Crime is rampant in Gotham City. Murders. Manslaughter. Blood soaks the streets. Citizens live in terror and the police are stumped. On desperate nights a Batman signal lights up the sky and the caped man jumps into action, but even he can’t stem the tide: “It’s a big city. I can’t be everywhere.” 

“The Dark Knight” is the pinnacle of superhero movies. That Batman saga set a very high standard for style, content, acting and production values. It drew you into its dark world with strong visuals and plenty of balletic action that pulled you into Batman’s orb, from spectacular fight scenes to gliding magically in air. Arguably, this new chapter is the only other Batman close to that caliber.

In this incarnation, “The Batman,” a string of high-profile and sadistic slayings confounds the police. Lt. James Gordon (Jeffrey Wright, “Angels in America”) works tirelessly with his ally Batman (Robert Pattinson) to solve the homicides. As the killings ensnare mayoral candidates and city officials, pressure grows to find the serial killer (Paul Dano, “12 Years a Slave”) who leaves behind cryptic riddles. A trail of clues leads to an underworld club and key figures: Selina Kyle (Zoë Kravitz) a cocktail waitress; Oswald “Oz” Cobblepot (Colin Farrell) the nightclub owner; and Carmine Falcone (John Turturro) a crime lord. All know more than they’ll admit. A clandestine world of payoffs, informants and corruption is revealed.

The primary characters are courtesy of DC Comics. Director/writer Matt Reeves (“Planet of the Apes”) and screenwriter Peter Craig (“The Town”) add in additional people who are vital to the central crime plotline. They are well developed, three-dimensional and indelible. All spew tone-setting dialogue. The kind that resonates from scene to scene. E.g., as the enigmatic Batman assesses how others perceive him, he defines his own persona: “They think I’m hiding in the shadows. But I am the shadow.” Add in a very timely premise about out-of-control big city crimewaves and viewers will be hooked for the duration. 

The footage’s very dark look (color palette by art director Grant Armstrong, “Gravity”) sets an ominous mood. Elaborate sets—from Bruce Wayne’s mansion to Oz’s glamorous club scene—draw you into a netherworld. Batman’s armor, Catwoman’s skintight outfits and The Penguin’s suits fit like a glove (costumes designer David Crossman, Glyn Dillon and Jacqueline Durran). Michael Giacchino’s musical score intensifies the gloomy, soul searching and fearful atmosphere. Creepy sounds fray nerves. This is the kind of tech team directors/producers gleefully take into battle. The kind that wins Oscars.

Actor Robert Pattinson has been prepping for this iconic role for 14 years. First, he built a fan base with the teen heartthrob “Twilight” franchise, which started in 2008. The dual role of furtive Bruce Wayne and brooding Batman is his destiny. He commands attention. Supporting cast members work their spells too. A scene in which Batman and Lt. Gordon furiously interrogate Oz features acting so fiery and accomplished it underlines Pattinson, Wright and Farrell’s brilliance. That heaviness is nicely balanced by Kravitz’s lighter, coquettish, downtown vibe that she displays as the plucky young lady who becomes a feline crusader.  FYI, Bat and Cat have chemistry.

Expect “The Batman” to stun mature audiences. It’s not so easy to judge whether this very adult approach, complex storyline and lack of moment-to-moment action scenes will hook teens and twentysomethings enough to make repeated screenings an addiction—a prerequisite for boosting box office grosses into the billion-dollar stratosphere. 

Reeves, Pattinson and the talented cast and crew have created a crime/action/drama extraordinaire. A close to perfect superhero film that nips at the heels of the untouchable “The Dark Knight.”  

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