“The Batman” Does “Vengeance” Justice

Photo courtesy: screencrush.com

Photo courtesy: screencrush.com

In the time I’ve been anticipating “The Batman,” the movie changed directors, writers, lead actors, entire story concepts, and production during the COVID pandemic. Meanwhile, during that time I’ve started reading comics, graduated middle school, went to high school, learned to drive, got multiple jobs, (obviously) endured the pandemic, and started college. Suffice it to say I’ve been anticipating this movie for a very long time, since 2016’s awful “Batman vs Superman.”

To be frank, despite my being a massive fan of Batman, I dislike the majority of Batman movies because most of them do not understand the character. 

The Tim Burton movies are a mostly shallow interpretation of the character and his mythos layered in a ton of style. The Joel Schumacher movies everyone knows are bad with hilariously bad acting and writing. Zack Snyder’s version is more like the Punisher or Moon Knight rather than Batman (even down to branding people so they get killed in prison). Pretty much the only live-action version I was satisfied with was Christopher Nolan’s “Dark Knight” trilogy, but even his version had some major issues.

Fast forward to today and Matt Reeves’ “The Batman” has finally been released. This is not only my most anticipated movie of the year but very well may be my most anticipated movie ever. I’ve been following this movie for six years. I’ve followed every possible rumor, leak, and even set photos taken in Glasgow. At the time of writing this, I’ve seen this movie twice – once on opening day and the other, an early screening the Tuesday before release – and hopefully more before it leaves theaters.  

“The Batman” as it stands is not only one of, if not the best, Batman movies but also one of the best comic book movies of all time. Never before has a Batman movie so completely nailed every character like this, both in terms of both writing and as an adaptation of the source material. Everything from the cinematography, lighting, soundtrack, action, acting, writing, and more is simply incredible. Very rarely does a comic book project come out that is this well-crafted. 

Photo courtesy: Warner Bros
Photo courtesy: Warner Bros

The craftsmanship on display here is just astounding. Every shot looks like a work of art in this stylized yet gritty world. The way that cinematographer, Greig Fraser, utilizes lighting and camera angles creates such a grim yet beautiful atmosphere to Gotham that makes the movie incredibly immersive. One of the best examples of this is the shot from the second trailer that is seen from Penguin’s point of view as Batman slowly walks to his car that is flipped upside down with Batman’s shadowy silhouette walking towards him.

Where in other superhero movies I would gasp and have my jaw dropped for something cool happening on screen, here, just the sheer beauty of some of the shots had my jaw to the floor. I can’t emphasize enough how beautiful of a movie this is. It’s almost as if they took a look at how boring and visually uninteresting almost every Marvel movie looks recently and wanted to do the exact opposite. Yes, the movie is dimly lit but it’s not dark or hard to see. The best example I can compare it to is Marvel’s “Daredevil.” That show (while being a little more grounded) has a similar look as they excellently use light to give a color palette and personality to a densely packed urban setting.

Photo courtesy: collider.com
Photo courtesy: collider.com

The score by Micheal Giacchino is also fantastic. He also composed the soundtracks for the recent Tom Holland Spider-Man movies, “Incredibles,” “Ratatouille,” “UP,” the “Planet of the Apes” reboots (also directed by Matt Reeves), and “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.” He has an impressive resume, but “The Batman” may be his best work so far. The movie has what I’d consider being a near-perfect Batman score as it takes inspiration from decades of Batman content. You can see the DNA from Danny Elfman’s score from the Burton movies, Hans Zimmer’s scores for the “Dark Knight” trilogy, and Zack Snyder’s DC trilogy, and maybe even a little bit from the excellent “Batman Arkham City” video game. The three main character themes, “Batman,” “Catwoman,” and “Riddler” are all excellent and provide a frequent motif throughout the score. Specifically, Catwoman’s theme is easily the best in the movie and is honestly one of my favorite themes in any Batman movie, show, or game. It’s just beautiful and perfectly fits Selina’s character and her relationship with Batman.

