Every new iteration of Batman, derived from the DC Comics character created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger, has reflected the period in which it was produced.
Thus, the campy television show Batman reflected the campiest aspects of 1960s culture; Tim Burton’s Batman (1989) granted its characters seriousness of purpose, which was soon undermined by its increasingly zany sequels; and Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy reclaimed the serious intent. Zack Snyder’s version of Batman was even darker, imagining the character as he grayed in appearance and became even more ambivalent about his motivations.
Ben Affleck was signed on to further the character in a solo film, but dropped out. Matt Reeves came on board with still another version of the character, a man who is younger and not, at this point, connected to the DC Extended Universe of films.
It is Matt Reeves’ vision that has been realized in The Batman, and it is a magnificently dark vision that resets expectations about the character and his place in the world.
We only glimpse ‘billionaire Bruce Wayne’ occasionally. His primary attention is devoted to his life as a crime-fighting vigilante, a figure in the night who inspires fear. His self-description, announced in the first few minutes, is to the point: “I am vengeance.” And vengeance does not sleep.
The Batman (Robert Pattinson), as he is known far and wide, is in Year Two of his public activity, supported by James Gordon (Jeffrey Wright), an impeccable man of integrity who must constantly deal with blowback from his fellow officers, detectives, and superiors in Gotham City, the large, fictional metropolis where the story is set. (The city looks more than ever like an unholy convergence of Old Chicago, Modern New York, and Future Los Angeles, circa Blade Runner).
A series of increasingly outrageous and murderous crimes awakens the city to the presence of a serial killer, who wants to be known as The Riddler. For reasons that are not initially apparent, The Riddler draws a rope ever tighter around The Batman’s neck, eventually drawing The Batman to look ever more closely at his family history.
The mystery, as constructed by co-writers Matt Reeves and Peter Craig, is what drives the story forward, creating sufficient space and reasonable motivation along the way for a series of elaborate, sometimes jaw-dropping action sequences. Simultaneously, as the mystery is fleshed out, its motivations are gradually unveiled, shining a light on complex family dynamics.
It’s the familial relationships of more than one key character that bec0me the cornerstones for what Matt Reeves is building, rippling outward in ever greater circles. The performances fit the characters, and the actors, notably Zoë Kravitz, Jeffrey Wright, John Turturro, Peter Sarsgard, and Colin Farrell, are fully up to the task of creating a motley crew varied of fully-fleshed out individuals. Some are taciturn, some are eloquent, some are more visually striking, yet nearly all underplay, toning down emotional outbursts until the time may come for such a display.
One of the pleasures of the film, especially for longtime viewers of the Batman cinematic universe, is the absence of familiar touchstones from past installments. Some well-known characters are featured, including Alfred, Catwoman, The Penguin, and The Riddler, James Gordon, and others, but they have been re-thought and re-invented for a new, darker day.
The new film is certainly dark, spending more time in the shadows than out of them. It fits the bleak atmosphere that The Batman inhabits. Maybe it’s where we’re all living now.
The film opens in Dallas, Fort Worth and surrounding cities on Friday, March 4, via distributor Warner Brothers. For more information about the film, visit the official site.