It’s here and it’s pretty damn glorious. After joining so many other films in being delayed a few times due to the pandemic, Matt Reeves is finally ready and able to unleash his new Dark Knight on the world, one that is unlike any we have seen or read before. Rich in story and character, bulging with personality and clever in both its themes and its visual style, this Batman is certainly one of a kind – indeed, it’s even the longest of them all, clocking in at just shy of three hours (and we mean just) as it weaves through a familiar but innovative Gotham City that’s still plagued with the darkness that surrounds it, and one that still doesn’t as yet know what to make of its new vengeful vigilante.
Reeves has talked about the challenges of finding a new way to navigate the path well-trodden by countless other filmmakers who have brought their own visual style and flair to the character – some better than others, but everyone has played their part, even Joel Schumacher and Zack Snyder – as well as those who have donned the legendary cape and cowl. The Planet of the Apes and Cloverfield helmer came to the project after Ben Affleck’s much-mooted solo outing as part of the DCEU fell away and, starting from scratch, wanted to make it personal for him and his way in was to focus not on the origins but on Batman’s second year of “service”, where his actions are still fraught with his anger of his parents’ death and are not quite having the effects he had hoped. Many see him as a hindrance rather than a solution, and his journey may have all been in vain.
But through this, Reeves and co-writer Peter Craig are able to not only delve more into Bruce Wayne’s angst, resentments and narcissism, they can also explore the city around him and its inhabitants from their own origins: Selina Kyle (Zoe Kravitz) isn’t yet Catwoman, Oswald Cobblepot (Colin Farrell) isn’t yet The Penguin and Jim Gordon (Jeffrey Wright) isn’t yet Commissioner and while we have seen such things examined before, this way feels organic, their stories not yet fully told just as Batman’s isn’t. Through their masterful retelling, they are able to explore themes prevalent both to the source material and those of modern times, all wrapped up in a noir-drenched detective story that’s as smart as it is thrilling, even if its final act of its slightly exhaustive runtime feels a tad disjointed compared with its first two.
Sumptuously shot by Greig Fraser, whose astounding work on Dune is still very fresh in our memories, this Gotham is dripping with melodies of old. Its golden, hazy, inferno-like colour palette bursts from the screen atop Gotham rooftops one minute, the thundery, sodden ground level broken streets the next showcasing the depth of gulf between the wealthy and the rest as he weaves notes from everything from Chinatown and Dog Day Afternoon and Taxi Driver as his ’70s-infused interpretation continuously delights and surprises. Strangely, it’s Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner that it shares most in common with – the rain, the hunt, the insular questioning of one’s true self – as Michael Giacchino’s gorgeous, hypnotic score simmers underneath it all.
Indeed, it’s helped along the way by an ensemble fit for a king, and from top to bottom, the whole company is exemplary, led by Pattinson’s brooding, impassioned yet melancholic turn as the Caped Crusader. Kravitz, Farrell, Wright, and Andy Serkis provide stellar support, as do John Turturro and Peter Sarsgaard in smaller roles, but it’s Paul Dano’s turn as The Riddler that will take people’s breath away. This is no Jim Carrey in green lycra, kids: delirious yet controlled, frightening yet alluring, Dano’s measured portrayal is astonishing and while many will undoubtedly try to compare his turn with Heath Ledger’s Joker, let the two coexist without the need for comparison.
Does it reach the colossal heights that The Dark Knight still finds itself at almost 15 years later? Not quite, but if this is anything to go by, the follow-up may just scale the fence.