Superhero films are, by and large, stereotypical films. Usually, it’s a pleasurable, if
somewhat meaningless, romp above the rooftops of a sprawling, brightly lit city with two unreasonably strong/fast/magical superhumans throwing each other through buildings protecting all the little people from harm. Usually the stakes are almost ridiculously high – like the-universe-will-explode level.
“The Batman” still portrays a fair share of those formulaic aspects. But the newest rendition of the Caped Crusader breaks from so many of those tired cliches that it earns a spot as one of the greats in the superhero genre, worth every dollar of its $9.50 price.
In “The Batman”, it’s been two years since Bruce Wayne (Robert Pattinson) donned the mask and cape. The thirty year old orphan has taken the entire city of Gotham under his wing (excuse the pun), but he worries that despite his nocturnal efforts he’s not making a difference, as Gotham becomes ever increasingly mired in crime even as he beats its criminals into the asphalt. Batman’s time to ponder the marginal effect he’s having on his birth city is short, however, as Gotham’s most prominent citizens begin being murdered in brutal fashion by the mysterious mastermind Riddler (Paul Dano). The Dark Knight must battle against various criminal juggernauts, accusations against his parents, and his own damaged psyche before the Riddler tears Gotham apart beneath his feet.
“The Batman” is not a superhero story. No one can fly, no one has super speed, no one is half robot, no one was sired by a god. Batman gets in a smattering of fights, but if you hoped to see a guy in a black suit beating the crap out of baddies for three hours, you’re going to be disappointed. With more of a dark-detective feel than a high-flying superhero vibe, the majority of screen time is devoted to Bruce Wayne/Batman at crime scenes, working through clues left by the Riddler, infiltrating the depths of the criminal underworld, speculating and postulating about the crime with Alfred. You don’t have Superman throwing his weight around; you have Batman playing a chess match against a man whose deadliness is not his strength but rather his brutal intelligence.
I think the realism of Gotham enthralled me most about the film. The movie was shot in the streets of Liverpool, London, Glasgow, and Chicago. Thus, Gotham resembles those cities, only painted by an artist using only shades of gray. Gotham traffic is legit – in the film’s sole chase scene, ordinary Gothamites find their vehicles decimated by the Batmobile racing through congested streets after the Penguin. Batman is not Superman – capable of getting hit by ordinary street thugs, the Dark Knight gets hurt a lot of times by the lowest class of goons. Completing the unforgivingly realistic portrait, however, is one of the central themes of the film – no one’s perfect. “The Batman” boasts a huge number of characters, and in semblance of real people not one of the characters is portrayed in black and white terms. Many of the characters Batman believes unflinchingly pure, once unveiled by the Riddler, have an extraordinary amount of skeletons in their closets.”The Batman” states that everyone’s got things in their past they’re not proud of. But through these moral betrayals Batman learns that hope for a better future, where imperfect people can build a more perfect world, is a necessity, even when having that belief seems more an act of blind faith rather than a calculated investment.
Michael Giacchino’s stunning soundtrack masterfully completes the caped crusader’s escapades in Gotham. From Giacchino’s musical genius came such memorable soundtracks as those featured in “War for the Planet of the Apes”, “Rogue One”, and “Star Trek: Into the Darkness”. Giacchino had huge boots to fill going into “The Batman” – the last hugely successful Batman blockbuster was “The Dark Knight”, a movie with a soundtrack by the great Hans Zimmer working at his best. The American composer’s work for “The Batman” didn’t quite outdo Zimmer’s thunderous crescendos, but Giacchino held his own on this theatrical outing, authoring a dark, gritty, driving march with its own share of thunderous crescendos, the type of sound that accompanies Batman’s grimness perfectly.
The film isn’t without its faults – Batman’s relationship with Catwoman, in spite of the vital role it plays in the film, feels unreasonably fast-moving, the climax was slightly underwhelming – not terribly so, but underwhelming enough to be noticed, and as much as I loved Robert Pattinson as Bruce Wayne he made one skinny Batman. But this is unreservedly the best Batman film since “The Dark Knight”, a masterpiece of atmosphere and theme, and a movie that’ll have you believing in superheroes even if only for just a few hours.