The Batman Review -- A tense, two-fisted return to form for the Dark Knight

We've seen him as a superhero. We've seen him as a punchline. But Matt Reeves' The Batman finally gives justice to a rarely-seen side of the character in this gripping murder mystery.

Reeves paints Gotham City in lurid reds and browns, a perpetual rain blanketing the movie in a grim and grimy atmosphere, and here Robert Pattinson's Batman is in his element. Less Caped Crusader and more force of nature, this Batman is an otherworldly being that comes out only from the shadows, so much so that criminals are literally scared of the dark. Michael Giacchino's score takes the tension up a notch with an ominous leitmotif that follows in the Batman's wake like a funeral march for the unfortunate crook who catches his eye.

But two years into his vigilante career, Bruce Wayne wonders if it's still worth beating up criminals in the streets of a Gotham on its death throes, its arteries choked with brazen criminality and corruption. Even worse, a serial killer calling himself The Riddler (Paul Dano in an unsettling performance) is murdering the rich and powerful and leaving clues behind for the Batman to solve. But as he comes closer to unmasking the truth, Batman will come face to face with a secret that could tear his life - and the city - apart.

Shining a spotlight on Batman's detective side is a welcome change from all the punching, something a mystery nut like me appreciated a lot. The whodunit introduces some shady characters like Oswald Cobblepot (an unrecognizable Colin Farrell), Carmine Falcone (John Turturro), and Selina Kyle (Zoƫ Kravitz), among many others, each with their own secrets to hide. You would think all this star power necessitates an almost 3-hour run time, but Reeves' lethargic direction pads most of it, and some scenes and characters feel superfluous that The Batman could have been shaved down to 2 hours, tops.

It's a good thing then that Pattinson is arresting to watch as Bruce Wayne/Batman. He brings both vulnerability and downright scariness to the role, a fine line his predecessors have walked along with variable success. But despite what Pattinson's eye shadow and emo bangs would suggest, he plays the Dark Knight with a refreshing idealism, wearing his heart on his sleeve as easily as he wears the cowl. With every person he meets resigned to the idea that Gotham City is not worth saving, this Batman digs his heels into the river of justice and says without a hint of irony, "I have to try."

Even if it feels overlong and overindulgent, The Batman is a relentless thriller that breaths new life into a fan-favorite character. Whether it did the same for Warner Bros.' big budget blockbuster franchise dreams remain to be seen.

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