Basically: Matt Reeves takes Batman on a dark “knight” of the soul and rediscovers a hero.
Since 2005, I have repeatedly sent out all-points bulletins (APB) in search of Batman at the movies. The character I knew so well, who was portrayed brilliantly again and again in animation, was missing in live action. It’s not that Christopher Nolan’s trilogy isn’t good, it’s just that it didn’t contain any trace of a recognizable Batman. Those movies are mostly about a G-R-I-T-T-Y Bruce Wayne and they inexplicably take Batman’s iconic abilities and farm them out to other characters. That bothered me, I felt it was a mistake that might not be corrected due to the success of the franchise.* I was right. Enter Zack Snyder’s miserable bastard who makes jokes about money as a superpower. Or go online and see how many fans now revile The Bat, somehow blaming him for traits and actions that more accurately match Tony Stark (in comics and in the MCU), yet Iron Man is all love and Batman, well. . . I’d say it is a puzzlement but it isn’t—it’s very clear how we got here.
That’s why I approached the idea of a new cinematic version of the character with the same caution I’d use for a birthday cake that looks like a bomb. Could be a celebration, could get messy. Until the trailers started rolling out and I became intrigued by the possibilities director Matt Reeves might explore. When Robert Pattinson’s, decidedly emo, Batman tells a violent gang, “I am vengeance,” that would usually annoy me, but here I posited Reeves was giving us a not-quite-Batman-yet. The character at the beginning of his journey; still ruled by trauma and grief, pushing everyone away, and only satisfied by punishing criminals with his fists. Basically the version that has been in arrested development throughout the DCEU, but taking him back to a time when that made sense. I believed Reeves was going to take Batman from Vengeance to Hero in a (pun fully intended) dark knight of the soul.
Was I right? Check my track record. Or I could tell you more. Okay, I’ll tell you more.
The Batman begins in what appears to be year two or three of Batman’s crime fighting career. He has a relationship of mutual goals and a burgeoning friendship with Lieutenant Detective Jim Gordon (Jeffrey Wright) and he’s mad at Alfred (Andy Serkis), mostly for not being his father. He’s not a crimefighter as much as an angry ass-kicker, but there are signs of “the world’s greatest detective” on the horizon (someone who will balance light and dark). And then the killings of important government figures start, orchestrated with grim bravado and puzzle-master flair by The Riddler (Paul Dano). This is when you realize you’re watching a mixture of crime drama and serial killer procedural, which makes perfect sense for a city like Gotham and a soon-to-be hero like The Bat.
Yet the inciting incident isn’t an incident at all, it’s a cat burglar named Selina Kyle (Zoë Kravitz) who challenges Batman to look deeper and to feel more. He does, and so do we, thus the story has combustion. The chemistry between The Bat and The Cat is everything comic book fans are craving. Kravitz gives us a freshman Catwoman who takes the best of the Brubaker and Cooke version, mixes it with Tom King’s take, and adds a catalyst of her own to make this the best version we’ve seen on screen. She’s slinky and radiant and perceptive and her fighting style is fabulous. This is the Catwoman we deserve (with a nod to Eartha Kitt who is clearly part of this killer cocktail).
Another thing you’ll be happy to know is: This isn’t an origin story. We jump right in, finding the character in medias res and witnessing the bond between Jim Gordon and Batman. This movie understands that friendships always undergird superheroes stories. No need to see how Batman began or how he and Gordon met, we’re immersed in a narrative that pulls us in. This is a raw, virtually untested Batman who makes mistakes that only experience can cure, and a Catwoman who is evolving into her power. Meanwhile, it features the man who will become Commissioner Gordon, and an Alfred you know can and will take you out with his cane. Plus, there’s a heavy metal Batmobile that makes the tumbling Hummer version look like a sideshow prize won at the county fair.
And the villain(s) . . . so much commentary and so well played. Colin Farrell’s Penguin is a gangster for sure who is going to be a problem, and the facial scarring used to give the character the appearance of a beak should win awards. Likewise Dano’s Riddler is a writhing pit of pain and psychopathy whose allure is easy to see from real life examples.
This is Batman reclaimed. We finally found him.
In the End: Yes, Matt Reeves, yes! Come through Robert “Battinson” Pattison and Zoe “Thee Cat” Kravitz. This is Batman and it’s good to see him. Can’t wait to see where you take him next.
* As Geek Girl Riot host Philip Jean-Pierre says, “Those films should have been categorized as Elseworld stories.”