Review: “The Batman” – Warner Bros reboots the Dark Knight with a vengeance


Ben Kaiser, News Editor

Another Batman reboot, with Count Sparkula playing Batman now? And Colin Farrell is the Penguin? He looks nothing like Penguin; come on. And Gollum is the butler? This isn’t even part of the DC shared universe, which has a Batman already. And it’s three hours long? This is wrong. All wrong! This is gonna suck.

-Three hours later-

Well, damn. That is how you do a Batman movie!

Batman has been a big name for decades. For films, this is the fifth time the character has been re-introduced. Previously, Ben Affleck was Bruce Wayne/Batman for the DC Extended Universe, or DCEU. However, Affleck is soon retiring the cape and cowl. He will have one last go as Batman in the repeatedly delayed “Flash” film, which may come out next year (it keeps getting delayed so it’s honestly hard to say when it’ll ever be released).

Surprisingly, this film is separate from the DCEU storyline, opening a whole new independent universe of films and shows.

“The Batman” was directed by Matt Reeves, who also co-wrote the film with Peter Craig. Reeves had a lot of creative freedom for this film. He has directed “Cloverfield” (many confuse J.J. Abrams as the director), a science-fiction monster movie, and the American version of “Let Me In,” a horror film where a bullied teen befriends a ‘teenage’ vampire. He also took over the last two current reboots of “Planet of the Apes.” Regardless of the range of genres, his films are often down-to-earth and gritty with their content. This version of Batman is exactly that.

“The Batman” stars Robert Pattinson (the “Twilight” saga, sadly) as Bruce Wayne/Batman, Zoe Kravitz (HBO’s“Big Little Lies”) as Selina Kyle/Catwoman, Andy Serkis (“The Lord of the Rings” series) as Alfred Pennyworth, and Jeffrey Wright (HBO’s “Westworld”) as James Gordon. Colin Farrell (“In Bruges”) stars as Penguin, a mob-fronted nightclub owner, and Paul Dano (“There Will Be Blood”) stars as the Riddler, a masked serial killer who targets Gotham’s corrupt citizens and leaves riddles at his crime scenes.

“The Batman” is set during Batman’s second year as a vigilante. Batman has a shaky alliance with Gotham’s PD and is called by James Gordon to help investigate the murder of the city’s mayor. The killer calls himself the Riddler and leaves elaborate clues to future victims. As Batman tries to stop the Riddler, the victims will unveil deep corruption in Gotham City.

Batman casting always brings complaints about who is playing the big, bad bat. In the late ‘80s, people hated the idea of comedy actor Michael Keaton playing Batman. Everyone seemed ok with Christian Bale being cast in 2004’s “Batman Begins,” but the fans blew up with Heath Ledger playing the Joker. Then the internet went crazy with news of Ben Affleck playing Zack Snyder’s version of Batman. Once it was announced that yet another reboot was coming, Robert Pattinson was cast for the role. Yep, you guessed it; people lost it. Who would want the lamest vampire in movie history playing the Dark Knight?

It’s remarkable how wrong they were.

I think many dreaded seeing Pattison as Batman after his worldwide fame as Edward Cullen from the “Twilight” series. Those weren’t his best moments in movies. Rumor was he hated working on those god-awful movies, which may account for his poor performance. But Pattison has been in other films, many of which he has been great as an actor. Recent ones have been “The Lighthouse” and “Tenet.” He’s even been in one of the Harry Potter films.

For “The Batman,” Pattinson is awesome in this film. Not only does he pull off a convincing Batman who punches bad guys, but he also gives a reclusive Bruce Wayne that hides away from the world. This Wayne is clearly a man more comfortable in the Batsuit than attending charity banquets and wherever else rich people go to. Reeves designed this version of Bruce Wayne based on Kurt Cobain, and it really links well with the character.

In fact, now that I think about it, he’s shown in the Batsuit more than out of it, something that you only see in the comic books. Usually, the movies show superheroes out of costume for most of the movie. Even when they’re in costume, they’ll have their masks/helmets off to show their faces. But this Batman sticks to the cowl for most of the time.

Batman is more on the detective side in this film. Instead of fighting aliens or super-beings, Batman spends most of the time tracking clues and punching bad guys to get more information. He works with Gotham City Police, especially James Gordon, to figure out the Riddler’s killings. This is the old-school Batman, solving cases as a detective in the more bizarre cases of Gotham. DC Comics is even named from Batman’s detective work, which stands for “Detective Comics.” Although that would mean DC Comics would technically be “Detective Comics Comics.”

With every new Batman, there’s a new Batmobile. Moving from the tank-like designs of Affleck/Bale movies, this has more of a “Mad Max” look. It looks like a Dodge Charger and Ford GT combined into one muscle car shooting fire from its exhaust. It’s more low-key than the Tumbler tank and yet causes just as much hell when chasing bad guys on the highway.

