The headline promises something huge, that the new “The Batman” is even darker and therefore deeper than “The Dark Knight,” which is a big claim. The level of gravitas that’s needed for this franchise keeps raising the bar for entire creative teams.

“This is a powder keg and Riddler’s the match.” Director Matt Reeves reaches for the powder keg with both hands, leaning into the elements that bring fans to their feet.

The running time of “The Batman” is 176 minutes, but it flies by so quickly you can’t feel the dismantling occurring as the very nature of superheroes (from the past) is being examined.

Remember, we’ve had decades of white, spandex-wearing heroes that have shaped our cultural landscape. Reeves is fearless, stripping the genre of its supernatural elements and thereby introducing a much more interesting, and significantly more complex version of this “classic” hero. I’m sure you know the controversial thought that evil is the other side of good and that the line between the two is surprisingly thin. Here we see a Batman that’s a few, precious inches away from being viewed as a villain.

Remember, these types of films are usually defined by the villain and “The Batman” actually brings up the very subject by putting the question on a platter: What if the good guys aren’t really the good guys? A huge question that rings beyond a film. What if the person you believed to be your protector is actually making the situation worse, and more dangerous?

Actor Robert Pattinson (“Twilight”) delivers and builds, beautifully, on the character’s tortured psychology, so well that we actually begin to have an understanding of why he brutalizes petty criminals in those dark alleyways and subways platforms.

Able to go toe-to-toe is actor Paul Dano, as the Riddler, who arrives from the murky villain archetype who’s focused on exposing the white-collar schemers who are sitting at the highest levels of power. It’s interesting that both hero and villain are vigilantes, one choosing to cooperate with law enforcement and others, drilling in on the systemic corruption that undermines our faith across the board in Gotham City, and in the real world.

It’s rather terrifying with the recent events unfolding between Ukraine and Russia, because “The Batman” taps into the frustrations and fears of our current (and terrifying) political climate. The director intelligently blends those key elements that create the classic gangster film with deeply thought-out commentary that highlights the challenges facing the modern world.

Is “The Batman” ambitious? Yes, but the screenwriters packed this world with many of the characters known from the franchise including—the Penguin (Colin Farrell), Catwoman (Zoë Kravitz), loyal butler Alfred (Andy Serkis) and the Batmobile that engages in an epic car chase with Reeves producing an excitement that makes the film’s length acceptable.

Reeves, from the very start, breaks away from the expected stylistic images associated with the genre. A gifted visual storyteller, he expertly establishes a tone that is uniquely his own.

Making his mark, the Riddler’s first victim sets the tone for why he does what he does—demanding in a blood-red command scrawled across his first victim, Gotham’s crooked mayor (Rupert Penry-Jones)—“NO MORE LIES.”

The body count grows, one gross murder after another done by the avenger, a sincerely twisted demented sicko whom everyone should be terrfied to be around.

I would never want to offer any spoilers, but I would suggest that you pay close attention to the long “vein” of corruption that runs through Gotham. One that includes (cough, cough) tracing back to the Wayne family.

When we meet this Bruce Wayne, he’s been defending Gotham for two years. We know about him through media clips and we are made to understand that the city is plagued by a major narcotics epidemic, because of a lethal street drug, “drops,” and the city is facing a level of disorder that’s oppressive.

“The Batman” is a beautiful film to watch, thank you production designer James Chinlund. And we all know that “Gotham” is modeled on New York City, and this city (like NYC?) is rotten from top-to-bottom.
Gotham’s midtown looks and feels like Times Square and is illuminated by even more digital screens and more buildings. Batman watches his city, sometimes from an upper floor, half-built skyscraper, and his Batcycle.

Bringing Batman into the realm of being human, it’s clear that he’s not an alien or a god, so no supernatural powers. He is, however, a man with a billion-dollar fortune and an ability to build products that others can’t get their hands on.

Our Batman isn’t happy, he’s sullen and not necessarily fearless but it seems like he doesn’t care if he dies or if he lives. That’s top surface stuff and the actor goes deeper, morphing into intriguing with clear signs that he is weighed down by some massive emotional trauma. A modern hero for our times. A hero in pain, a man whose deeply troubled past informs every relationship, including tackling a psychopath that has labeled Bruce Wayne one of his targets.

The Riddler is a scary dude who’s determined to clean up the government. He’s convinced that a lot of Gotham’s top-ranking officials, and a cat burglar/cocktail waitress Selina Kyle (Kravitz)—are somehow mixed up with Falcone, and the Riddler has appointed himself the answer to purging the system of such evil doers.

Reeves lays out how intertwined city government is with organized crime, making “The Batman” an interesting crime drama and marking it a detective story. Does the Riddler win? No spoiler alerts here but with evil and good being so close, the question looms large.

“The Batman” will not disappoint and yes, it can hold a candle to Nolan’s trilogy.

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