Let’s talk about The Batman.
Iron Man and The Dark Knight were released one year apart. Both were big successes and were loved by audiences and critics alike. That’s when things diverged. The Dark Knight was immediately influential with plenty of franchises going under a dark and gritty reboot to reflect what Christopher Nolan did with Batman following the campy mess that was Batman and Robin. In the end though, those gritty reboots became quite tired and it also drug down the Dark Knight trilogy due to us knowing that it was down to them we got those films. That’s when Iron Man’s comedic style combined with expanded influence started to really take hold and now most action films take after that rather than The Dark Knight. So now, nine years since the last solo Batman film, we are back with a new take on The Caped Crusader.
Batman is just a few years into wearing the mask and after the murder of the Mayor just days before the election, he must find a taunting Riddler before he goes on to murder more of Gotham City’s most influential people and destroy the city from within.
Robert Pattinson is Batman. Somewhere, teenage me who made hating Twilight into a personality trait is punching a wall in sheer anger over this. But while Pattinson’s reputation was wrecked by those movies, though it made his wallet fatter than a pig heading to the abattoir, he has been proving himself in smaller movies and those in the know have realised that he’s a great actor. Those who braved the cinema during 2020 will have enjoyed his turn in Tenet while I was in particular a big fan of his supporting role in The Lost City of Z a few years ago. So while his most famous role meant there was some anger and letter writing when he was announced as Batman, though that is tradition at this point, those with a bit more knowledge could see what director Matt Reeves was intending. And he delivers. Pattinson is brilliant as both Batman and Bruce Wayne. As Batman, he is what he says he is. He’s vengeance. He throws himself into the action scenes and makes himself out as a presence in every scene he’s in. And he does well to convey emotion with just the bit of the face that is popping out of the mask. Then when he’s Bruce Wayne, he looks uncomfortable in his own skin and eager to get away from whatever situation has made him Bruce Wayne again. Not since Michael Keaton have we had an actor that has done both roles so well.
And I just love the portrayal of Batman. This is like a horror film. From the incredible score to the lighting, the criminals of Gotham truly see Batman like a citizen of Haddonfield would view Michael Myers. We’ll get onto the corruption later, but this is like that where the film makes something of a factor that is often said but not shown in Batman films. The reason for the Bat imagery is that he wants to strike fear into criminals and here it really feels like he’s doing that. And if you start getting tired of terrified criminals trying desperately to fend off Batman, he then unveils the Batmobile. The muscle car version is more like Christine than what we saw during the Bale and Keaton eras, especially that incredible shot which made it into the trailer of it coming through the fire to hunt down The Penguin. It’s absolutely brilliant.
While this Batman film returns us to dark, gritty and realistic, whereas the DC Universe Batman was more into the fantastical and sci-fi element of the character, it is not like the Dark Knight trilogy. That’s because this is not an action movie, it is a detective noir film. This takes a lot more from LA Confidential than it does any of the other Batman films that has come before it. That doesn’t mean there aren’t any action scenes, we’ll be getting to the conclusion later, and they are brilliant when they happen. They are expertly shot and they make Batman out to be the best fighter in the game. But that’s not the pull here or the thing pushing the movie forward. It’s all about Batman living up to his moniker of the World’s Greatest Detective, something that’s only really been explored in popular media in the Arkham games. And despite this being a huge leap of faith, it’s a leap committed successfully. The hunt for the Riddler is brilliantly done and the vipers nest it unveils about Gotham makes the world more intriguing than ever. You won’t miss Batman punching someone in the face every five minutes.
Robert Pattinson is backed up by a brilliant supporting cast. This is the biggest role Jim Gordon has ever had in a Batman film as he assists the Dark Knight with his investigations. And Jeffrey Wright is brilliant as him. He might not be the biggest name to take on the role but he gets him just right. That quiet resolve and confidence that Batman is the right thing for Gotham, even if it doesn’t seem it at the time. Then you have Zoe Kravitz as Selina Kyle, I.E. Catwoman. She is great also and really brings in the action scenes too. I also like the fact they allow her to have emotional stakes as well. Too many times with Catwoman they have been too scared to get her really emotionally involved, probably because back in the day she was THE strong female character with many of the others being relegated to distressed damsel role. But here, she has got a stake in the story and holds Batman to task for some of his actions. Paul Dano is also very creepy as the Riddler and is a brilliant take on this character though he is basically a masked version of the Origami Killer. There’s plenty of other good performances here, Colin Farrell is good fun as The Penguin as well, which help complete this movie.
What I really like is how things that were just set dressing in previous Batman films become key in this movie. It is an important part of every Batman film that the elites in Gotham are all corrupt. That’s everyone from the politicians to Gotham PD. But while that has always been there in other Batman movies, it’s never really played much of a factor. A villain will say Gotham is corrupt and needs rebuilding in a speech but we won’t see much of the corruption other than some scene at the start which is meant to portray said corruption. But here, the corruption is everywhere. You constantly feel the pressure from the top which is stopping Gotham from working as a proper city for its people. As Batman starts untangling this web as he tries to track down the Riddler you really feel like everyone is working against him in some way. It makes Gotham into a character more than any other film that has gone before it.
There are a couple of flaws that stop this movie from being perfect. At times, the script becomes a bit trite. Robert Pattinson is doing an incredible job at showing how much more comfortable he is as Batman rather than Bruce Wayne. So no, you don’t really need Selina Kyle to go up to him, sensually and touch his face and wonder if he’s not really wearing a mask at all when he’s Batman. That breaks the cardinal rule of film making as it is telling rather than showing, which is a little bit more annoying when they are showing so well. The film also decides to forget about the Riddler for roughly 40 minutes (Just a reminder that this film is three hours long which it some how justifies) which feels a bit odd that he’d go quiet for that amount of time as well. And finally, the final action scene is more traditional Batman with big set pieces and very good action. That is fine, but it is a bit of a contrast with the noir we’ve been getting beforehand and if you’ve got down with the detective film, you might be shocked out of it with this.
The Batman is fantastic. After the DC Universe version flopped so much Ben Affleck noped out of there, I’m not sure many were really ready to have another Batman film. But thankfully, the bigwigs disagreed and gave us a take completely different from anything we’ve seen before in film from the character. The decision to really delve into the World’s Greatest Detective side of the character was a brilliant one as it meant we could get away from the action side which has been done many times before and explore one that has been mostly left on the pages of comic books. It has a few minor flaws but nothing that stops it from being truly great.