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We've become so used to superhero movies with a few good sequences sandwiched between lackluster stuff that I wonder if moviegoers are ready for a beautifully constructed one with a beginning, middle and end. That would be "The Batman."

It's the bleakest "Batman," which is saying something for a franchise in which two movies have the word "dark" in their titles. It's dark both in the amount of nighttime scenes and its story. It's more personal than most "Batman" movies, with the caped crusader investigating corruption that may involve his own family tree. And the murders are brutal, beginning with one where the killer seems to nod to the classic "Seven" by leaving a blood-stained numeral 7 behind.

The bodies pile up quickly in "The Batman," pointing to several shadowy creeps. There's underworld figure Oswald Cobblepot/Penguin, played by an unrecognizable Colin Farrell, looking like Robert De Niro in a fat suit. He operates out of a sleazy club whose employees include Selina Kyle/Catwoman, played by the sensational Zoë Kravitz.

Kravitz has a tough act to follow, what with memorable TV versions of Catwoman and movie felines recently played by Oscar winners Halle Berry and Anne Hathaway. I'm very fond of Michelle Pfeiffer, but Kravitz feels less cartoonish in her depiction of a woman, beaten up by life, who's torn between justice and vengeance. Batman is a lousy part, and Robert Pattinson is fine in a role that calls for speaking raspily and looking decent in rubber. But Kyle/Catwoman is a passionate, wounded soul, and Kravitz makes her moral flip-flopping seem real.

Catwoman supplies one of three strong narrative threads that reinforce one another as "The Batman" builds momentum. There's Batman's search for the true story of his origins. There's the investigation into multiple murders, whose perpetrator leaves byzantine clues (spoiler alert: He's the Riddler). And there's Selina's search for the parties who destroyed her family and plunged Gotham City into chaos.

Speaking of Gotham, I'm probably the last person on the planet to notice that the name has the same root as "gothic." "The Batman" lays on Goth touches, from the kohl Batman paints around his eyes, the better to blend in with his black mask, to the Gothic cathedral-like penthouse where he lives, to the creepy Snapchat fanboys whose "likes" fuel Riddler's evil plan to bring down Gotham.

The downside is that this is very familiar. Director Matt Reeves' vision is strong but nothing here is mind-blowingly new. Batman's soul-searching, Gotham's alleys and the idea that the cards are stacked against us Average Joes — all of that has been done before, and done shorter (at nearly three hours, "Batman" seems to end a couple of times).

So it's all about the execution. Having recently watched clips of all the "Batman" movies, I'm confident the special effects have never been better — even the flying scenes, which always look like animation in a brightly lit "Spider-Man" movie, are natural looking. And each scene is built for maximum impact. If you're curious why the editing category should be presented on-camera at the next Oscars, take a look at the Penguin/Batman chase, in which William Hoy and Tyler Nelson build a tense rhythm out of shots of wheels turning, fearful faces and close-ups of bits of cars.

You probably already know if you want to see another "Batman." But if you're on the fence, my advice is the same you often hear at the beginning of car chases like that one: "Go, go go!"

'The Batman'

***1/2 out of 4 stars

Rated: PG-13 for strong language and gruesome violence.

Where: Area theaters.