The Batman is the latest incarnation of the Dark Knight, this time taken on by Cloverfield director Matt Reeves. Coming only a few years after Ben Affleck’s appearance as the caped crusader, The Batman sees Robert Pattinson take on a much darker, gothic version of the hero, to surprising success.
The film opens in Gotham City on Halloween, where an unknown assailant is watching a family in their home from across the street. The house under watch is that of Mayor Mitchell (Rupert Penry-Jones), and after his family leaves to go trick or treating, a masked man enters his home and brutally attacks him. The action then jumps to the various criminal activities across the city, where the Batman has been established as a vigilante for over 2 years. With the Bat-signal high in the sky, criminals flee, all apart from a gang who have attacked a man after getting off a subway train. Ominous footsteps echo in the station as Robert Pattinson’s masked hero emerges from the shadows, subjecting the gang to a severe beating in his own form of vengeance.
Soon Batman is called out to a crime scene by Lieutenant Jim Gordon (Jeffrey Wright), to the murder of the Mayor by a sadistic killer calling himself the Riddler (Paul Dano). At the scene, he leaves a card for Batman, which includes a riddle, a clue to follow that will reveal the motives behind the killings. While Batman spends his evening investigating crimes and tackling criminals, at home Bruce Wayne is reclusive and brooding, much to the despair of his butler and family friend Alfred (Andy Serkis).
The clues from the mayor’s murder lead Batman and Gordon to the criminal underworld of Gotham, to the Iceberg Lounge operated by Oswald Cobblepot (Colin Farrell) and frequented by crime boss Carmine Falcone (John Turturro). Here Batman meets Selina Kyle (Zoë Kravitz), an employee at the club who knows more than she initially appears to and is a cat burglar in her spare time. After following her home, Batman and Kyle join forces to discover the truth behind what turns out to be a large criminal conspiracy involving high ranking officials of the city, who the Riddler is targeting one by one.
I will readily admit that the idea of a new Batman film didn’t exactly thrill me, especially being such a huge fan of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, and the trailer did little to change my mind. However, I was very happy to be proved wrong on this and the result was surprisingly enjoyable. Reeves’ version of Batman is darker and grittier than we’ve seen before, to the point where he’s almost verging on being scary. The entire look and feel of the film are very dark too and this really works, especially with the gothic style buildings – the new look Wayne manor is particularly stunning. This pairs well with the detective, crime-style storyline and the inclusion of the Riddler as a deranged serial killer is downright terrifying. A large proportion of this film feels like something you’d see from David Fincher, feeling very similar to Seven and Zodiac at times. I was also very relieved to see that this was not another Batman origin story. We’ve seen this done far too many times before and I was incredibly glad that we weren’t subjected to seeing Bruce Wayne’s parents get murdered yet again.
Prior to watching, my biggest concern was the casting as many didn’t seem to fit with their respective characters, but all of the cast exceeded my expectations. Pattinson plays a great menacing Batman without the need for an unnecessarily gruff voice (my one gripe about Bale’s version), although the one major flaw is his emo version of Bruce Wayne, who is just ridiculous and over the top. It’s just fortunate he doesn’t appear very often. Kravitz is wonderfully engaging and charismatic as Selina Kyle and Wright is a perfect fit as Gordon. Dano is superb as the sadistic Riddler, even if we don’t get to see him properly until the final act, and most surprising of all is that Farrell, unrecognisable under the prosthetics, gets a few cracking one-liners and is very convincing as the Penguin.
The film isn’t without its faults though. At a run time of just under 3 hours, it is way too long and some of the scenes feel needlessly drawn out. They could’ve easily cut out at least half an hour of filler and streamlined it, as for the most part the story was engaging and thrilling when it wasn’t being drawn out. Also, while the majority of the cinematography was stunning, I did have issues with some of the camera angles and fuzzy, out of focus views. Some of them just felt out of place and gave the film a cheap look, especially in a car chase scene which was made to feel rather underwhelming and less of a spectacle than it deserved to be.
I also take some issue with the fact that this has been turned into a standalone Batman film and is not set within the DC Extended Universe. Originally Ben Affleck had been attached with the intention of tying this into the DCEU, however, after going through production hell this changed and Reeves reworked the story and removed it from the DCEU. While the story definitely works as a standalone, with all of the other DCEU films and series already released and in the making, it seems an odd choice to not at least tie this in somehow and I think that makes it confusing. Especially as there’s a big character included towards the end that is completely different to their own standalone film released a few years back.
Overall, The Batman is a beautifully dark and gothic take on the caped crusader, with a fitting detective thriller storyline and an incredible cast. If it hadn’t been for a few missteps and a far too drawn out run time, this could have been superb.
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A contract manager moonlighting as a rather discerning film and book critic, with an almost fangirl appreciation for anything made by Christopher Nolan. When I’m not catching up on my latest read or watch, you can usually find me trying out my amateur baking skills – Bake Off here I come!