‘The Batman’: Bruce Wayne broods over both his identities in a stripped-down, rain-soaked superhero noir

Gritty and grounded Gotham City story picks up just as the caped crusader is just beginning to calibrate his moral compass.

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Bruce Wayne (Robert Pattinson) is only two years into his crimefighting career and still seen as an outlaw in “The Batman.”

Warner Bros.

We’re calling “The Batman” a superhero movie because it’s another telling of the tale of one of the most iconic comic-book characters in American history — but in terms of tone and scope and storyline, Matt Reeves’ reboot of the ever-fruitful franchise is more of a film noir than a fable about fantastic flying creatures, more “Zodiac” and “Seven” than “Guardians of the Galaxy” or “Eternals.”

‘The Batman’

Untitled

Warner Bros. presents a film directed by Matt Reeves and written by Reeves and Peter Craig. Rated PG-13 (for strong violent and disturbing content, drug content, strong language, and some suggestive material). Running time: 176 minutes. Opens Tuesday at local Imax theaters.

When the character of Batman made his debut in 1939, he was the cover subject of “Detective Comics,” as it was then known, and that’s what we’re getting here: a detective story. A gritty and grounded and relatively dark exploration into the troubled psyche of the young Bruce Wayne/Batman, who is early into his crime-fighting career when a mysterious, violent, devious and quite insane sociopath starts knocking off some of Gotham City’s most elite power brokers, all the while making a sick game out of it.

We’ve seen Batman when he was starting out (“Batman Begins”), Batman in the midst of his crime-fighting prime (“Batman Returns”) and Batman as a world-weary, battle-scarred, 45ish caped crusader (“Justice League”). In this iteration the dark knight (Robert Pattinson) is only two years into his career and is just beginning to calibrate his moral compass while battling the scum of Gotham City in the shadows and the rain. (In true film noir fashion, it’s almost always raining in “The Batman” and there’s almost always something troubling lurking in the steam and the mist and the dark of night.)

We pick up the story at a time when virtually everyone on the police force considers Batman to be an outlaw with a gimmick, the only exception being the earnest and capable Lt. Gordon (Jeffrey Wright), who infuriates his colleagues when he summons the Batman to crime scenes. (When a fully outfitted Batman arrives at a murder scene and starts picking up clues a la Colombo, it’s pretty great and also kinda funny.)

A sadistic serial killer is executing some of the most influential players in Gotham City, leaving behind cryptic and creepy messages addressed “To The Batman” — cards with strange symbols and markings, warnings such as “NO MORE LIES” and riddles such as, “What does a liar do when he’s dead?” (Reminiscent of elements in the aforementioned David Fincher films “Seven” and “Zodiac.”) Of course, Batman is the only one who can solve the riddles and parse the clues; I’ll bet he’d be good at Wordle.

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Colin Farrell is virtually unrecognizable as Oswald Cobblepot, who will become Penguin.

Warner Bros.

Sporting a military-green getup that includes a disturbing mask that looks like it was made in the basement of a serial killer — which is probably the case — Paul Dano’s Riddler is a shadowy, elusive figure who doesn’t carry the all-out menace of, say, Heath Ledger’s Joker, but Dano specializes in playing unsettling outcasts, and he’s effective enough, especially in a scene when the Batman confronts him at Arkham State Hospital. We’re also introduced to one Oswald Cobblepot (a virtually unrecognizable Colin Farrell, having great fun hamming it up), who is pure corruption but still paddling his way up the crime ladder and hasn’t yet become Penguin, and the crime boss Carmine Falcone (the great John Turturro), who oozes menace. And let’s just say the obvious criminals aren’t the only criminals in Gotham City.

Zoe Kravitz is outstanding as Selina Kyle, who remains smart and confident and sexy and dangerous, but is less of a caricature than some previous versions of this character. There’s genuine chemistry between Pattinson and Kravitz as Selina becomes the Batman’s ad hoc partner in crime-fighting even as the romantic sparks fly. Give Zoe/Selina/Catwoman their own movie!

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Zoe Kravitz’s take on Catwoman is less of a caricature than most.

Warner Bros.

As for Pattinson … he’s become one of the most interesting actors of his generation, and he perfectly captures the existential angst of Bruce Wayne, even as his youthful looks and his modified Johnny Depp-in-“Benny-and-Joon” hairstyle serve as reminders this man is still relatively callow and hasn’t fully established his identity, either as Bruce or Batman. (One character says to Bruce, “You really could be doing more for this city. Your family has a history of philanthropy … but you’re not doing anything.”) This Batman almost has a touch of “Dexter” in him, at one point proclaiming: “I’m vengeance.”

With Chicago providing multiple exterior shots for stunt sequences, and principal photography in London, and location sequences also in Liverpool, England, and Glasgow, Scotland, the Gotham City of “The Batman” still has a decidedly New York City vibe; there’s even a Gotham Square a la Times Square. The rain-soaked, golden-hued cinematography by Greig Fraser (“Rogue One,” “Dune”) is beautiful, but director Reeves favors a stripped-down, bare-bones approach to the narrative. Bruce Wayne’s lair actually looks like a cave, as it’s located underneath the city, in an old section of the Wayne Terminus Subway. Even the Bat Signal is a jagged, scrap metal device that shoots a rather murky image into the sky whenever Lt. Gordon attempts to summon the Batman. This is an urban-based Batman saga, and though the citizens of Gotham City have yet to fully appreciate it, they are lucky to have him patrolling their streets, their sewers and their skyline.

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