This is cinema. I’ve always wanted to begin a review with those three words. It just never felt suitable; I needed that special little “this is it!” moment. Well, I was walking home from the local theater on Saturday night—a dark and bitter little evening in Boston with those 40 mile-per-hour wind gusts that so kindly remind you how cruel this world can be—when suddenly I knew that this was it. The moment had arrived, and I truly savored it. The Batman is both a culmination of everything that has happened in the history of cinema and a love letter to everything that it could be, one that will categorically raise the standard for action cinema in the same way Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight did in 2008. Now, I don’t know if Matt Reeves’s cutting-edge new masterpiece will build a legacy as great as that of Nolan’s iconic film, but I think The Batman is a better film. Will you agree? Maybe. Maybe not. Trust your judgment; form your own unique experience; and remember that some of the best art ever made was initially rejected by critics.
The most striking element in particular is the quality and depth of the writing. Matt Reeves’s script is brilliant. And speaking of Christopher Nolan, it reminds me of Tenet in the sense that it is an intellectually galvanizing force, as well as a daunting maze that seemingly perpetuates your doom every time you think you’ve *finally* figured it out. It is a masterclass in paying homage to the past while fearlessly showcasing its novelty. But even if somehow you don’t admire the writing, The Batman has many strengths. I thought Robert Pattinson would be good; instead, he was great. I wasn’t sure after the first few scenes if I’d be able to buy his character, yet he certainly sold me in due time. And he did so in a way that is both subtle & bold in that he brings out aspects of his character that we often don’t focus on: his intelligence, his tender side, and his discipline in knowing when to zip it and say nothing so as to not incite others or give away insider knowledge or reveal stuff that could reveal clues about who he really is. You see the pain in his eye when he sees another orphan who is struggling. You feel him pouring his soul into the people and things he cares about. And I genuinely gained admiration for both Bruce and Batman after previously viewing them as robotic and bland. Christian Bale is obviously a genius, but Pattinson’s daring interpretation engenders much more nuance. It’d be like comparing a two-dimensional thing to a three-dimensional one.
Plus Pattinson isn’t just surrounded by a star-studded cast (featuring Paul Dano, Zoë Kravitz, Jeffrey Wright, Colin Farrell, John Turturro, and Andy Serkis) that looks good on paper. Rather, there is an electrifying dynamic of energy and natural chemistry that exists in the space between characters. And while Paul Dano’s solid portrayal of Riddler is not Dano’s best, it’s refreshing to see other characters given time and space to flourish—a luxury that was not afforded to those around Heath Ledgers’s Joker because no rational screenplay would’ve been able to avoid getting sucked into the black hole that was Heath’s once-in-a-lifetime performance. Meanwhile, the cinematography is vibrant and dynamic in terms of the palette. Plus the color grading further heightens the mood. It’s like a neo-noir Denis Villeneuve film. So, visually this is the most stunning Batman film. As for sound, the sound editing and mixing are elite, combining for a seamless product.
Back to the big picture: The Batman is much darker, grittier, and more complex than even Nolan’s Batman films. Rated PG-13, it should be fine for most teenagers, yet I can’t guarantee that it won’t disturb more sensitive audiences with its graphic tones, motifs, and themes. Then again, some of the more subliminal facets and hidden messages will inevitably go over the heads of most viewers. After all, Matt Reeves’s directing is oriented in a way where audiences are encouraged through subtle clues to draw certain conclusions—only for Reeves to flip the table on you. He always has tricks up his sleeve, as was the case in many of his past films. Speaking of, this nearly 3-hour-long epic represents a climax in the rising director’s career so far. And that’s saying a lot; his last film—War for the Planet of the Apes—was an astonishing, transformative renaissance that turned a solid series into a superb one. It was one of the best films of 2017 and a must-see. But again, The Batman blows even War for the Planet of the Apes out of the water. It is truly a masterpiece disguised as just another “superhero film,” and time will treat it well.
At the end of the day, The Batman will not please everyone. Likewise, The Batman is not flawless either. The parts with Catwoman, along with the romance associated between her and Batman, seem a bit forced—though the gradual romantic tension between them is undeniable. Also, there are some scenes that ultimately feel a bit superfluous—including parts of the end, which is obviously a key part of the film. And finally, if you don’t like cerebral stuff, this is not one of those films where you can survive without intellectual investment. Alas, no film will please everyone or, indeed, prove flawless from start to end. Regardless, The Batman has so many strengths to nullify the weaknesses—and each strength is particularly impressive relative to other recent films. I have not loved as many films in the past two years as I usually would due to the inherent limitations Covid-19 brought to cinema, so my standards went down. And this film blew those standards away. The Batman is a potent reminder of why we go to the movie theaters, and I recommend that you make plans to see it on the big screen. Regardless of what you’re going through, you’ll find yourself immersed in a formidable escape, a portal to another world: the crazy and twisted and corrupt world of Gotham, one whose issues mirror our own. I am impressed. It’s not one of my favorite films ever—but it is my favorite superhero film. Bravo to Matt Reeves, Robert Pattinson, and everyone else involved. Bravo.