There are few guarantees in life. James Corden appearing in the place he is needed least is one, but another is that whenever an announcement is made over who will be playing The Batman in the next endeavour he finds himself in… you better believe that a cascade of opinions and think-pieces are multiplying faster than you can say “Batarang”. Has Robert Pattinson answered the naysayers? Matt Reeves brings the world his dark take on ‘The Dark Knight’ with The Batman, a film that injects a sense of reality into spectacle. Sorry kiddos, this isn’t the Batman that you are used to seeing.
The opening frames set the tone. A voyeuristic viewpoint leads to an act of violence before transforming into a personal tour of Gotham. A voiceover narrates the state of the city (warts and all) and showcases how ritually entrenched crime is within. When Batman is first seen – at a train station no less… surely a nod to Joker – it comes as a welcome change that characters engage with him in a way that isn’t just frantic panicking. This Batman still has his training wheels on, and criminals react to him as such. His reputation has yet to fully take hold. This translates to a more engaging introduction wherein the audience can see the inexperience within him. This is not an origin film but, at the same time, it is damn-near close.
The idea of a more grounded take on Batman is one that is very much appreciated given his latest outings have seen Pattinson’s predecessor, Ben Affleck, duking it out with aliens and… more aliens. It feels morbidly right to see him pulverise some regular humans for a change. Matt Reeves has had some work on his hands to completely reboot the character considering that this film was initially a Ben Affleck project. Thankfully, we are back to basics in a way that serves to further develop the Batman character into something that will be wary of viewer fatigue. His detective skills are supposedly legendary but have rarely been showcased on the big screen. Until now, that is.
Pattinson handles the job in a way that fans of his post-Twilight career will appreciate. Most effectively used is his ability to project a tortured soul without relying on flashbacks or backstory. He looks as though he hasn’t slept in months, which carries weight in this insomniac performance. His face carries the weight of his trauma as well as his self-imposed responsibility. Nobody elected Bruce Wayne to be Batman, but yet he feels a duty. Pattinson manages this paradox well. His trusty assistant Alfred (played by Andy Serkis) is a more rough around the edges depiction than viewers are used to. Their contrasting viewpoints are fundamental to their relationship. Alfred is resentful that Bruce is putting his life in danger, yet assists him in these endeavours – Including trying to solve a puzzle that a serial killer directly taunts Batman with.
From Pattinson’s grunge inspired portrayal of a tortured soul (Nirvana fans beware), to the charming Zoë Kravitz’s film noir femme fatale throwback, the performances are where the film shines. Jeffrey Wright always gives his all and his weary take on Gordon stands out, whilst also being the one character who suffers from being underwritten. An unrecognisable Colin Farrell puts on his best Robert De Niro impression (and Richard Kind prosthetics) to give a Penguin, not yet the crime kingpin he is traditionally portrayed as, some identity. Paul Dano’s performance as The Riddler is a far cry from Jim Carrey’s in Batman Forever – a performance so hammy that the population of vegans has since skyrocketed. This Riddler is chilling and one that Dano fans (or Danomites… probably) will come to expect from an actor who always gives something extra. One only wishes that the script had met his calibre.
Reeves’ direction deserves credit for managing to showcase the absurdity of the situation without it becoming satirical. Images of a man dressed as a bat arriving at a crime scene are rightly called out for the objective ridiculousness it would seem in reality. Previous directors have ranged from playful to quasi-realism with varying results. However, Reeves embraces the absurdity by refraining from taking it too seriously.
Cinematographer Greig Fraser, who has recently been nominated for an Oscar for his work on Dune, guides viewers through what can be described as the most powerful use of Gotham City thus far. Its realistic portrayal of a city in crisis avoids becoming an exaggeration and yet retains a feel for the putrid heart that it contains. Credit to production design is very much due: as the camera shows more, the need to take a shower only builds. Michael Giacchino’s score is entrancing and provides an excellent accompaniment to proceedings.
The script can struggle to live up to the standards on display elsewhere. What begins as a slow, Zodiac-meets-Se7en style procedural with strong pacing, develops into something more closely resembling Chinatown before a third act that may divide opinions. Seemingly pulling its punches, the script promises something new, before descending into familiar territory. Coupled with far-from perfect dialogue, and odd character choices, it feels like the film’s weak link.
One hopes that The Batman can be a fresh start, one that shows the potential success there can be without trying to outdo Marvel. If anything, this reviewer relishes a world where they continue to give filmmakers a chance to make films with a voice that need not necessitate connection to previous films that simply don’t work. If that world is on the horizon, then success should surely follow.