By Jeff Labrecque
Updated October 17, 2014 at 05:31 PM EDT
Atsushi Nishijima

Michael Keaton was the first movie actor to say, “I’m Batman.” In 1989, Keaton defied the skeptics who’d shrieked when Tim Burton cast him as the Caped Crusader when Batman became a blockbuster, laying the groundwork for the future of superhero franchises and, hence, Hollywood. But after a popular sequel, Keaton hung up the cape, and despite some memorable performances since then—The Paper, Jackie Brown, The Other Guys—he’s never found another role with either the depth or profile of Batman.

Until now, perhaps.

In Birdman, Keaton plays someone we immediately identify—even if he claims he does not. Riggan Thomson is an actor best known for walking away from the fame and riches of playing a franchise superhero, now trying to recapture a modicum of that fame with a Broadway play. His personal life is messy, his alter ego still lurks in his head, and his make-or-break play for Broadway respectability is complicated by the actorly antics of his co-star, played by Edward Norton.

Directed by Alejandro G. Iñárritu and lensed by Gravity magician Emmanuel Lubezki, the film is set in and around New York’s St. James Theatre. Filmed to feel like real time, with long cut after long cut, Birdman blends what seems to be real with what’s flapping around in Riggan’s head at any given moment. “The film breaks with reality too, jackknifing into a trippy detour that audiences will either go with or not,” writes EW’s critic, Chris Nashawaty. “For me, there was never any question. I was so all-in on Keaton’s vanity-free, go-for-broke metamorphosis I would have followed him, or the movie, anywhere. Which is pretty much where it asks you to go.”

Read more from EW’s review, as well as a roundup of other notable critics, below.

Chris Nashawaty (Entertainment Weekly) ▲

Birdman is a scalpel-sharp dissection of Hollywood, Broadway, and fame in the 21st century. But more than that, it’s a testament to Keaton’s enduring charisma and power as an actor. He soars.”

Christy Lemire ( ▲

“[Iñárritu has] made a film that’s both technically astounding yet emotionally rich, intimate yet enormous, biting yet warm, satirical yet sweet. It’s also the first time that Iñárritu, the director of ponderous downers like Babel and Biutiful, actually seems to be having some fun.”

Todd McCarthy (Hollywood Reporter) ▲

“Keaton soars perhaps higher than ever as a thespian with something to prove when not wearing a funny suit. Casting any sense of vanity out the window—every vestige of aging skin and thinning hair is revealed by the camera—the actor catches Riggan’s ambition and discouragement and everything in between…”

David Edelstein (New York)

“The film’s bright spot is Norton, whose matinee idol exists on a level of jerky entitlement that’s positively mythic. He’s a gleeful exhibitionist and Lord of Misrule—Beetlejuice as a Method actor.”

Erik Kohn (IndieWire) ▲

“Norton’s wily temperament is matched by Stone, as Riggan’s cynical daughter, who delivers a darker role than anything suggested in her earlier roles. Even Zach Galifianakis, as Riggan’s hyperactive producer and best friend, manages to reach beyond his goofy standards with a zany performance…”

Betsy Sharkey (Los Angeles Times) ▲

“As a latter-day celluloid superhero come to Broadway’s proving ground for a rebirth, the Burning Man histrionics on stage and off are hysterically on point; makes you laugh, makes you cry. Irony lurks in every shadow.”

Dana Stevens (Slate)

“We never get a sense of what playing this character once meant to Riggan, much less learn anything about the iconography or fandom of the scowling, winged superhero. For a movie that both stars and tells the story of a former cape-wearer, Birdman seems notably uninterested in exploring the comic-book movie as a form…”

Claudia Puig (USA Today)

Birdman plunges the audience into a state of riveted, heightened apprehension, then catapults viewers to bizarre heights. It can be exhausting but supremely exhilarating.”

Manohla Dargis (New York Times) ▲

“The camerawork in Birdman is an astonishment, and an argument that everything flows together, which in this movie means the cinematography, the story, the people, even time and space.”

Peter Debruge (Variety) ▲

“It’s all one big magic trick, one designed to remind how much actors give to their art even as it disguises the layers of work that go into it.”

Richard Corliss (TIME)

“The movie is full of little nothings that can add up to something special. That something starts with Keaton. … Birdman represents not just Keaton’s fictional apologia but also his defiant, nearly heroic comeback.”

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

Overall Metacritic rating (1-100): 86

Rotten Tomatoes: 93 percent

Rated: R

Length: 119 minutes

Starring Michael Keaton, Edward Norton, Emma Stone, Zach Galifianakis, Naomi Watts

Directed by Alejandro G. Iñárritu

Distributor: Fox Searchlight