2. The Batman (2022)
The Batman depicts popular comic book hero Bruce Wayne in his second year as the crime-fighting vigilante, facing his biggest challenge yet when a masked psychopath known as The Riddler begins killing key political figures in Gotham City. Batman must unravel the mystery of who The Riddler is, all the while dealing with corruption within the city’s police department. Along the way, he encounters some of Gotham’s most colourful residents, like The Penguin and Catwoman, and discovers that he may be somehow involved. Batman must race against time to find the truth, which will ultimately shape how the public views him: a vengeful thug or a fresh hope for Gotham.
Approaching the caped crusader in the current age is a difficult task for any filmmaker. What could be done differently to give the legacy character a new and exciting treatment? From Tim Burton’s overtly gothic take to Christopher Nolan’s hyperreal box office smashes – surely it has all been done before? It turns out the solution was simple: the comics.
Matt Reeves’ vision of Batman is the most comic-accurate to date. Reeves shows clear love for the source material, drawing on the works of Frank Miller, Jeph Loeb and Scott Snyder, and even pays homage to one of David Mazuchelli’s panels from “Batman: Year One”. This care and detail is much more rewarding for comic fans than any 5-second cameo of an obscure character. Furthermore, while other films usually put emphasis on the rogues gallery, here Reeves really dives into the titular character and gives viewers a complex version. Robert Pattinson proves the naysayers wrong and fully commits to the role, portraying a work-in-progress Batman who battles to transform his anger and grief into a force for good. He seamlessly blends vulnerability and humanity, making his Bruce Wayne the most empathetic yet.
Once again, Reeves teams up with Greig Fraser, who arguably delivers his best work, creating one of the greatest-looking comic book adaptations. In a genre that is full of uninspired offerings, it is refreshing to have a film with a distinct visual style. The dirty, smudged lenses are crucial in establishing Reeves’ tone for this universe. The use of shadows perfectly complements the tormented psyche of Bruce. Many shots immediately become iconic, such as Batman looking out at the orange-hued Gotham’s sunset, the flare scene, and the upside-down shot (get it? Like a bat) of him emerging from the Batmobile, silhouetted by a fiery backdrop.
In contrast to previous live-action adaptations, Matt Reeves presents a fully-realised Gotham that feels true to its source material. For once, the city feels as it should: a disgusting, crime-ridden cesspit. The dingy interiors and consistent night-time aesthetic successfully create a gothic setting that could be ripped from the pages of the comic books. The sound design team does an excellent job of bringing Gotham to life, from the bat suit trudging through rain-soaked streets to the primal roar of the Batmobile’s engine. The city also houses some amazing set pieces, such as Batman’s escape from the police department and the thrilling Batmobile chase, all of which are set to Michael Giacchino’s beautifully imposing score.
Reeves’ The Batman is an operatic masterwork. It is a version of a character that is fully deserving of the definite article in its title. With a fascinating central performance and an incredible supporting cast, Reeves takes the caped crusader to new heights and delivers the best live-action adaptation of the legendary character.
Recommended for you: Live-Action Batman Movies Ranked
1. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014)
Set ten years after the events of the previous film, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes sees the human population decimated by the outbreak of the Simian Flu, while the genetically evolved apes led by Caesar have established a peaceful and self-sufficient society in the woods outside San Francisco. That is until their tranquillity is threatened when a group of human survivors discover the apes’ settlement. Their arrival causes tensions within the ape community. Caesar, familiar with the goodness of humanity, struggles to maintain order and his leadership is threatened by Koba, an ape whom only knows humanity’s ugly side.
Reeves had already shown a lot of potential as a filmmaker, but it was here that he truly levelled up in every way. He strikes a perfect balance between action and character development, creating a film where the quieter moments are just as vital as the action scenes. Reeves masterfully builds tension too. The central conflict is always simmering just below the surface, and when it does finally reach a climax, the results are breathtaking. Michael Seresin’s use of natural light provides a beautiful backdrop for the film, and Giacchino’s score effectively captures the film’s sombre tone. Furthermore, the film exudes a sense of coolness that is simply captivating, with the iconic image of apes on horseback serving as the quintessential money shot.
The motion capture work on the apes is beyond brilliant, from the CGI to the actors. Andy Serkis is stellar again, but it would be foolish not to mention Toby Kebbell’s menacing performance as Koba, the film’s primary antagonist. Scarred from years of human testing, Koba harbours deep-seated hatred and mistrust towards them, fuelling his desire for revenge. Befriending humans would be the ultimate sin in his eyes. Koba is a tragic character consumed by his own rage. While lesser filmmakers would focus solely on the ape vs human conflict, Reeves and the writers allow Koba to drive a wedge between the ape community, creating a fascinating and unpredictable inner-conflict. Koba’s actions ultimately lead to the war that is the basis of the third film. Like all great villains, Koba is sympathetic, a victim of abuse. His story is a cautionary tale about the consequences of unchecked hatred. Kebbell navigates this with aplomb, delivering a powerhouse performance that goes toe-to-toe with Serkis. The rest of the cast is rounded out by emotional performances from trusted performers such as Gary Oldman, Jason Clarke and Keri Russell.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is Shakespearian, from its power dynamics to the tragedy of characters like Koba. The film’s emotional depth and thought-provoking themes elevate it beyond a typical action blockbuster, making it a truly compelling and resonant viewing experience. It is Matt Reeves’ greatest achievement and, not only the best entry in a franchise that began in 1968, but one of the best films of the 2010s.
Recommended for you: Planet of the Apes Movies Ranked
With so many great films already under his belt, it is beyond exciting to see what Matt Reeves will do next. Which Matt Reeves film is your favourite? Does Dawn rank as highly with you? Let us know in the comments below, and and be sure to follow @thefilmagazine on Facebook and Twitter for more insightful movie lists.