Rarely fun but quietly extraordinary
Riddle me this, riddle me that…what do you get when you cross the movies Seven and Saw with the big black bat?
You get The Batman, the latest big-screen outing for the Caped Crusader that is quite unlike any other. It’s less a bombastic comic book movie and more a dark serial killer thriller with puzzles that Jigsaw would be proud of. It’s also an overly long, overly dark, and overly serious movie that tested my patience at times. However, there are flashes of brilliance throughout so while it didn’t live up to the hype for me, it’s still a movie that demands to be seen.
Robert Pattinson dons the mask and cape and he plays a Batman that is younger and more messed up than Bale and Affleck’s versions. Mercifully, we don’t get to see the character’s origin story again but it is clear that his psyche has been affected by his troubled upbringing and his thirst for vengeance against the people who killed his family.
This is a Bruce Wayne that is still coming to terms with his masked identity and who is still a little uncomfortable in his role. But as the movie progresses, we see his transformation from a slightly unhinged police aide to the saviour of Gotham City, which is something that has rarely been played out in such an extended fashion before.
Lovers of the comic books will be glad to know that this is a movie that plays to Batman’s skills as the “world’s greatest detective.” For much of the run time, he is down at street level, investigating a string of murders in some of Gotham City’s darkest and dingiest locations. There is a serial killer on the loose bumping off some of the city’s most highly regarded dignitaries and Batman is the shadowy figure that lingers behind Jim Gordon picking up clues at each crime scene.
The detective work and the neo-noirish tone of Matt Reeve’s movie set it apart from the Bat-movies that have come before. This is more a crime mystery than an action flick, although there are a few scenes that set the pulse racing, such as a car chase scene between Batman and The Penguin (an unrecognisable Colin Farrell). However, viewers shouldn’t expect a high-octane superhero movie that favours fisticuffs over talking as this is a mostly humourless affair that focuses on Batman’s brains more than his brawn.
Pattinson is excellent in the role of the brooding Batman, expertly conveying both his cleverness and his mental strife within his performance. When he was announced for the role, the keyboard warriors came out in force to criticise the director for choosing the former Twilight star. However, Pattinson has proven himself to be a capable actor outside of that tepid movie and its follow-ups and hopefully, his turn as Batman will give any detractors cause to change their opinion of him.
The cast includes the aforementioned Farrell as The Penguin, Zoe Kravitz as Catwoman, Jeffrey Wright as Jim Gordon, and John Turturro as Carmine Falcone. They are all as excellent as ever but it’s Paul Dano who steals the show. The celebrated actor plays the movie’s big bad, The Riddler, and he gives possibly his finest screen performance to date.
Aside from the occasional tv appearances, Dano has been missing from our screens for quite a while, but he more than makes up for that here. He portrays a villain that is quite unlike Jim Carrey’s incarnation of the character and the movie is all the better for it. The actor gives an understated performance that is quietly menacing and sinister rather than full-blown crazy and as such, he ably steals the scenes he is in without over-the-top facial tics and body twitches.
It’s a good job Dano and the rest of the cast are so good. This is a long movie that, for much of the 3-hour running time, is steeped in darkness, and with far less capable actors, the overlength could have proved intolerable. But as the performances are all stellar, the talky nature of the script can be overlooked. The epic scale of the production design and Michael Giacchino’s magnificent score also do much to maintain interest in the movie, so viewers are unlikely to be bored.
The Batman could have done with a few moments of levity and perhaps a little more colour too, as the heavy tone and rain-drenched streets of Gotham do become overbearing at times. The short bursts of action help to break up some of the gloom but more scenes of Batman’s superheroics would have made the movie a slightly easier watch.
This movie is almost the antithesis of Joel Schumacher’s Batman and Robin which was too colourful and campy for its own good. I’m glad this movie isn’t like that pun-laden disaster but it would have been nice to see Batman and Gotham City lighten up a little during the extended run-time.
Despite these minor gripes, this is still a decent movie. Reeves dares to deliver a superhero movie that is more akin to Zodiac, LA Confidential, and the aforementioned Seven, than a traditional comic book flick. The Batmobile is still cool and the sight of Batman swooping through Gotham is still breathtaking, but don’t expect to come away from the cinema with memories of over-the-top fight scenes and action-movie derring-do.
This is a serious-minded affair that takes both the character of Batman and the viewer on a journey that is rarely fun but is quietly extraordinary all the same.
Read More: The Batman Ending Explained
Verdict - 7.5/10