About a quarter of a way into the 21st Century, The Batman trudges along amidst the wreckage of the past 20 years. With Robert Pattinson as an emo Batman, a composite of various personas from Kurt Cobain to mere echoes of Christian Bale, the film is told mostly from Batman's perspective. We get very little Bruce Wayne. Zoe Kravitz gets almost an equal amount of screen time as Selina Kyle in an uneasy alliance with Batman. Director Matt Reeves has built off the grandiosity and mythmaking of the Nolan trilogy of films (2005-12) while situating itself in the current cultural milieu. At its heart, in a call back to the original Batman comics, it's a tale of corruption at all levels of society and questions whether Batman can make a difference in world of dimming hopes and simmering bitterness.
In the reboot scenario, Batman's been battling crime in Gotham City for a year. His lone ally on the police force Lt. James Gordon (Jeffrey Wright) is in a desperate battle against corruption within the force. Crime kingpins in Gotham include Carmine Falcone (John Turturro) and Oz (Colin Farrell) run the city and control the elite. With a mayoral election coming up with a Progressive candidate Bella Real (Jayme Dawson) promises to bring reform. As the film spells, Gotham is awash in wealthy white privilege in the final stages of decadence. It's not lost in the story that Bruce Wayne is a beneficiary of white privilege, the pampered billionaire who can afford to fight crime as a pursuit in self-actualization.
Enter "The Riddler" as played by Paul Dano, by far the darkest incarnation of the character in movies, much closer to Heath Ledger's Joker than Jim Carrey's turn in Batman Forever. As crooked figures in Gotham start turning up dead Riddler rises to prominence. For most of the film he's only seen on disturbing videos left on social media to a growing legion of followers. He's the aggrieved white male, raging at a society that's left him alienated and feeling invisible. The angry man who drops a video and does something horrific.
The film is firmly steeped in Neo-Noir. About 90% of the scenes take place at night. References to classic like Point Blank and Prince of the City are also inserted into the narrative, the Se7en influence goes without saying. Serving as the narrator, Batman leaves narrated diary entries not unlike Rorschach in Watchmen. Moral lines are blurred with the added twist of reckoning with the sins of the past. The weight of history hangs over this Batman universe, questioning whether progress is even a possibility. Not a big spoiler, but the script does provide Batman with an arc suggesting new possibilities for the character.
The Batman achieved a distinct vision of its own while playing on the tropes of caped crusader mythology. If the Nolan films are all about the spectacle and weighty moral choices, Reeves keeps things tactile, putting the audience on the ground, achieving something epic in the three hour running time. Audiences are in the trenches of Gotham with Batman, soaking up the atmosphere of Falcone's crime dens, and the fantastical bat cave. Atmospheric and bold, a batman for the 2020s.