‘THE BATMAN’ Review: Robert Pattinson Leads An Excellent Crime Cape-r

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Courtney Howard // Film Critic

THE BATMAN

Rated PG-13, 2 hours and 55 minutes

Directed by: Matt Reeves

Starring: Robert Pattinson, Zoë Kravitz, Paul Dano, Colin Farrell, Jeffrey Wright, John Turturro

The world Matt Reeves builds in THE BATMAN isn’t too far off from our own. Every real world touchstone is shown a tad askew, like an evolving life running parallel to our own where vigilantes and villains exist in a surrealist dream. This deliberate, distinctive direction – or rather misdirection – forces us to ruminate on the precarious, often blurred, lines that delineate fantasy from reality, heroes from heavies, and love from hate. These complex obscurities are what drive the archetypal figures who populate this picture to not just clash, but intertwine in the gray, morally muddied areas. And it delivers a spectacularly striking, remarkable vision.

Gotham is in trouble as it heads into its mayoral election. Murder and violence are running rampant and not even moonlighting caped-crime-stopper Batman/ Bruce Wayne (Robert Pattinson) can combat it all. By day, he’s a wealthy recluse grappling with a burdensome family legacy, where even the simple act of wearing his father’s gold monogrammed cufflinks symbolizes a link to a painful past. However, his world dramatically shifts when he’s called in by Lt. James Gordon (Jeffrey Wright) to help assist on a case. Mysterious madman The Riddler (Paul Dano) has murdered the mayor and left behind difficult-to-decipher clues hidden in riddles. Naturally these lead to more questions than answers. As the sadistic serial killer’s victims begin to stack up, striking fear in the city authorities being targeted, it becomes apparent they’re all connected to a larger picture – one that involves badass broad Selena Kyle (Zoë Kravitz) and fat cat criminal bosses Oswald Cobblepot (Colin Farrell) and Carmine Falcone (John Turturro).

Reeves conducts this cinematic symphony with stylized grace and beauty, which proves a fascinating juxtaposition to the cruelty and dread-fueled horror within the narrative co-written with Peter Craig. It echoes the gritty, grimy aesthetic and thematic overtones of the 70’s – an era marked by political and personal corruption. Films like CHINATOWN (with its elements of localized corruption and a mystery woman) and SEVEN (with the first victim’s murder and the demented, calculating killer) are indeed heavy influences on the narrative and set pieces. It even seems like the pair are having a dark laugh at our expense with the Riddler’s contraptions erring more towards the side of Jigsaw in the SAW franchise. Yet all this homage applied by the filmmakers is done with a resolute, assured purpose to achieve a unique, resounding commentary.

The Batmobile in hot pursuit in THE BATMAN. Courtesy of Warner Brothers Pictures.

Classically-constructed noir elements in character design and dialogue mix headily with bruising, muscular action and stunt choreography, and impactful sound design on gunfire and car cacophony. The filmmakers integrate Batman’s gadgets and accoutrement masterfully, from his police station escape to his scuffles with henchmen and foes. Perhaps most thrilling is the appearance of the Batmobile, booming and roaring like an uncaged primordial beast. The show-stopping street pursuit sequence uses the car in thrilling ways and keeps character drive continually at the forefront. It’s phenomenal.

The marriage of modern brutalism and classic gothic style in James Chinlund’s gloriously glum production design also serves to augment the titular character’s psyche. His subtle delineation between the polished shellac of Gotham’s criminal underbelly and the world of the elite saviors, who cloak their corruption in conscientiousness, further supports the notion that these worlds are conjoined. Jacqueline Durran’s gorgeous costume design highlights deeper meaning through textures and fabrics used for each of these characters. Greig Fraser’s superb cinematography, in concert with Michael Giacchino’s salient score, is all mood and atmospheric pull. Their fire and ferociousness complement the innovative character drive, gifting this feature with an unforgettable visual appeal and a brilliant soundscape.

Other greatest assets are the performances. Wright and Farrell give the definitive portraits of their characters put to screen, both showing well-rounded, multi-faceted insights into each. Turturro is delightfully slippery. Dano is a live-wire. He embraces his intense and unhinged side and plays it to the hilt. Pattinson turns in noteworthy work filled with depth and dimension, delivering a nuanced, complex, compelling protagonist. Kravitz is a stand-out with her 40’s style femme-fatale lilt and her ability to embody slinky and smart in equal measure. Although their chemistry doesn’t compare to the potent, combustible connection between Michelle Pfeiffer and Michael Keaton in BATMAN RETURNS, the pair conduct heat of their own that’s refreshingly poignant.

While pacing is never an issue (though the run time is long, it feels positively brisk), it does suffer from not being able to settle on a proper ending. It also contends with a few other bumps along its relatively smoothly-paved road, like having its characters summarize for the audience what they should already know during bulky exposition dumps. Though it sounds cool, given the detective milieu, for characters to say, “You mean to tell me x, y, and z,” it reads wrong. Plus, there are a few third act developments that require some light acrobatics to be believable.

Nevertheless, the sparkle and brilliance outweighs any flaws. With passionate ingenuity and inspiration, Reeves and company have turned in a dark, brooding rumination on the nature and consequences of heroics. It rings as an echo of previous Batman-centered features and reverberates long after the end credits finish their scroll.

Grade: B+

THE BATMAN opens in theaters on March 4.

About author

Courtney Howard

Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, CCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.

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