Picture: Warner Bros.
The Batman movies are a bit like Doctor Who seasons. Every once in a while, a new season with a new Doctor comes along that gives a perspective on a classic character that will appeal to a new group of fans. Similarly, The Batman employs a new pool of creative talent to give us a version of the DC Comics hero we’ve never seen on screen before.
While he won’t end up becoming everyone’s favorite, for some he’s sure to be the Batman they’ve been waiting for.
The Batman, directed by Matt Reeves (War for the Planet of the Apes) is set in the early years of the Dark Knight’s Crusade. Those worried about witnessing Bruce Wayne’s origin story for the umpteenth time need not be. The Batman jumps straight into his grim portrayal of Gotham City where the world’s greatest detective isn’t yet so great and seeks to unravel a series of clues left behind by a masked serial killer known as The Riddler.
One of the main things that sets The Batman apart is that it moves away from just a superhero movie. The story is familiar but instead of shining as a hit, it chooses to anchor itself in the neo-noir and detective genres.
From the use of the reflective voiceover to the choice of camera framing, this movie almost feels like Seven-meets-Batman.
It’s a huge change of tone from previous Batman movies but not an intruder. The Batman simultaneously manages to be a lot more grounded than Burton’s movies, but it’s got more style than Nolan’s blockbusters. It may not topple The Dark Knight, but The Batman is a clear example of how good different takes on the same character can be.
As you’ve probably noticed from the marketing of The Batman, this movie is synonymous with the term “dark” and it really takes that to another level. Well, as much as possible with an M rating.
Splashes of rain pound the camera lenses, dull neon lights glow in the haze, and dance music thunders as Batman beats up goons in the dark Ice Club Lounge. Every aspect of this film is designed to draw you into the underworld of Gotham City. One that is often physically and metaphorically devoid of light.
The Batman, however, gives plenty of justification for why his Batman is so dark and brooding.
We quickly learn that it wasn’t just the character’s tragic backstory that got to him, but it was also the result of months of psychological damage from his obsession with getting revenge on a corrupt city. This is an approach that does not work.
With two years of crime fighting under his belt, this isn’t a story of Bruce Wayne’s quest to put the cowl down. It’s the story of Batman’s quest to cross the line from vigilante to hero – and it’s a surprisingly poignant arc.
To hold such a bow, Reeves cast Robert Pattinson — who we can now call an emo superhero rather than a teen idol. He may seem like an unlikely choice, but there’s no denying he’s Batman.
Pattinson spends most of The Batman’s runtime unrecognizable behind the cowl. His Bruce Wayne is far from the charismatic billionaire playboy, he’s more of a silent gazer with a resentment and restlessness simmering just below the surface. Emo kid manual.
Bruce Wayne is Pattinson’s mask in this film. When he puts on the cowl, he is able to communicate much with little and brings a vision of the dark knight who feels precise comic. (Plus, his Batman voice is thankfully easy to understand.)
Reeves isn’t afraid to put his own spin on these classic characters. The Riddler, in particular, is a villain who 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 gory metaphors.
Paul Dano’s performance stands out as he brings to the screen a surprisingly unhinged Riddler who manages to capture the character’s inherent narcissism as well as his more psychotic aspects.
Zoe Kravitz’s Selina Kyle is another welcome constant throughout the film. Her role in the story isn’t far off from that of a femme fatale in classic detective tales, but Kravitz’s anchoring of the role makes it clear that she’s not just there to serve as a love interest. to Batman. Kravitz’s performance brings both a cunning and a vulnerability to Catwoman that helps her steal every scene she’s in.
Colin Farrell’s penguin is pulled straight from the pages of a Batman comic book in one of the most stereotypical portrayals in film. Farrell is completely unrecognizable in the role but is clearly having the best 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 for 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 weirdness of his new partner – who dresses like a bat – but will just as readily turn to him as a sounding board.
It’s just one of many partnerships throughout the film that showcase Batman’s excellent casting. The scenes between Pattinson and Kravitz are buzzing with chemistry and when Batman and the Riddler finally meet, it’s nothing short of electric.
There’s no shortage of aesthetic scenes in The Batman, expertly framed by Greig Fraser. The sequences unfold like the pages of a graphic novel and are further enhanced by Michael Giacchino’s score, which alternates between grand, epic themes and haunting melodies.
All that said, The Batman is not without its problems. At 2 hours and 56 minutes, the film is breathtakingly long and while it’s rarely boring, it’s hard to leave its dark mood behind when you step out of the cinema.
Some people will also no doubt be disappointed that The Batman isn’t as heavy with its action sequences. The film focuses more on mystery than violence, but when the moment of action arrives, it definitely delivers. From high-octane car chases to brutal hand-to-hand combat, The Batman delivers plenty of adrenaline-pumping moments worth seeing on the big screen.
Speaking of mystery, the plot of Batman is an engaging but sometimes overly complex story as it tries to tie together all of its different storylines.
Unfolding in a series of zodiac-style puzzles, The Riddler’s wit and wits and Batman’s detective skills from the comic books are finally done justice on screen. Reeves isn’t afraid to toy with Batman comic book lore, and the story is filled with intriguing twists and character developments that break with 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 movie built.
The long and the short of it is that if you liked what The Batman promised with its moody mystery trailersyou are going to love this movie.
The Batman keeps all its promises. A gritty, realistic Gotham City? To verify. A comic book-style detective story that keeps you guessing? To verify. “Something on the way” to Nirvana? Recheck.
The Batman aims to accomplish a lot, and for the most part, he’s able to deftly manage a mix of horror, thriller, and noir to craft an original story. Reeves’ take on Batman is an injection of life into the character’s backstory and holds some very promising stuff for a new franchise. (Things that are of course teased at the end of the film).
Whether Keaton, Batfleck, or Bale is your dark knight, The Batman makes a compelling case for it to be your new favorite Batman movie.
Batman: The Verdict
Pros: Wastes no time on Batman’s origin story, great performance, unique style, intriguing mystery, much needed change of tone.
Cons: Long duration, a disappointing third act.
Watch it if you like: Se7en movies, Zodiac and Batman (obviously)
The Batman hits theaters March 4.
This article is republished from Kotaku Australia. Read the article here.
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