From Keaton to Kilmer, Bale to Ben, the character of the ‘Caped Crusader’ has seen many faces and has been interpreted in many different forms throughout its cultural impact on the moviemaking world. From the campiness of the 1960’s Adam West era, to the apocalyptic levels reached in Affleck’s latest incarnation of the character. With each director/actor combination promising to take the Batman character in a different direction, this seemingly creates enough interest to reel back in the theatre goers, regardless of wether or not they want ‘yet another’ reboot of the famed DC Comics detective. But different, this latest interpretation very much is.
This project has switched hands, actors and even scripts since first being announced, but has found its director in Matt Reeves (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Cloverfield), with Robert Pattinson donning the caped cowl. From Twilight to Dark Knight, Pattinson faced the scrutiny within the DC fan base (myself included) but with movies like The Lighthouse (2019) and Tenet (2020) has since cemented himself as a serious actor, who has long left his teen vampire days behind him. Bringing a brooding, and sort of cold callousness to the role that hasn’t been seen before.
For two years The Batman has been stalking the streets as a hidden protector of Gotham. Lurking in the shadows and striking fear into those who criminalize his city. A masked vigilante with a hard-on for vengeance. The Bat signal is a beacon of hope for the citizens of the city, and a reminder that trouble is on its way for those that look to prickle the peace of Gotham. This is all set up within its secondary sequence, with Bruce Wayne/Batman (Pattinson) delivering a narration, almost with a hoarse whisper.
After the Mayor is brutally murdered by a new villain in town known as The Riddler (Paul Dano), one of The Batman’s only trusted allies – Lt. James Gordon (Jeffrey Wright) – appoints the Dark Knight as an investigator in the case. The ‘dynamic duo’ of Reeves’ Batman are soon sent to dive into the criminal underworld that plagues the city, and expose and unearth the corruption that reaches even the high-profile figures within Gotham’s network.
Favourably Reeves takes his reboot in a very different direction to most. Bringing the detective aspect of the character to the forefront, and giving the action a much needed rest. This is a choice that will ultimately be make or break for most. Those looking to experience more Batman beatdowns, gadget galore, and an overall action driven perspective may come away from the experience feeling a little short changed. But much like the psychopaths that manipulate the city, and the phycological thrillers in which this is strongly paying homage to, Reeves’ The Batman is a slow-burn nightmare, that is calculated to almost perfect results. This rain drenched Gotham is as dark and daunting as it is euphoric and oddly beautiful. This Gotham is a cesspool that could be inhabited by a long list of Batman’s back catalogue of villains.
Speaking of villains, this adaptation certainly does right by the common consensus within the comics. Carmine Falcone – played here wonderfully by John Turturro – has popped up before, even in Nolan’s trilogy over a decade ago, but here he has a big hand in the script department and occupies much more of the screen than had previously been expected. His right hand man is Oswald Cobblepot (better known as The Penguin) and sees Colin Ferrell literally and metaphorically disappear into this role. Being completely transformed into this snively, scarred, businessman-with-balls and is featured in one of the movie’s most memorable sequences, which has The Batman in pursuit during a frantic, but stunning, car chase.
Dano’s Riddler is terrifying. Perhaps not in the literal sense, but certainly in the terms with what it conveys on screen. A sense of genuine realism that utilizes real life agendas and mannerisms that elevate the character beyond feeling like just a quirky questioner. A combination of the Zodiac killer and Jigsaw, who showcases his maniacal means to strike fear into his politically preferred victims, as he seeks to ‘unmask the truth’ within Gotham’s guilefulness.
Zoë Kravitz brings a charming gravitas to her role as Selina Kyle/Catwoman, with both Wright and Andy Serkis providing sharp and strong support as Gordon and Alfred respectively.
Pattinson becomes The Batman with ease. He feels comfortable and almost seems like he’s been doing it for years. Admittedly he does more for the character when he’s draped in the cape and cowl than he does as the damaged persona of Bruce Wayne. Who gives off a late teen emo phase through most of his performance, as he sits in his cave listening to Nirvana (which is perfectly integrated into the score by Michael Giacchino) whilst piecing the puzzles in which he keeps being given. But when suited up as The Batman, commands centre stage and gloriously engrosses in the darkness of its eerie setting.
Within the overly saturated market of comic book adaptations, Reeves’ The Batman dares to be different. Channelling the likes of David Fincher’s Se7en (1995) and Zodiac (2007) as apposed to the common cartoonish continuation of say, Marvel. That’s by no means a dig, but more of a realisation that different is important. As it stands The Batman belongs in its own world, and would be more beneficial if it stays in that dark, demented little world.
With a three hour runtime, The Batman takes its time with stunning detail. Allowing some of its darker scenes to fester but captivate with its calculated approach. Steeped with Batman lure, the world in which Reeves has created can take the character in many ways with subsequent sequels. This Batman, and this Gotham is alluring, breath-taking and still full of potential.