The latest iteration of DC’s iconic Caped Crusader, “The Batman” is a brutal portrayal of the character’s early years as the superhero. Directed by Matt Reeves (“Cloverfield,” “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”), the movie’s dark tone creates a chilling yet thrilling take on the character, which is a refreshing departure from previous versions that were more action-packed.
The film follows the relatively young billionaire Bruce Wayne (Robert Pattinson), who has spent two years fighting crime as the Batman. As sadistic serial killer the Riddler (Paul Dano) murders corrupt members of Gotham City’s government to bring about political change, Wayne tries to hunt him down while maneuvering through the city’s criminal underworld.
The biggest accomplishment of the film, and what truly brings it to life, is its gritty visual design by production designer James Chinlund (“The Avengers”).
While past Batman movies have presented Gotham as a realistic American city, “The Batman” shows a captivating, more stylized version that’s closer to the comics. The Gotham skyline consists of dark and oppressively tall skyscrapers, while the streets are run-down and lit by harsh orange lighting. Narratively, the movie also captures the seediness and corruption that plagues Gotham from the criminal gangs to the police department to the mayor.
The dreary design extends to the characters themselves. Pattinson’s metallic outfit as Batman gives off a harsh feeling that echoes that of Gotham. The Riddler’s homemade outfit also highlights this depressing style, with the character wearing gloves to conceal his fingerprints, a leather mask to hide his face and cling wrap around his head to prevent leaving hair at crime scenes.
Working in tandem with the film’s style is its ominous soundtrack, which was composed by Michael Giacchino (“Up,” “Spider-Man: No Way Home”).
Through the use of brass, strings and church bells, Giacchino’s droning but suspenseful score sets the tone of the movie. Giacchino repeatedly weaves distorted sections of “Ave Maria” into the music to give a sense of dread, such as in the Riddler’s theme. Additionally, the film uses Nirvana’s “Something in the Way” at the beginning and end as a haunting anchor.
Inhabiting this well-crafted world is a cast of characters who are fleshed out by strong acting performances, with Pattinson in particular standing out.
Given Wayne’s age and situation, Pattinson creates a version of the character that is drastically different from previous films. As Bruce Wayne, Pattinson depicts a young billionaire who’s still grappling with his family’s legacy and has isolated himself as a result. As for Batman, Pattinson depicts the superhero as a new detective who’s jaded by Gotham’s crime and is starting to fight back.
Pattinson’s interpretation is a refreshing contrast to older takes on the character. Christian Bale’s portrayal of Bruce Wayne in the Dark Knight trilogy is a middle-aged, playboy billionaire, while Ben Affleck’s depiction in Batman v Superman is a tormented anti-hero who assumes the worst in everyone. Pattinson’s Wayne gets the freedom of existing before all of that.
Supporting characters Selina Kyle / Catwoman (Zoë Kravitz) and Gothman police lieutenant James Gordon (Jeffrey Wright) also add interest to the story, with Kravitz’s Catwoman acting as more of a hero than in past renditions. Additionally, Dano serves as an intriguing villain with his principled but deranged take on the Riddler.
Because of the original approach “The Batman” takes, the movie pushes its way into the thriller genre. As a result of Dano’s psychotic Riddler and the film’s dark style, the movie has a sense of looming dread that causes suspense, with occasional outbursts by the Riddler even leaning into horror.
Because of this departure in tone, however, “The Batman” could be off-putting for fans of past iterations of the character’s story, such as Christopher Nolan’s trilogy. While Reeves captures the seedy feel of Gotham, this comes at the expense of some of the over-the-top action that defined Nolan’s films, such as the bank heist and hospital explosion from “The Dark Knight.”
Some viewers might also be dissuaded by the movie’s nearly three-hour runtime. While the pacing of the film is consistent and its story engaging, the length could seem excessive for people debating whether or not to watch it. The length ultimately serves the film well, as it allows Reeves to flesh out the ruthless world of Gotham.
With its gritty design and narrative, “The Batman” shows a dark take on the character that surpasses previous movies about the character.