Matt Reeves is celebrated for methodical storytelling and precise direction, on display in “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” and “War for the Planet of the Apes,” well-received genre films that won him the director’s chair of WarnerMedia’s “The Batman,” not to be confused with Tim Burton’s “Batman” of 1989 or “The Dark Knight” trilogy from Christopher Nolan. This is a new iteration of DC Comics’ caped crusader and, in many ways, the truest screen interpretation of the hero as he has been seen in the comic books since 1939.
This Batman is two years under the cowl, menacing the cowardly criminal lot from the shadows and scaring police and citizens at first sight. As depicted by Robert Pattinson, Bruce Wayne is a man tortured by the loss of his parents (thank you, Mr. Reeves, for foregoing an eleventeenth recreation of that scene) and motivated solely by vengeance — it’s literally his nickname. I appreciate that this Batman is not the one that we’ve seen before. He’s not fully confident — oh, he’s a badass, no doubt, but he’s not so cocky that he won’t think twice before jumping off the roof of a building or stand with clenched cheeks under his cape as he’s crowded by Gotham’s finest in a small interrogation room. That’s why he leans on a tenuous allegiance with Lieutenant Jim Gordon for help in cracking the puzzling codes of the deadly Riddler; trusty butler Alfred, portrayed in the flesh by Andy Serkis, throws his two cents in, as well.
Reeves and writer Peter Craig have produced a taut crime thriller — despite its 3-hour run time (granted Bats could walk a tick quicker at times) — full of the requisite set pieces expected in the superhero genre but stripped down to their muscular frames, like the charged up Batmobile, star of the best of those scenes. This film gives Gordon agency within their relationship and shows him to have good standing as a detective himself (kudos to Jeffrey Wright, incapable of bad performance). Colin Farrell is unrecognizable as Oswald (soon to be Penguin), but his “charm” is unmistakable. Paul Dano’s Riddler is as much a puzzle maker as Batman is a code breaker, yet this Riddler is motivated by insecurities that fuel the plot of the movie.
And then we have Selina Kyle, not fully formed as the Catwoman, yet no less elusive. Her backstory is the B-side to the movie, but Zoe Kravitz is no album cut; this is a platinum single. Her family issues play a role in the film and she’s not above being a bit manipulative of our hero to get her way; but it is in that manipulation where the torch is lit between Bat and Cat and, man oh man, the sparks! Kravitz and Pattinson work. More, please.
Look — I’ve been a Batman fan since the days of Colorforms (ask your grandparents), so on a molecular level, I enjoy the character in all his shapes, sizes and media. But I’m not a Batman-89-aholic; I prefer “Batman Begins.” Kevin Conroy is the voice of the night, but Bruce Greenwood (Young Justice) is a close second. Watching this film, I truly believe Matt Reeves and company present the character as he was originally conceived 80+ years ago by Bob Kane and Bill Finger. A creature of the night who is the scourge of the underworld and our torch-bearing guide in the dark. And he’s only two years into the game! If we’re lucky to see this character return to the screen, I look forward to growing old again with “The Batman.”