The Batman offers a human-scale take on the superhero movie

Robert Pattinson and Matt Reeves return the caped crusader to his roots as an obsessive detective with this complex, intriguing reboot

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      THE BATMAN (Matt Reeves). 175 minutes. Opens Friday, March 4 in theatres everywhere.

      How do you reintroduce a character who defined and dominated superhero movie culture for more than 30 years? You do it by wiping the slate clean—yes, again—and going back to first principles, with a movie that remembers the Batman started out as nothing more than a brilliant detective with unlimited resources and an extraordinary tolerance for pain. What would that look like now? Who would that person be? Here’s the answer: he’s a mess, but he’s Gotham’s only hope.

      Directed and co-written by Matt Reeves, whose impeccable genre credits include Cloverfield, Let Me In and the two good Planet Of The Apes movies, The Batman offers the most human-scaled take on the character to date, trading the polish and scale of Christopher Nolan’s films for a grimy, grotty palette of smeared reds and thick blacks, where Robert Pattinson’s costumed vigilante—who’s been operating for about two years, long enough that some cops know it’s better to have him on their side—fights an endless battle to keep the citizens of Gotham safe from corruption, exploitation and villainy.

      Reeves and Pattinson find a sympathetic take on Bruce Wayne: he’s almost a nonentity, still living in his childhood trauma and only comfortable around people when wearing literal armour—while Jeffrey Wright and Andy Serkis balance out his intensity as Jim Gordon and Alfred, respectively. (In a very clever touch, both actors hit the same supportive, compassionate notes, instantly showing us why Bruce trusts them.)

      As for the villains, there’s plenty to choose from, and once again they’re all introduced as people who are already doing their thing in Gotham; this might be the first superhero movie without a single origin story, and I really appreciated it. No, we don’t even see Bruce’s parents shot dead in that alley; Reeves knows his movie is running long as it is.

      Paul Dano trades the stock caricature of the Riddler for a seething, sociopathic energy that becomes part of the film’s shadowy texture; Zoë Kravitz gives Catwoman an unpredictability and impatience that’s downright feline; and Peter Sarsgaard, John Turturro, and an unrecognizable Colin Farrell turn up in key roles, all avoiding cartoonishness for more grounded sketches of depraved scumbaggery that feel right at home in Greig Fraser’s muddy cinematography.

      At my IMAX screening, the darkness felt almost blocky, like video noise. It was clearly deliberate, a throwback to early DV moviemaking of the late '90s and early 2000s, and I’m very curious to see how it plays with an audience used to the clean lines and flat lighting of most modern blockbusters. Michael Giacchino’s minimalist score—built on a simple piano motif that occasionally explodes into operatic fugues—is similarly uncharacteristic for this sort of picture, separating it from the pack in interesting aesthetic ways.

      But what really distinguishes The Batman from previous Bat-movies is the way Reeves’s vision makes room for both Bruce Wayne and Batman to grow: this is a movie about a nightmare who’s learning how to be a hero.