Movie Review: The Batman

Batman has had more actor changeovers than James Bond, recently switching from Ben Affleck to Robert Pattinson for the franchise reboot simply titled, The Batman. This iteration has created a more old Hollywood Batman, having already diverged with The Dark Knight in a bid to reimagine a grittier and more grounded version of the billionaire by day and vigilante by night. The twist in The Batman, co-written and directed by Matt Reeves, is that it’s a detective story.

The Batman jumps onto the trail of a serial killer who’s targetting key political figures, not taking much time to immerse its audience in the shadowy world of Gotham’s heroes and villains. Assisting the police in their investigation under the watchful eye of Lt. James Gordon, Batman’s quick wits and brute force become instrumental in unlocking the mystery behind a sadistic killer who leaves a series of clues in his media hyped killing spree. As the story unfurls, so do links to the Wayne family, finding Bruce Wayne even more compelled to unveil the mystery and conceal his secret identity.

One of the first things you’ll notice about The Batman is its fine cast, who have been an ongoing point of interest in the build-up to this reboot. Starring Robert Pattinson, who has proven to be an excellent choice to take over the role of Bruce Wayne/Batman, his brooding emo vibration connects quite seamlessly with the choice to feature Nirvana’s low-key ‘Something in the Way’ as a theme. Pattinson has a reverence for the role, staying true to the voice and silhouette of the self-made masked avenger but creating a Prince Adam contrast to the unstoppable superhero. Not as much of a playboy billionaire, his dark eye make up and sickly demeanour makes him more like a member of My Chemical Romance.

Pattinson is the front runner to this team effort, surrounded by the likes of Zoe Kravitz, Colin Farrell, Paul Dano, Jeffrey Wright, John Turturro, Andy Serkis and Peter Sarsgaard. Kravitz demonstrated her star quality in the thriller Kimi and makes a compelling case as the new Catwoman, becoming a valuable ally to Batman. Farrell’s facial prosthetics make him unrecognisable as Oz, delivering what comes across as a fitting prelude to the nefarious Penguin. Paul Dano is a fine actor with an impressive resume who does well as The Riddler. Although his casting presents a challenge, making his hidden identity and glasses superfluous, obfuscating his performance and intended fear factor. One can’t help but wonder how a relative unknown talent’s performance would have worked.

Matt Reeves is the filmmaker behind the well-received yet CG-heavy The Planet of the Apes reboot. Not having to deal with as many “digital” performances, he’s able to give more focus to this gritty take on Gotham, falling somewhere between Batman Begins and The Joker. Andy Serkis is best known for his motion capture performances, having played Caesar in The Planet of the Apes trilogy but contributes a supporting role as Alfred. Reeves has crafted a dank and dark Gotham with sleek cinematography and first class sound, mostly giving the franchise a fresh spin through its genre twist.


“I’m also Batman.”

While The Batman certainly looks and sounds the part, it’s undermined by some of the “invisible” elements. The inventive genre twist tends towards detective drama and puzzle-solving in a Raymond Chandler slant for Batman but it’s really just a strong influence from Seven. The grim and oppressive atmosphere has a strong vibration with David Fincher’s iconic serial killer crime drama thriller but the inspiration is mostly served in identifying and leaning into this resonance.

The Batman also presumes you’ve seen a Batman movie or are already a fan. This over-reliance on preconceptions may help the movie “get on with it”, but undermines the immersion as a standalone vehicle. If you’re in full acceptance of a man in a sculpted superhero outfit just casually appearing out of the shadows to fight crime, then it’s not a big jump to see him aiding an official police investigation in the role of a private eye. It’s easy enough to roll with it, but it would be unintentionally funny if the Batman character wasn’t already so entrenched in pop culture. In spite of The Batman’s Halloween integration, it still takes a moment to adjust to the dark knight’s role as a freelance P.I.

This recalibration could have been smoothed over with comedy but the dry and gloomy atmosphere isn’t conducive to humour. There are a few remarks that are intended to be funny but they get lost in the stern delivery and dour state of twilight and night. The nightmarish cacophony of stylish sound, visuals and self-importance draw parallels with The Crow, a grim film that still had the presence of mind to derive its own twisted dark comedy. Also centred around Halloween or in The Crow’s case Halloween’s Eve or “Devil’s Night”, this celebration effectively blurs the lines with everyone wearing masks. While an elegant starting point in one sense, it does create a comedic slant to Batman essentially living in a permanent state of Halloween.

This foreboding superhero film is steeped in atmosphere and brandishes its mean streets style in a perpetual quest of cool. However, as epic as it tries to be, it only thrives because it operates with a sense of unquestionable impunity. Pushing for grit and realism, The Batman encounters superhero stumbling stones, like why henchmen and villains don’t aim for Batman’s unprotected eyes and jaw. Not having the fallback of campy self-parody, there’s an underlying hypocrisy at play. Batman and Bond do have parallels in this respect with villains constantly giving Bond opportunities to die another day but Bond’s switch to gritty realism in the Daniel Craig era isn’t hampered by as many moving parts.

The Batman is sleek and even elegant, designed to swathe audiences in the dark dualities and grim mood of Gotham in its perpetual bid to rally for the anonymous and relentless hero at its core. The crime saga counterbalances dramatic underground interrogations and unsettling encounters with a masked serial killer by flexing some artful action set pieces. However, coming in at over 3 hours is a stretch, even if it wasn’t a Batman movie. The seriousness of this slog adds gravity but the film’s pomp does transform grand into grandiose.

The Batman is still a handsomely mounted, stellar and tailored production with a moody aesthetic that will win enough fans over to sustain the franchise reboot. Teasing at some classic villains and muddying the waters for Bruce Wayne, there’s still great potential with Matt Reeves at the helm and Robert Pattinson as the new Batman. Hopefully the sequel will address and remedy some of the original’s shortfalls in the process. Even if it doesn’t change course, the power of the Gotham’s bleak universe and quality of the ingredients ensures there’s still enough firepower for a rinse-and-repeat.

The bottom line: Portentous

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