We don’t need a new Batman movie, but I’ll always admit to wanting one—especially if it turns out well. Evidently, director Matt Reeves feels the same. His The Batman, co-written with Peter Craig, is indeed yet another take on the caped crusader; it is also a good one, evoking the best of the source material by crafting a world that, while oppressively dark, is still quite enrapturing.
The Batman‘s Bruce Wayne (Robert Pattinson) is a sullen recluse who journals like a Paul Schrader protagonist and labours in the shadows to set right his city as it slides into oblivion. This Gotham never sees the sun, and its rogues’ gallery—from serial killer the Riddler (Paul Dano), mobster the Penguin (Colin Farrell, having a ball), and a surplus of other corrupt figures—clearly like it that way. Owing to Batman’s detective origins (and classics like Year One/100, The Long Halloween, and Hush), at this film’s heart is a multi-layered mystery. The threads of its grand plot don’t quite come together in the way they could, yet Reeves’ superlative management of atmosphere and staging allay those issues. In short: this Batman is cool. (And go figure Nirvana’s “Something in the Way” would capture the film’s spirit as it does.) Along the way, we’re also treated to strong subplots with mainstays Jim Gordon and Selina Kyle (Jeffrey Wright and Zoe Kravitz, both well cast), who enliven the film in thrilling ways. And then there’s Pattinson’s turn as the big man himself; his Batman is a man of action, sure, but his performance’s finest moments come through a command of stillness.
Inevitably, The Batman will be compared against Christopher Nolan’s ever-looming Dark Knight trilogy. Reeves can’t really escape that—despite his obvious efforts to try. This is the biggest mark against the film: while Reeves does take Batman to great lengths, sustaining a powerful mood with great fervour, as his film rumbles to its conclusion there’s a feeling that perhaps he doesn’t go far enough. Ah well, there’s always next time.