Is there still juice left in the Caped Crusader? To judge by "The Batman," now in theaters and starring an indelibly intense Robert Pattinson as its conflicted hero, the answer is just you wait. Directed by Matt Reeves, of "Cloverfield" and the "Planet of the Apes" remakes, the film plays more like a detective thriller than a comic-book epic. And that's all to the good.
Since Reeves knows he can't beat Christopher Nolan's dazzling and definitive "The Dark Knight" -- no one can, even Nolan who did a prequel and a sequel -- Reeves wisely refuses to copy that 2008 blockbuster and instead takes on the Batman mythology on his own terms.
That he takes nearly three hours to do it shouldn't deter you. They say no movie is too long if it holds your attention. "The Batman" is a mesmerizing mind-bender that grabs you hard and never lets go as visceral pow gives way to startling emotion.
It's been a while since Pattinson became the screen's leading dreamboat vampire in the "Twilight" franchise. Now he's grown into an actor of ferocity and feeling. If you didn't see him singe the screen for the Safdie brothers in "Good Times," you'll feel his fire here.
Pattinson is brooding perfection as his Batman, aka billionaire Bruce Wayne, begins his second year as a vigilante haunted by the murder of his parents and his determination to rid Gotham City of criminals in high and low places. Without superpowers, he is plagued by human frustration, evoking Al Pacino in "The Godfather II" in his delusion and desolation.
He's found a surrogate father in his loyal butler and chief adviser, Alfred (the great Andy Serkis). And then there's James Gordon (Jeffrey Wright), the future police commissioner, who offers support in Wayne's fight against his own personal demons.
Still, villains are everywhere, including mob boss Carmine Falcone (John Turturro) and his right-hand man, Oz, played by an unrecognizable Colin Farrell in layers of makeup that will suit him as he rises in the crime syndicate in the role of the Penguin.
The plot is sparked by the murder of Gotham Mayor Don Mitchell Jr. (Rupert Penry-Jones) with his face covered in tape and the words, "No More Lies." A note attached to the corpse identifies the culprit as the serial-killing Riddler, vividly played by Paul Dano with a bizarro intimidation rarely seen outside of "Saw" shockers and David Fincher's "Seven."
For romance, "The Batman" gives us Zoe Kravitz as Selina Kyle, a cocktail waitress and cat burglar on her way to becoming Catwoman. Kravitz and Pattinson have a chemistry that invests the PG-13 movie with the sexual sizzle it needs and could have used more of.
There's no skimping on the action and the visuals. It's a trip to watch the Batmobile turn into a tricked-out muscle car and rev up in a thrilling chase. And the finale in which the Riddler sets loose an army of vigilantes recalls the horror of the Jan. 6 mob attack on the Capitol.
It's here that Reeves raises mystery to the level of moral investigation. A pulsating score by Michael Giacchino evokes the fatalism of "Chinatown" without denying glimmers of hope that befits this tale of a lost child -- the orphaned Wayne -- trying to provide protection for other lost children. And Pattinson lets us feel his pain.
"The Batman" aims high and even when it misses the mark, the film's ambition is undeniable. By returning the Batman to his DC Comics roots as the "world's greatest detective," Pattinson distinguishes himself from other movie Batmen and puts him in league with the best of them, Michael Keaton and Christian Bale.
Veined with dark humor and chilling menace, "The Batman "is a fever dream that inexorably pulls you in. There's a chance you'll hate it. This movie is unapologetically a disrupter. It's also pure cinema, a grenade of image, sound and potent provocation ready to blow.