This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
Seb’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
“The city is angry, scarred… like me.”
Welp I’m back again. I realized I was one short of 600 so this felt like a good movie to get there. This movie kinda awoke something in me. It’s so unapologetically dark and dreary tonally-wise, long as hell, and yet has style AND substance. Robert Battinson is the guy going forward and I could not be more thrilled. He speaks more with his long stares and head tilts than his words. Speaking of which he made the Batman voice work effortlessly because this new version of Bruce and Batman are so close to being the same persona. Bruce is early in his career as Batman, he doesn’t wanna be anything else, so he hasn’t established the play boy mask yet. Each scene takes its sweet time and it’s so refreshing from the breakneck speed marvel movies have gotten us accustomed to where the plot moves faster than you usually care to keep up. There’s an awkwardness to this Batman and while he is intimidating with his glares and his physicality, there is a distinct vulnerability that reads more like a lost child that’s been simmering underneath more than any fear as a grown man. It’s clear he still feels like he can’t trust anybody fully, not even Alfred at the beginning. He is unhinged because he has given everything to his cause. The blood red eyes from coming home from his night out as Batman and rewatching the events that occurred to review if there was anything he missed feels like a great way to represent the tortured state that Bruce is in. “I don’t care what happens to me”. Bruce thinks that’s bravery and that’s sacrifice, but part of this film is him learning he has to care even just for the sake of those around him. Bruce will sometimes lose control and start swinging wildly just like a bat freaks out when it’s cornered. The camera is not afraid to press in on his face so we can see as much emotion as possible. There’s so much depth to explore with this rendition of Bruce and Batman which is what makes me so excited about the future with Robbert Pattinson.
The rest of the casting for this movie speaks for itself, but Paul Dano’s performance was obviously a stand out as well as Zoë Kravitz and surprisingly Colin Ferrel as Penguin, who I can’t wait to watch rise in power and become the Penguin we all know with the monocle and the umbrella. Another standout was Jeffery Wright as Gordon who helped give us what I believe to be the best version of the Batman/Gordon partnership. Gordon stands up for Batman many times but never pushes it too far to compromise his position in the police department and Batman respects Gordon and his ability to draw lines in order to maintain his morality within a vile and corrupt system. All of these actors slip into these roles as if they were made for them, and they sell this new Gotham just as much as the art design and cinematography. Similar to Dune, Greg Fraser transports us to this fictional city in what seems like effortless fashion. Every shot feels like it has meaning, the artistry on display is simply stunning. I have no qualms saying he’s well on his way to already being one of the greatest cinematographers ever as his resume already speaks for itself. Batman Begins did a decent job of portraying how shitty Gotham is, but this movie personified it with gravitas as well as subtlety.
The reason this movie has left such an impression on me is because not a single element of this movie feels unaccounted for or by accident. This is a precise vision of one of the most popular and influential modern mythologies of the last several decades. Zach Snyder showed us how easy it is to misunderstand who Batman is and what he means to the popular zeitgeist. Gothic architecture mixed with a modern skyline evokes a feeling of history and a hidden underbelly. Like someone or something is building a pretty surface to cover up its rotten roots. There’s a moment where Bruce finishes one of his voice over monologues (absolutely loved those), and he closes his journal which is titled Gotham City Project Year 2. It’s a simple way of explaining there is a systemic disease within the city that he is attempting to salvage something good out of. Gotham is a “cesspool” as Riddler called it, and it feels like a living organism, which credit to the sound design and framing for making every corner of every frame feel like a hidden secret. Where someone may be shuffling in the darkness like a rat to avoid being shown a light on.
I should point out that I don’t think we’ve gotten a superhero villain with Paul Dano as Riddler who is equally as unnerving as he is magnetic with his performance since Heath Ledger. Now, I still believe Heath is the pinnacle of the mountaintop, but Paul took a character who is known for his over the top body language as well as his loud and obnoxious speech pattern that has to try and match up to the man’s ego, and turned it into his own character. These are the kinds of performances I admire the most. You use the comic book material not as a script, but as inspiration to give us something we didn’t know we wanted. The traps and murders were brutal and violent in ways where sometimes the less you see, the scarier places your mind will take it, using that PG-13 rating very effectively. That interrogation scene was intently made as a parallel to the Dark Knight’s interrogation scene. I don’t believe it was ever trying to compete with it, but this film used the glass wall as almost a looking glass into hell whereas in the dark Knight it was about the futility of Batman’s physical strength. Brilliance on both renditions for different reasons.
This film gave us everything that seems familiar about Batman and made it more human than ever. Bruce is dressed as Batman for what feels like 90% of his scenes in this 3 hour film and yet I’ve never seen so much emotional depth from the cowl before. Making the black eye makeup canon was one of the best decisions they could’ve made both aesthetically for this Batman and to allow his eyes to do all the work for him. This is also a credit to Robert Pattinson who has established himself as one of the greatest actors working today. Batman has never looked better in live action in my opinion.
You know what else hasn’t ever looked better? The Batmobile. That chase should go down not only as the greatest Batmobile scene ever, but one of the greatest car chases in movie history. From the moment the engines begin to scream, to roar, to explode, the anticipation riddling the theater’s seats in anticipation, we ride off into truly a sequence I don’t think I’ll ever forget. The colors and transparency on display through the rain, the tint from the streetlights illuminating the entire highway in a sheet of gold, and the visceral POWER of the Batmobile tearing through every obstacle as the Penguin checks in his side mirrors to see the two giant headlights like eyes of a beast getting closer and closer to him. The camera being placed on the back wheels of both of their cars letting us feel every bump in the road and every drift and sudden turn of direction. I was out of breath by the time we reached the trailer moment where the Batmobile flies through the explosion to slam and flip Penguin’s car, only to have that triumphant Giacchino theme go off in all its glory as upside down Batman exits his car and walks through the rain towards Penguin, watching in complete awe and terror. This movie made me understand the power of the legend of the Batman more than any other piece of Batman media I think I’ve seen.
I should mention I think this is Giacchino’s best work since The Incredibles. This is one of the best scores to any major film release that I can remember and that new Batman theme will go down as one of the all time best superhero themes, possibly rivaling the iconic Elfman theme. The music flows so effortlessly with each scene and while it doesn’t distract you from the film, it’s presence is unmistakable. And that Nirvana song could not have been more perfectly used at the beginning and end with the two monologues. It was so good they had to needle drop it twice in the same movie.
The parallels between the beginning of the film and the end with the people that Batman saves being frightened by him and then reaching out to grab his hand. The image of Batman, torch in hand, leading the people of Gotham through the flood has to be one of the most provoking images that encapsulates exactly what Batman is trying to do for his city. To see one of the people he saved grab his arm and he gives that person a look of reassurance before the doctors take her away… *chef’s kiss*. These moments encapsulate for me why I resonated with this movie. It’s equally grim, dark, brooding, but also hopeful and powerful. Probably my movie of the year for now, can’t wait to see what competes with it.
The crazy thing is that I could keep on going about this movie, but I have to stop at some point or no one will ever read all of this. Obviously, this movie affected me deeply and I’m going to see it a third time before it leaves theaters. It’s one of those theater experiences I want to make sure I’ve fully experienced. If you’ve made it this far, who knows? Maybe this isn’t just me coming back for one last hurrah of a review. Maybe there’s more to be said about other movies. And I’ll just leave it at that for now.