‘The Batman’: A watchful protector for a new generation

Jack Muscatello, Staff Writer

Illustration by (Emma Kogel)

Warner Bros.’ long-awaited “The Batman” opened in theaters March 4, and the caped crusader is finally back in full form.

Just as brooding, broken and haunted as ever, Batman is still driven by a stubborn search for justice that threatens to cripple him even further. But writer-director Matt Reeves has much more to offer in his new three-hour epic, and proves by the end that he is just getting started.

Bruce Wayne is a complete 1990s kid in this adaptation, fitted with dark bangs and an abundance of social awkwardness. He is younger, weaker and still searching for who he really is. Reeves rightfully dials up his punk image with Nirvana’s “Something in the Way,” which bookends the film as a quieter anthem for Wayne.

The film opens with a chilling introduction to Paul Dano’s The Riddler, whose manic schemes initially echo the chaotic brilliance of Heath Ledger’s 2008 portrayal of The Joker. The story quickly centers itself on a cat-and-mouse game between Batman and Riddler, and the enigmatic clues he leaves for the winged vigilante at each of his crime scenes. The plot takes a while to get moving, but the bleak tone is ‘set from the beginning. This is not a run-of-the-mill superhero blockbuster.

Batman has taken over Wayne’s psyche at this point in his life, which is set two years after his famous origin. The script wisely shifts away from the familiar backstory, opting instead to showcase his struggle to define his alter ego. His allies are few and far between in Gotham City, which is the grittiest and darkest it has ever been.

One of the few people he can trust is Lieutenant Jim Gordon of the Gotham City Police Department, who is perfectly played by Jeffrey Wright. The character’s tireless tenacity for finding the truth blends well with Batman, and the pair’s buddy-cop dynamic drives much of the plot forward. Wright is usually muted with his delivery, but he occasionally explodes with a sharp veteran’s perspective and booming voice, especially during a heated interrogation scene that is one of the film’s more riveting moments.

The performances are fantastic across the board. Dano is perfectly psychotic as Riddler, and rightfully adapts the character’s twisted vision to fit modern internet culture. Colin Farrell literally becomes The Penguin, as he disappears beneath the brilliant prosthetic makeup and a suitably thick Italian- American accent.

Then there is Zoë Kravitz, who shines as Selina Kyle. She delicately balances Kyle’s personal stake in the story with a fresh spin on Catwoman, and never overstays her welcome. Though her backstory is provided entirely through heavy exposition, the emotion is strong enough to compensate for the simple delivery.

But it would be a crime not to mention Robert Pattinson. Though his Wayne is tough to define — he often hides behind the comfort of his mask — his Batman is striking. Visually, the suit is one of the best live-action versions. The metal on his chest armor deflects gunfire with loud blasts and bright flashes. His new tech is simple but refined to Wayne’s clever strengths. Pattinson’s voice is also strong, though not as deep and traditional as Christian Bale’s interpretation throughout “The Dark Knight” trilogy.

Pattinson has officially escaped the clutches of “Twilight.” He made significant headway with his deranged role in the independent horror film “The Lighthouse” two years ago, but his decade-long journey away from the awkward romance with Bella Swan is finally complete. Though his Batman may not be for everyone, it is hard to ignore how well his level of commitment and humble physique match the character.

Cinematographer Greg Fraser crafts a visual wonder once again. His already historic work on “Dune” last year was just a precursor for the immaculate shot design he presents here. Him and Reeves use gorgeous wide shots to capture each action set piece, and tight closeups with some of the deepest shadows for many of the more fundamental conversations.

A knockout chase sequence with a unique, almost homemade Batmobile, takes full advantage of Fraser’s knack for lighting. This moment’s sharp mix of strong camerawork, bold music and pulsing sound design makes for a genuinely chill-inducing theater experience, and one that will be impossible to forget for years to come.

Speaking of the music, composer Michael Giacchino delivers his best work in “The Batman.” His theme is hauntingly simple and builds consistently with each passing scene. The motifs for Catwoman and Riddler bring a deeper emotional chord into the story, and his action cues rightfully blend together his own style with the litany of Batman musical ideas from previous iterations. It is a fantastic soundtrack from start to finish, and the theme is arguably the most catchy one yet.

The only real issue with the film, above all the technical gravitas on display, is the pacing of the story. The suspense crafted by the opening scene falters a bit during the opening act, and only returns a half-hour later during an eerie sequence at a funeral. The editing is also too much in love with the cinematography, as each shot lingers on screen for a bit too long. Many of the expositional moments drag their heels as well, weighing down the swifter points of detective banter between Batman and Catwoman.

This story also does not require three hours of your time. The finale, though large in scale and properly poignant, simply takes too long to reach its last emotional chord. There’s never a dull moment, but the editing does not do the viewer any favors.

“The Batman” is an exhausting epic full of noir grittiness, and has no interest in existing as a traditional superhero story. Reeves makes sure to throw in plenty of teases for a future franchise with Pattinson, but does more than enough to solidify his new Batman as a genuinely nuanced adaptation. It has been a rough few years for the character in Hollywood, but the watchful protector has officially returned to his former glory.