‘The Batman’: Gritty storytelling propels latest Gotham caper

( PG-13 ) ( Monitor Movie Guide )
Jonathan Olley/Warner Bros. Pictures/AP
"The Batman" features a familiar roster of characters, including the iconic caped crusader (Robert Pattinson) and his new friend Selina Kyle (Zoë Kravitz), a.k.a. Catwoman.

The opening hour and a half of “The Batman” is as gripping and visceral as anything the comic book genre has ever produced. 

Director and co-writer Matt Reeves’ smart and ambitious work on both “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” and “War for the Planet of the Apes” has been leading to a blockbuster of this size and scale, and he uses all of his filmmaking arsenal to bring Gotham City to life in a dark, gritty, and authentic manner. 

This time around, the titular character’s cape and cowl belong to Robert Pattinson (“Twilight,” “Tenet”). He opts for a broody but determined incarnation of Bruce Wayne, who has just begun his second year as the masked vigilante.

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Alongside his trusted butler Alfred (Andy Serkis), police lieutenant ally James Gordon (Jeffrey Wright), and new friend Selina Kyle, otherwise known as Catwoman (Zoë Kravitz), Wayne tries to catch the elusive and sadistic Riddler (Paul Dano), who is targeting the elite of Gotham. 

To find him, Batman must uncover the vast web of corruption that has long infiltrated the city. Along the way, Wayne goes toe-to-toe with crime lord Carmine Falcone (John Turturro) and mobster Penguin (Colin Farrell), while also discovering details about his own family’s past that were meant to be kept hidden.

“The Batman” also explores themes of justice, legacy, and the impact of wealth inequality in a thought-provoking manner. Since he’s still in the early throes of fighting crime, Pattinson’s Batman starts off with little conflict over his vigilantism. But as the film progresses, his impact on Gotham becomes more and more questionable.

There are an awful lot of characters for Reeves and his co-writer Peter Craig to keep control of. For the most part, the pair handles this challenge well, wisely deciding that the film requires a vastly different pace from its superhero peers. 

Rather than starting off with an action scene to immediately satisfy viewers, Reeves slowly lulls them into the story, as he knows that, if he moves along too quickly, the film’s 176-minute-long running time will quickly become too laborious. 

The result of the film’s patient approach – with its moody visuals and preference for atmosphere and suspense over too much action or violence – is that it plays more like a psychological thriller than a Marvel movie. The longer “The Batman” goes on, the more unsettling it becomes, as Wayne has to overcome a depraved world of greedy, ruthless, and vindictive characters. 

But while its DC Comics mega-hit predecessor “Joker” felt like an underwhelming rip-off of the Martin Scorsese films it was blatantly inspired by, “The Batman” is so immersive and entertaining that it always feels like its own unique movie. Once the film gets going, there are plenty of enthralling sequences, including a car chase that feels straight out of the “Fast and the Furious” franchise.

What makes “The Batman” even more impressive is that every scene crackles with artistic flair. Despite the constant downpour and imposing skyscrapers making you feel trapped, Reeves and cinematographer Greig Fraser (“Dune”) still manage to find beauty in the urban decay and create iconic shots amidst the chaos. All of that is enhanced by a sensational score from Michael Giacchino, which brings a necessary rhythm to the story, as well as a general sense of foreboding.

Warner Bros. Pictures/AP
Robert Pattinson plays both Batman and his alter ego, the affluent Bruce Wayne, in the latest film, which explores themes of justice, legacy, and the impact of wealth inequality.

Yet just about the time “The Batman” feels as though it has secured its spot as the definitive masterpiece of the superhero genre, it loses control of its characters. It’s not enough to completely derail the film. But it goes around in circles trying to explain unnecessary plot points and backstory. At this point, even its fight sequences falter, becoming so poorly lit and incomprehensible that they border on parody.

Reeves’ smart and shrewd storytelling puts the film back on course, though, while its chilling and audacious final set piece ensures it ends on a high note. Although it does disappointingly go over the top on occasion, there’s just too much depth and style to “The Batman” for it to be anything other than a success. 

What’s even more exciting is that Reeves’ assured and dynamic handling of the character and material – as well as a string of fine performances – suggests this is only the beginning.

“The Batman” is available in theaters and is expected to stream on HBO Max later in the year. The film is rated PG-13 for strong violent and disturbing content, drug content, strong language, and some suggestive material. 

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