(Robert Pattinson, Zoë Kravitz, Paul Dano, Jeffrey Wright, et al / PG-13 / 2h 36m / Warner Bros. Pictures)
Summary: Batman ventures into Gotham City’s underworld when a sadistic killer leaves behind a trail of cryptic clues.
As the evidence begins to lead closer to home and the scale of the perpetrator’s plans become clear, he must forge new relationships, unmask the culprit and bring justice to the abuse of power and corruption that has long plagued the metropolis.
Verdict: Now that’s how you make Batman film in a post-Nolan world!
With Zack Snyder (and, as an accessory, David Ayer) diluting The Caped Crusader’s cinematic appeal in the decade since The Dark Knight Rises, Matt Reeves — a director well-versed in breathing new life into tired properties — makes good on the promise shown in his two Planet of the Apes films with The Batman.
Like the similarly lengthy No Time to Die, the nearly three-hour runtime zips by as Reeves and co-writer Peter Craig continually introduce new and exciting details that build on the plot’s core elements while refusing to bog down the film’s flow.
Further proving the thesis that Robert Pattinson does his best work in the absence of a heavy accent, the reboot gives the actor plenty to work with as an especially somber Bruce Wayne in the second year of his “Gotham Project” to help clean up the city as The Batman alongside Lt. James Gordon (Jeffrey Wright).
Despite these efforts, crime has mysteriously increased over that span and suddenly gets extremely dialed up once the masked Riddler begins murdering Gotham’s most powerful figures and leaving cryptic messages for The Batman, complete with hints at exposing corruption at levels the city has never seen.
While the presence of cyphers in need of solving and notebooks full of insane ramblings echo David Fincher’s detective films, Reeves largely operates on his own wavelength, focusing on this dark knight as a pseudo-cop and leaving Bruce’s personal matters largely to the side.
The emphasis is one of several welcome twists on familiar characters and details (at least in live-action film form), including Bruce living downtown, Oz “The Penguin” Cobblepot (a gloriously unrecognizable Colin Farrell) as someone with five fingers on each hand, and so much rain that this Gotham very well may be in the Pacific Northwest — which also might explain the pair of inspired needles drops of Nirvana’s “Something in the Way.”
Best of all? No alleyway death for Martha and Thomas Wayne — and therefore no pearls falling in slow motion, a sight viewers have been subjected to so many times that the MPAA has banned its recreation for 50 years. (Just kidding. Maybe…).
In addition to Pattinson, Wright, and Farrell (whose Penguin series can’t arrive soon enough), nearly everyone else in the impressive cast likewise brings their “A” game, including an especially sultry Zoë Kravitz as Selina “Catwoman” Kyle, John Turturro having a blast breaking bad as crime boss Carmine Falcone, and Andy Serkis in a rare reserved role as a strangely hands-off Alfred.
About the only component holding The Batman back is Paul Dano’s interpretation of The Riddler — yet another cackling comic book maniac in a genre saturated with them. Whereas Dano takes the expected route to convey mental illness and criminal volatility, the prospect of, say, Michael Shannon playing the character as evenhanded and inscrutable would almost certainly make for a far more unnerving antagonist.
Still, with low, side-mounted cameras on the Batmobile imbuing car chases with a fresh perspective, the consistent noir-ish tone, and some daring final-act choices, the film’s strengths far outweigh its weaknesses. And with the exception of an unnecessary concluding scene, it sets up appealing future adventures with the surviving characters — an achievement its recent competitors can only wish they’d attained. [EA]