Director Matt Reeves had a very specific vision that made Warner Bros want to take another shot at the eternally brooding Bruce Wayne. It's that vision which makes going to the cinemas worthy again, especially after the past two years we've had. His universe is designed specifically for a cinematic experience with Michael Giacchino's unpredictable score, larger-than-life cinematography, and visceral production design. Set against the darkest days Gotham faces, this doesn't take us back to the roots of Wayne's origins as Batman - it drops us right in the middle of his second year with the "Gotham Project", trying to etch a legacy through his family name as his alter-ego as the Riddler uses the bodies of Gotham's elite as pawns in an ambitious cat-and-mouse game.
Brought to life by a top-notch ensemble, the familiar faces we've seen before come to life on-screen with a few twists - Zoe Kravitz's Catwoman wanting to escape and avenger from the power-hold of her crooked bosses (the character is slinkier and graceful than ever before yet just as bad-ass as Eartha Kitt, Michelle Pfieffer, and Anne Hathaway (sorry Halle Berry). Jim Carrey's over-the-top and very gay Riddler is usurped by Paul Dano's 99%er plotting and murdering his way to justice. Colin Farrell's Penguin doesn't see the light of day as much as Danny DeVito's sympathetic villain from Batman Returns, but it's a character turn that's refreshing for the blockbuster-turned-character actor. Jim Gordon still maintains his right-hand-man status with Bruce Wayne investigating crimes, but Jeffrey Wright feels just as grounded and palpably anxious to rid Gotham of its devils. Not to mention - Andy Serkis, Peter Sarsgarrd, John Tuturro, and whoever is silhouetted as the next possible villain before the ending credits roll. Oh, and then there's Robert Pattinson. Known for his weird quirks and insane choice of freakish roles, Pattinson slips into the scarred and damaged Bruce Wayne almost as easily as Christian Bale - if not more so. When that light hits the sky, it's not just a call, it's a warning. While the rest of the film certainly roll along, he manages to exude elements of past actors - their awkwardness, pain, hope, resilience, humanity - and also adds new layers of fear, intimidation, and anger.
As grim and raw as The Batman is in the wake of his predecessors more family-friendly vibes, it's not as revolutionary as so many reviews point out for me. Story-wise, I didn't find the plot much different than Christopher Nolan's trilogy. The script still heavily focuses on corrupt cops and government needing to be overthrown, not putting to use supporting characters of color, the seediness of Gotham's underground taking advantage of the system and disadvantaged as Nolan's series did. In the same vein, as much plot as this film tries not be as formulaic as the MCU or DCEU recent entries, some of the characters fall to the wayside - Riddler is terrifying but his re-appearances grow repetitive; Farrell's unrecognizable as The Penguin, but he's mainly a lackey who will have his own familiar rise to power soon. The winding road of 'see another victim, get a new clue' rinse and repeat runs the plot for the most part, which makes the running time run pretty smoothly. However, the big reveals wasn't predictable - it's like realizing halfway through a maze, you already know where the exit is.
In looking towards the future of the new Batman slate, we also have to look at the past...and it's refreshing that The Batman managed to give a whole arc to its leading character in one-go rather than resting on the whims of the studio bouncing from director or actor to another, or inhabiting the same type of themes throughout a trilogy. We've come so far with these films, it's a disservice to say this one is merely better when it's merely adapted to audiences' tastes and technology over the decades. Yet Reeves's approach does not detract from its subtle humor and effective character development. Two and a half hour plus running time seems excessive in the beginning, but the film remains intriguing enough from beginning to end that the time simply flies by with suspense, action, and romance peaking at just the right moments. After my showing, someone on the way out of the theater mentioned that they'd like to see a five hour cut, and I have to agree. Even if every frame is utilized to its best advantage, it doesn't stop me from wanting more, more, more.