Edward Nashton is a man who is gifted in many ways but has never had any breaks in life like Bruce. He is drowning in himself, in his mind, in his past and in this city. The riddles and the murders are a response to all the questions he’s tortured himself with his whole life, especially ‘Why me?’ But they also bring him solace and joy, as his dwelling takes us into the mind of a man who finds pleasure growing up—puzzles, numbers, riddles, games. Becoming The Riddler is the only way he can escape his situation and feel good. Forcing Batman to partake in his twisted games is a way of inviting Batman into his world, hoping he can find solace there too, hoping to find a kindship with their dualities.  

Connected to the disappearance of a young woman involved with Riddler’s latest puzzle, Batman follows the clues to a nightclub for Gotham’s moneymen where he meets Selina Kyle, a mysterious figure who is quietly infiltrating Gotham’s seedy underbelly to further her own agenda. Her fierce attitude and tenacious agility are the perfect tools to excel as a cat burglar but hidden underneath the array of identities and the motorcycle leathers is a protective soul who’s more at home with the city’s strays than its citizens. Zoë Kravitz owns every scene she’s in with confidence and determination.

Evenly matched with The Batman, Selina is initially at odds with him, presenting another puzzle for Bruce to solve. There’s clearly a dislike for each other, yet they’re forced to work together solving a crime that’s more interconnected than originally believed. What’s more important about Selina is she’s never painted as a victim or a damsel in distress that needs saving. Reeves’ treats Selina and Catwoman as both mentally and physically strong; this is how she is able to survive and to fight for other people she sees in similar positions. In the film, where the character intersects with Batman seems predestined, his investigation leads their paths to cross, but this crossing feels inevitable since they’re fighting for the same thing, though their methods may vary. She is a beautiful contrast to Batman’s silver-spooned upbringing.  

What would Gotham’s seedy underworld be without Colin Farrell as The Penguin aka Oz, as the proprietor of Gotham’s exclusive nightlife hotspot, The Iceberg Lounge, a meeting place for the city’s underworld? While this shady crook is known for running his mouth as well as running operations for the city’s top gangster, Carmine Falcone, he definitely has his sights set on becoming someone more.

Completely transforming himself for the role, Colin Farrell is unrecognizable, there’s a very real significant emotional core to his character. Representing spiritual, political corruption and environmental corruption, The Penguin/Oz creates another layer of danger that is imbued with a sense of backstory, subtext and a deep emotional and psychological undercurrent. Gotham is a lawless place, and he demands to be their king. But the road to the kingdom is not easy, as the midlevel gangster is constantly underestimated by others and often made fun of. This is his origin as we see the seeds of what he wants to become.

There is a bit of Fredo from The Godfather that resides in Farrell’s performance. Oz is a showman, loud and gregarious but also disgusting. People think he’s a little bit of a joke, and he’s kind of this mixture of someone who people make fun of to a degree, but actually, it turns out, that under all of that, he’s a volcano. Farrell plays Oz as someone very aware of his image to others, and what he looks like. His physical attributes are potentially, in his view, his handicaps, including a fairly noticeable jerk in his right leg. He wears the hardships of the life that he’s lived in his performance and body. His face bears the scars of his life and Farrell shows this by moving, talking, even gesticulating differently, approaching the character from a socio-psychological direction.

If Oz seeks a higher level of power, he could easily be eyeing the position held by Carmine Falcone, the head of one of Gotham’s most established crime families. Holed up in The Shoreline Lofts, this hermit-like kingpin manages to exert power and influence on the city without taking a single step out of doors. Reminiscent to Frank Miller’s Year One, Turturro plays Falcone with a disturbing level of reserve that serves to enhance the character’s profound hold over those around him. He is the rarely glimpsed man with an influence felt throughout the city.

Reeves’ The Batman thrives as both entertainment and a character study about determination; the conflicts of doing what a person thinks is right for the individual vs. whether what’s right for everyone. At almost three hours, it felt like only 45minutes, as every scene is better than the last with a climatic ending that reminds you of the glory of Batman. It is violent with countless fight sequences and other physical demands one would expect from a Batman movie. Reeves manages to surpass those expectations, creating a film that’s dark, twisted, hauntingly beautiful and glorious. This is not a film bogged down in seriousness but an ambitious narrative-driven story that incorporates our own fears and frustrations of our current political climate with elements literally ripped from the headlines.

It is a love letter to the creators of Batman, gangster films and psychological thrillers that honors what Batman means to many while forging its own path that gives hopes for a better future for DC Films.

The Batman releases in theaters on March 4th.

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