Colin Farrell plays the Penguin, and, wow. If I didn’t know ahead of time, I would have never called that it was him playing Penguin. He was completely unrecognizable. Even had a Brooklyn/Italian mafia accent to complete the image. This may just be the greatest role Farrell has ever done.

However, the Penguin isn’t the big villain for Batman this time around; it’s the Riddler. Unlike Jim Carrey’s goofier version, this Riddler is a more serious and disturbing character. Paul Dano plays the villain like the Zodiac Killer, a real-life costumed serial killer from the 1960s. Riddler sees Batman as an inspiration and commits his crime as a means for the greater good. In addition to leaving riddles, he usually places hidden clues which reveal his intended future targets. He’ll also come up with the most creative way to use the term “thumb drive.” One victim even gets a “Saw” trap treatment, forced to admit to lies publicly to unlock a neck bomb.

Zoe Kravitz appears as Selina Kyle, a cat burglar who audiences will know is Catwoman, but no one in the movie calls her that. That’s always a pet peeve of mine when they can’t give us the silly comic book name. Michelle Pfeiffer from “Batman Returns” will always be the Catwoman of my heart, but Kravitz gives a great performance. Pfeiffer was psychotic and unpredictable as her film’s femme fatale, however, Kravitz was a down-to-earth, crafty, and relatable femme fatale. Kravitz also maintains that level of anti-hero and villain, balancing between the two like a playful cat. Hah, get it?

Both Kyle and Wayne grew up as orphans in Gotham, yet Wayne was raised with his wealth and Kyle living on the streets. Yet, they both have the same sense of protecting people, even though Kyle sees the city as a hopeless cause for saving. While she abandons the city, I hope Reeves has future plans for Kravitz returning. Her take as Kyle is worth further exploring.

But what’s this? A new Batman story with no origin story? You mean, I don’t have to relive watching Bruce Wayne’s parents getting murdered for the 20th time? I don’t have to hear Batman crying about his mother’s name or see her pearls falling to the street in slow motion for 15 friggin’ minutes? I was beginning to think Warner Bros couldn’t make Batman films without constant reminders of his parents.

Vengeance is the keyword for “The Batman.” After punching a bunch of gangs, he’ll call himself ‘Vengeance.’ His mission to clean up Gotham is vengeance for his parents’ murder. And so on. But Batman’s quest for vengeance reveals itself as a double-edged sword. Batman wants to save the city from its abundance of crime by punching bad guys and sending them to jail. But the Riddler sees what he is doing as the same thing, just with murdering corrupt city officials. It starts to get more out of hand when other criminals want to kill the new mayor and her associates, screaming “I am Vengeance.” It shows Batman’s desire for vengeance becoming out of control and copied by others misinterpreting his message.

The music score was written by Michael Giacchino, and it brings nostalgic tunes of Danny Elfman’s theme from the 1989 “Batman” as well as Hans Zimmer’s and James Newton Howard’s “The Dark Knight” music. Giacchino also blended notes from Nirvana’s “Something in the Way” into a theme for Batman and Gotham City. It’s an interesting approach since Reeves used Kurt Cobain as inspiration for his version of Bruce Wayne. Riddler’s theme is an altered version of Franz Schubert’s “Ave Maria,” an opera song that the Riddler is very fond of. This version has a disturbing feel to it, matching with the disturbing nature of the Riddler.

If there was something to complain about, it would be the running time. I’m not joking about the three hours. Holy crap, it was that long! Why so long, you monsters? Luckily, the run time doesn’t feel like a long drag, but there is a lot covered in the film. Riddler’s killing spree, Wayne’s family involvement with the mob, the mob, Catwoman’s roommate (pretty sure it’s her girlfriend, but everyone insists they’re just roomies) missing, and a mayoral election. They’re all intertwined, but some are more important than others. Riddler’s story starts to drift away once Wayne finds a conspiracy behind his parents’ murders.

This film is meant to be the beginning of a new trilogy, with planned spin-off series releasing on HBO Max. This is the start of another shared universe, focused on Reeves’ “The Batman” storyline. It doesn’t seem like they’re going to have other superheroes from DC show up, but who knows for now. The planned spin-offs will be about Penguin becoming a crime boss after the event of the film and a horror series centered on Arkham Asylum, the psychiatric hospital for Batman’s deranged villains.

“The Batman” has launched to the top of many viewers’ top Batman films. “The Dark Knight” is still better, because of Heath Ledger’s Joker. But “The Batman” is right behind that. It’s dark and brutal, with great fight sequences and some serious beatdowns. While the DCEU’s Batman is fighting aliens and monsters, this Batman is sticking to his own gallery of mentally-unstable villains and mob bosses. It’s where Batman is at his best.

There is an end-credit scene. Yeah, over three hours isn’t long enough for this film. They’re gonna make fans sit through the credits and wait to pee later. It’s not even to tease another film, it’s a joke scene. I’m peeing in a cup next time; my bladder can only take so much strain.

“The Batman” is currently in theaters and will be streaming on HBO Max in April.