Photo courtesy: theringer.com
Photo courtesy: theringer.com

The action in this movie, while not abundant, is great. Unlike most blockbusters today, the action feels brutal and visceral and every punch and hit feels like it has actual weight to it. The action isn’t quite on the level of something like the “John Wick” movies, but it’s still great regardless, and is by far the best in a Batman movie. In every other Batman movie, the fights were more often than not kind of slow, clunky, and just not very good. Even in “The Dark Knight” the hand-to-hand fights with Batman simply weren’t all that good. It didn’t take away from that movie, but in that and other Batman movies, you didn’t really get a sense of how good of a fighter he is. Here though, this isn’t an issue at all, because in every fight scene you see how much of an intimidating foe Batman is, while also not being infallible. In this respect, the film takes some inspiration from Frank Miller’s “Batman Year One” where Batman is still a great fighter, but he still can get overwhelmed and make mistakes. 

The final fight specifically is amazing. It is by far the best Batman fight scene ever put to film and may be my favorite battle in a comic book movie, because the location and setup for the fight are unique and provide for an interesting set piece that provides both spectacle, tension, and room for Batman to not break his no-kill rule. What also rocks about this fight is that it’s not just a mindless brawl with the villain with shots comprised of 90% computer-generated images. 

This movie also features what is now the best Batmobile chase ever put to film. Yes, the truck chase in “The Dark Knight” is incredible, but this scene is just on a whole other level. In this scene, the Batmobile doesn’t just feel like the Batmobile. Here, it feels like an extension of Bruce as you still feel his intimidating presence while he’s driving this jury-rigged beast of a muscle car. The scene isn’t super bombastic and crazy like the truck scene with armored cars, rocket launchers, and crashing helicopters but it is exceptionally well directed as it switches from the points of view of both Batman and Penguin as they race down the crowded highway.

Photo courtesy: Warner Bros
Photo courtesy: Warner Bros

The performances and writing here are all fantastic. Zoë Kravitz nails it at Selina Kyle, AKA Catwoman, and provides the definitive non-comic version of the character (which will become a reoccurring theme here). No other Catwoman is so expertly woven into the narrative with her own set of motivations and arcs that didn’t just serve Batman. And yes, she is better than Michelle Pfeiffer by a country mile. She has one of the most impactful and engaging plots in the whole movie. Colin Farrell delivers as the Penguin with both makeup and performance that make him completely unrecognizable. He brings a lot of personality and comedy to what is otherwise a mostly serious film. Jeffery Wright as Jim Gordon is great and he has some great interactions with Batman. I don’t know if he’s quite on the level of Gary Oldman’s version from the “Dark Knight” trilogy, but he certainly can get there in subsequent movies. Andy Serkis is also great as Alfred. Admittedly, he is a bit different than how we normally see him, but I’d say that’s for the better. This time he’s a lot more standoffish around Bruce because of their strained relationship, but you still see that he deeply cares about Bruce like he’s his own son.

Paul Dano completely knocks it out of the park as the Riddler, as he channels the character’s more goofy and performative side along with a more grounded and intimidating take. Unlike Jim Carrey’s iteration in “Batman Forever,” Dano’s actually feels like a threat and has an intimidating presence throughout the movie. Without spoilers, they nail how Riddler is a complete psycho, while also acknowledging that he’s not a physical threat to Batman, but rather an intellectual one. This time around he has an actual plan, whereas Carrey was more like what Heath Ledger’s Joker describes as “a dog chasing cars.” That is, he just kind of does things with little rhyme or reason whereas in “The Batman” you can see the seeds of Riddler’s plan from the very start of the movie and it’s really interesting – not only unraveling the mystery, but going back and seeing his whole plan laid out through his riddles.

Finally, there’s Robert Pattinson as the titular Caped Crusader, the Batman. Sadly I must report that “Twilight” vampire boy falls under the pressure of playing the Caped Crusader. Just kidding, Pattinson delivers by far the best Batman performance in any live-action movie. He perfectly embodies an angry and bitter Batman in the early days of his career, like seen in “Batman Year One,” The “Long Halloween,” and “Arkham Origins.” For once in a movie Bruce doesn’t have himself, his life, or even his moral code completely figured out. For all intents and purposes, Bruce is a socially outcast recluse. More than ever, Bruce is a man of little words with a layer of stoicism, but Pattinson somehow still gives Bruce a sense of vulnerability and like he’s a house of cards dangerously close to falling down. Pattinson embodies this version of the character to a T and can completely sell scenes just on body language and eye movements alone.

