Matt Reeves’ long-awaited neo-noir interpretation of the Caped Crusader may have captured the world’s greatest detective in all his rugged glory, but The Batman falls just short of the brooding masterpiece it aspires to be. From the moment the bleak score rises from the misty Gotham fog, the scene is set for what will be almost three hours of rough and tumble investigations that pin a vengeful anti-hero against an ambitious villain with a penchant for puzzles. Menacing by nature, this bold new approach takes things in a vastly different direction, and while it starts strong, The Batman slowly falls into indulgent territory.
The plot itself is captivating. Reeves’ film explores the superhero’s often overlooked skill of detective work, embracing a bevy of new-age gadgets to facilitate some expert investigative practices. On the hunt to capture a serial killer taking down prominent political figures, Batman is drawn into a dark underworld littered with drug traffickers, prostitutes and corrupt cops, with the vigilante masterfully navigating the thriller genre with surprising ease.
When Twilight star turned indie-champion Robert Pattinson was announced as the lead in the new Batman flick, audiences were sceptical. While there was no question the charming Brit had the charisma to carry the billionaire playboy philanthropist, it was his ability to translate the dark and threatening alter-ego that raised doubts. For the most part, Pattinson’s turn as the Dark Knight more than lives up to the hype.
A brutalist encapsulation of vengeance personified, this iteration of Batman goes places that few who have donned the suit before have been willing. A bloodthirsty approach to crime-fighting is met with a genuine disdain for wrong-doing, seeing Pattinson land closer to the comic book version than his Christian Bale predecessor. But for all The Batman’s successes, its biggest fault lies in its lack of heart.
Watching The Batman, you quickly realise that the very best part of the superhero isn’t even the hero himself, it’s Bruce Wayne. The stark contrast between night and day holds a mirror to the twin personalities of the tortured protagonist, forced to fake smiles and shake hands for nepotism’s sake. The Batman isn’t quite able to find a balance that acutely acknowledges both sides. Further, the somewhat uninspired dialogue hamstrings Pattinson into a one-dimensional performance that sees his moody, grunge Bruce Wayne act nigh-on exactly the same as his moody, grunge Batman. It seems almost strange to critique a dark and desolate film for its lack of colour, but The Batman feels short of the point.
Over the years, much has been discussed about the real mask that Bruce Wayne wears, with an entire scene dedicated to this very notion appearing in The Dark Knight Rises. In The Batman, Bruce Wayne falls to the wayside in favour of impressive action sequences, a captivating Pattinson cowl and some steamy sexual tension, courtesy of Zoe Kravitz.
The actress shines as Selina Kyle, the cat burglar who teams up with the Dark Knight in an effort to seek justice, but her relationship with Pattinson is stilted and somewhat predictable. Instead, it is Paul Dano’s Riddler that quickly becomes the star of the show. Rather than slip into the cartoonish question master that Jim Carrey last portrayed on-screen, Dano’s murderous antagonist is confronting in its realism. Like a downtrodden incel wallowing in self-pity, The Riddler doesn’t aim to hit mad scientist or tortured genius, instead, his frustration with the world him lands closer to school shooter. His physical weakness almost works in his favour, easily able to manipulate Pattinson’s staunch and menacing Batman without ever raising a finger. But even with a great performance, it’s easy to see where Reeves has pulled his references.
While the filmmaker rightfully calls on the detective voiceover from the 1944 classic Double Indemnity to provide an instantly recognisable motif for audiences to draw from, some of The Riddler’s scenes appear to be pulled straight from David Fincher’s Se7en playbook. In his monologues, Dano channels Kevin Spacey’s John Doe brilliantly, but homage turns to imitation quickly when police uncover his notebooks. From there, the chain starts to drag.
Colin Farrell’s turn as Penguin is impressive, helping to steer the seedy underbelly component off the story, alongside John Turturro’s mob-boss Carmine Falcone. In fact, at one stage, the dramatic cat and mouse game between the crime syndicates and the Batman make you forget there is a murderous villain at large, and maybe that’s the point. There is a lot going on in Gotham, too much for any one man to police.
Needless to say, The Batman is a captivating neo-noir thriller that offers a solid foundation from which the next great superhero franchise will be based. Reeves deserves to be applauded for his brash and bold take on the concept, which pushes the Caped Crusader further into the vengeful vigilante he was always meant to be. Pattinson is impressive in the suit, Dano is masterful in his portrayal of The Riddler and Colin Farrell’s Penguin, while under-utilised, is quality. The Batman is dark, brooding and unashamedly serious, but with a runtime of almost three hours, some light in the dark might not have gone astray.
The Batman – 3.5/5
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