The Daily Stream: The Batman Is Streaming And It Feels Good To Be Back In Gotham

(Welcome to The Daily Stream, an ongoing series in which the /Film team shares what they've been watching, why it's worth checking out, and where you can stream it.)

The Movie: "The Batman"

Where You Can Stream It: HBO Max

The Pitch: The World's Greatest Detective gets drawn into a mystery surrounding a series of murders in which a perpetrator with a penchant for riddles has targeted corrupt officials in Gotham City.

At this point, "The Batman" has been thoroughly dissected like a rat with wings or stool pigeon — or just, you know, a bat — in biology class. Within a week of the film's release, it had already been analyzed from every conceivable angle as the seawall exploded and flooded your infinite scroll with new and evermore daring content. "The Batman" (in case you forgot what movie we were talking about) has made three-quarters of a billion dollars at the box office, and if it ever did need an elaborate dissertation convincing people to watch it, it doesn't anymore.

By now, you're probably well-versed in the ins and outs of the film's various comic book inspirations and you don't need me to laundry-list the serial killer thrillers and other movies that influenced it or anything like that. As "The Batman" flies onto HBO Max and digital platforms this week, I'm just here to offer a few observations about a movie that a lot of people are going to be rewatching—maybe pausing or rewinding, the way you can't do in the theater.

The best films tend to reveal new things each time we see them. So as best as possible, I'll keep this focused on parts of "The Batman" that I have not seen or heard discussed at length elsewhere.

Why it's essential viewing

When "The Batman" sets us down in Gotham City, it feels like the first time we've truly been back there since the 2000s (at least 2008, if not 2005). "The Dark Knight Rises" looked to "A Tale of Two Cities" for inspiration — you can see it in what "The Wire" once called "the Dickensian aspect" — but it was really the tale of two or more recognizable shooting locations. Gotham went from being Chicago in "The Dark Knight" to Pittsburgh and Manhattan, but it never felt more like Gotham than when it was raining in the Narrows in "Batman Begins."

Under the sure-handed direction of blockbuster maestro Matt Reeves, cinematographer Greig Fraser, and production designer James Chinlund, "The Batman" restores the rain and the feeling of being immersed in a shadowy cityscape that is in this world but not of it. That's a biblical concept, and there are plenty of those in "The Batman," such as when Batman uses a red flare to lead Gothamites through the dark like the "pillar of fire by night" that accompanied the Israelites in the Book of Exodus.

What I mean, though, is that Gotham City in "The Batman" is a place that exists on the edge of the imagination. To this day, you can visit the street in Chi-town where the Batpod flipped the Joker's semi-truck in "The Dark Knight," but thanks to virtual production techniques introduced by "The Mandalorian," there are places in "The Batman" that only come to life within its frames. Reeves gets us on board with his vision of Gotham in the first ten minutes (which you can see online), as Batman's presence hovers over the city with the Bat-Signal.

Bat-centric nights in the city of orphans

The noir-ish voiceover that Robert Pattinson delivers isn't so much a thought bubble as it is a narration box like you would see in the panels of comic books. He talks about how he can't be everywhere at once but fear is a tool and criminals think he's hiding in every shadow. Then, at last, he comes walking out of the shadows and gliding into a crime scene behind Jim Gordon (Jeffrey Wright).

In "The Batman," it's not until the funeral scene, almost an hour into the movie, that Bruce Wayne really lingers onscreen without glasses or guy-liner. This is not his movie. That was "Batman Begins," which delivered the definitive screen origin of the Dark Knight but still fell slightly short, when costumed up and delivering lines, of Michael Keaton's "Batman."

As the bad guy observes (without knowing it), Bruce's real brooding self is the one in the cape and cowl. "The Batman" keeps him that way for much of its 175-minute running time, and it gives him a real character arc as Batman, whereby he confronts his privileged background and fear of losing another loved one (Alfred, played by Andy Serkis), finally transforming from a symbol of pure vengeance into one of hope.

I was iffy about the costumes but Reeves makes it work. He did a dry run for the masked killer in the backseat in "Let Me In," a Hammer Horror film, while this Riddler (Paul Dano) goes hard with other carpentry tools. With her jazzy, James-Bond-like musical leitmotif by Michael Giacchino, Zoë Kravitz's soft-eared version of the cat burglar Selina Kyle provides some of the film's most resonant emotional beats, especially at the end when "The Batman" becomes a tale of two motorcycles.

Through the lens, through eyes, through a window

Together, the two orphans, Selina and the Riddler, act as character foils for Batman, illuminating his flaws and the forking paths of fates that could have been. Colin Farrell's scene-stealing performance as the Penguin builds on his career-best work in last year's AMC+ series, "The North Water." And when you weren't looking, John Turturro suddenly became menacing.

There are multiple layers of voyeurism in "The Batman." We look through the Riddler's eyes as he looks through goggles and/or binoculars, and through a window, where a wordless drama involving a ninja swordsman (soon confirmed to be just a kid in a Halloween costume) plays out. Later, we look through Batman's eyes as he looks through Selina's eyes and she looks through spy-cam contact lenses into men's faces.

Later still, we look through the Penguin's eyes as he looks into his rearview mirror and then looks back over his shoulder at the movie-monster Batmobile bursting through a fireball in hot (sorry) pursuit of him. And of course, through all of this, we are actually looking through the eye of the movie camera.

There's a lot of looking in "The Batman" because, begging the pardon of Michael Morbius and other super-zeroes and drop heads, "The Batman" is a real gosh-darned film. The story unfolds visually, using all the tricks of the trade to create a bravura entertainment experience. You don't need me to tell you that, but it's always worth remembering that, with enough Ave Marias, movies told on a tentpole scale can still attain the status of high art.