Photo courtesy: screenrant.com
Photo courtesy: screenrant.com

The story and writing here are just as good as the performances. showing Bruce be a vulnerable and fallible person despite being layered in bulletproof armor and being able to take on dozens of men at once is something the movies rarely do but this movie has that in spades. Like I said before this is the best adaptation of Batman ever put to film. No other adaptation so thoroughly understands the character and his symbol quite like this. Bale came close, but he very often suffered from being upstaged by his villains and some liberal use of his no-killing rule. Comparatively, Pattinson’s Bruce Wayne (finally) adopts a strict no-kill rule that he vigorously abides by, but this time around his moral code isn’t quite there yet. Where in the comics his no-kill rule informs every aspect of his moral code, here, Bruce starts as a more apathetic character, even going so far as victim-blaming someone who died to the mob. 

*Spoilers to the end of this paragraph* 

The movie itself is essentially about Batman’s journey from an angry masked vigilante who may be doing more harm than good to a true hero to inspire and bring hope to the people of Gotham. This is because Bruce is forced to confront how his actions affect the city and those around him. He sees how him being “vengeance” hurt his relationship with Alfred. He sees how his actions inspired Selina to enact her own form of vengeance against mob boss, Carmine Falcone. Most importantly, he sees how his symbol inspired the Riddler and his goons. All of this ultimately leads to Bruce realizing how he was using Batman as a way of venting his anger to the world, despite him thinking he was doing what was right for Gotham. All these things culminate in the final scene where he rescues and takes care of some of the dozens of people who survived the final set piece. To cap off Bruce’s arc, the final scene shows the final conversation between Bruce and Selina as they go their separate ways, and in the final seconds of the movie, Bruce longingly looks back at Selina through the rearview mirror on his motorcycle, showing that he’s finally learned to love others, while also showing the sacrifices that come with him being Batman.

Despite the common misconception, Batman is not a predatory creature of the night who exacts his own form of vengeance against the criminal element of Gotham. He’s an altruist and an optimist despite his grim and stoic demeanor. The core of this movie is bringing that “out to the light.” It’s about him moving past the long-standing scars from his past in order to become the hero Gotham truly needs and deserves. Bruce goes from an apathetic and angry man from his opening scene to a true hero by the end where he holds a woman’s hand as she gets evacuated to the hospital and gives the following monologue: “I’m starting to see now, I had an effect here, but not the one I intended. Vengeance won’t change the past, mine, or anyone else’s. I have to become more. People need hope, to know someone’s out there for them. The city’s angry, scared, like me. Those scars can destroy us even after the physical wounds have healed. But if we learn to survive them, they can transform us. They can give us the power to endure, and the strength to fight.”

Outside of two scenes, I have little to no issues with this movie. Despite it being three hours, the pacing is near perfect and director, Matt Reeves, makes sure there’s never a dull moment. I’m not kidding when I say that there’s probably only one scene in the movie that’s not necessary.

Photo courtesy: seekingalpha.com
Photo courtesy: seekingalpha.com

Not only is “The Batman” a near-flawless Batman movie that truly understands the character, but it’s also just an excellent movie. Everything about this movie feels like it had love and care put into it which is refreshing when most superhero movies today feel lazy, uninspired, and poorly shot. It finally feels like a comic book movie didn’t come out of a corporate meat grinder that was designed to have the biggest mass appeal possible. If your average Marvel or DC movie is a big mac, then “The Batman” is a finely cooked sirloin steak. I am still awe-struck that the movie turned out to be this good and that there is finally a good Batman adaptation on screen for the first time in 14 years. I love this movie to death and I can’t wait for what comes next for this incredible universe Matt Reeves has built. 

Score: 10/10