Batman movies are kind of like seasons of Doctor Who. Every now and then a new season with a new Doctor will come along and give a perspective on a classic character that will appeal to a new group of fans. In a similar way, The Batman employs a new pool of creative talent to give us a version of the DC Comics hero that we haven’t seen on-screen before.
While it may not end up becoming everyone’s favourite, for some this will definitely be the Batman they’ve been waiting for.
The Batman, directed by Matt Reeves (War for the Planet of the Apes) takes place in the early years of the Dark Knight’s crusade. Those who are worried about sitting through Bruce Wayne’s origin story for the umpteenth time need not be. The Batman jumps straight into its dark depiction of Gotham City where the world’s greatest detective is not so great yet and is seeking to unravel a series of clues left by a masked serial killer known as The Riddler.
One of the major things that sets The Batman apart is its move away from being a straightforward superhero movie. The story is familiar but instead of blockbuster shine, it chooses to ground itself in neo-noir and detective genres.
From the use of reflective voice-over to the choice of camera framing, this film feels almost like Seven-meets-Batman.
It’s a huge tonal shift from previous Batman movies but not an unwelcome one. The Batman simultaneously manages to be far more grounded than Burton’s films, yet it has more style than Nolan’s blockbusters. It may not topple The Dark Knight, but The Batman is a clear example of how different takes on the same character can both be good.
As you’ve probably noticed from The Batman’s marketing, this film is synonymous with the term ‘dark’ and it really takes that to another level. Well, as much as it can with an M-rating.
Splotches of rain batter the camera lenses, dull neon lights glow in the haze and dance music thunders as Batman beats up goons in the gloomy Ice Club Lounge. Every aspect of this film is designed to draw you into the gritty underworld of Gotham City. One that’s often physically and metaphorically bereft of light.
The Batman does give plenty of justification as to why its Batman is so dark and brooding, though.
We quickly learn it’s not just the character’s tragic backstory that’s impacted him but it’s also the result of months of psychological damage from his obsession with taking vengeance on a corrupt city. It’s an approach that isn’t working.
With two years of crime fighting under his belt, this isn’t a story of Bruce Wayne’s quest to put on the cowl. This is a story of Batman’s quest to cross the line from vigilante to hero – and it’s a surprisingly poignant arc.
To hold up such an arc, Reeves picked Robert Pattinson – who we can now refer to as an emo superhero rather than a teen heartthrob. He may seem an unlikely choice, but there’s no denying he is Batman.
Pattinson spends most of The Batman’s runtime unrecognisable behind the cowl. His Bruce Wayne is far from the charismatic billionaire playboy, instead, he is a quiet contemplator with simmering resentment and turmoil lying just under the surface. Textbook emo kid.
Bruce Wayne is Pattinson’s mask in this film. When he puts on the cowl he is able to communicate a lot with a little and brings a take on the Dark Knight that feels comic-accurate. (Plus, his Batman voice is blessedly easy to understand.)
Reeves isn’t afraid to put his own spin on these classic characters. The Riddler, in particular, is a villain that feels right at home in this downtrodden version of Gotham city. He’s a mastermind and a terrorist with a penchant for duct tape and blood-riddled metaphors.
Paul Dano’s performance is a stand out as he brings an unexpectedly unhinged Riddler to the screen who manages to capture the character’s inherent narcissism along with his more psychotic aspects.
Zoe Kravitz’s Selina Kyle is another welcome constant throughout the film. Her role in the story isn’t far from that of a femme fatale in classic detective tales, but Kravitz’s grounding of the role makes it clear she’s not just here to serve as Batman’s love interest. Kravitz’s performance brings both a slyness and a vulnerability to Catwoman that helps her to steal every scene she’s in.
Colin Farrell’s Penguin is ripped right from the pages of a Batman comic book in one of the film’s more stereotypical portrayals. Farrell is completely unrecognisable in the role but is clearly having the time of his life as Gotham’s most enigmatic mobster.
On the other side of the law, Jeffrey Wright’s Jim Gordon is a constant good cop to Batman’s Dark Knight. The partnership between the two gives us more camaraderie than we’ve seen in previous Batman films. Wright’s Gordon isn’t afraid to comment on the strangeness of his new partner – who dresses like a bat – but will just as easily turn to him as a sounding board.
It’s just one of many partnerships throughout the film that highlight The Batman’s excellent cast. Scenes between Pattinson and Kravitz are buzzing with chemistry and when the Batman and the Riddler finally meet it’s nothing short of electric.
There’s no shortage of aesthetically pleasing scenes in The Batman which are framed expertly by Greig Fraser. Sequences play out like pages of a graphic novel and are equally bolstered by Michael Giacchino’s score, which switches between grand epic themes to haunting melodies.
All this being said, The Batman isn’t without its issues. At 2 hours and 56 minutes, the film is bladder-burstingly long and while it rarely gets boring it’s tough to leave its bleak mood behind when you exit the cinema.
Some people will also undoubtedly be disappointed that The Batman isn’t as blockbuster heavy with its action sequences. The film focuses more on mystery than violence, but when the time for action arrives, it well and truly delivers. From high-octane car chases to brutal hand-to-hand combat, The Batman has plenty of adrenaline-pumping moments that deserve to be seen on the big screen.
Speaking of mystery, The Batman’s plot is a gripping but sometimes overly complex tale as it tries to thread all its different storylines together.
Unfolding in a series of Zodiac-style puzzles, the wit and intelligence of The Riddler and Batman’s detective skills from the comics are finally done justice on screen. Reeves isn’t afraid to play with Batman’s comic book lore and the story is filled with intriguing twists and character developments that break away from tradition.
Unfortunately, like many superhero movies before it, The Batman also suffers from third act issues where the finale can’t quite live up to everything the film has been building to.
The long and the short of it is that if you loved what The Batman promised with its moody mysterious trailers, you’re going to like this film.
The Batman delivers on every promise it makes. A realistic, gritty, Gotham City? Check. A grounded comic-book style detective story that keeps you guessing? Check. Nirvana’s ‘Something in the Way’? Double check.
The Batman sets out to achieve a lot, and for the most part, it’s able to deftly handle a blend of horror, thriller and noir to create a story that is original. Reeves’ take on Batman is an injection of life into the character’s history and holds very promising things for a new franchise. (Things that are of coursed teased at the end of the film).
Regardless of whether Keaton, Batfleck or Bale is your Dark Knight, The Batman puts forward a compelling case for it to be your new favourite Batman movie.
The Batman: The verdict
Pros: Doesn’t waste time on Batman’s origin story, excellent performances, unique style, intriguing mystery, a much needed tonal shift.
Cons: Long runtime, a disappointing third act.
Watch it if you like: Se7en, Zodiac and Batman movies (obviously)