Director: Matt Reeves
Starring: Robert Pattinson, Zoë Kravitz, Paul Dano, Jeffrey Wright, John Turturro, Peter Sarsgaard, Andy Serkis, Colin Farrell
Run Time: 176 mins
The Batman is a new rendition of the Caped Crusader, positioned outside of the DCEU canon. The film was originally destined for the DCEU, functioning as a solo effort on Ben Affleck’s iteration of the character established in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Zack Snyder’s Justice League. Affleck was to also direct the project but departed, feeling it was too much to take on with his schedule at the time.
War for the Planet of the Apes director Matt Reeves stepped in and decided to steer the property in a different direction to what Affleck had envisaged. Affleck had wanted to make a James Bond influenced film (which sounded very promising!) but Reeves wanted to introduce his own Batman without the confines of a cinematic universe.
The Batman sees a younger Dark Knight (Robert Pattinson) in his second year of crimefighting and Reeves hones in on his detective skills. Gotham City is threatened by serial killer, The Riddler (Paul Dano), who is targeting the city’s elite. Batman uncovers a web of corruption, drawing him closer to the villain, as well as other unsavoury characters such as The Penguin (an almost unrecognisable Colin Farrell) and Carmine Falcone (John Turturro). He works alongside James Gordon (Jeffrey Wright) and Reeves portrays a much closer relationship between the two, Batman allowed to investigate live crime scenes. His inquiries also collide with Selina Kyle (Zoë Kravitz), who is also in her early days of her alter ego, Catwoman, and the two form a relationship.
There has been no filmic shortage of the Caped Crusader in recent memory. As well as the DCEU, there has been Will Arnett’s comedic Lego-themed performances, most notably in The Lego Batman Movie. There have also been spin-offs such as Joker, which received awards acclaim for its demented yet innovative treatment of Joaquin Phoenix’s supervillain, whose course collides with a young Bruce Wayne at one point.
Even Christopher Nolan’s triumphant trilogy that represents the very pinnacle of the character is barely a decade old. Can Reeves’ neo-noir vision translate into an engaging film that stands apart from the plethora of other Batman properties?
The Batman is an interesting, if flawed, depiction of the Caped Crusader. Reeves’ take on the character is certainly admirable. It very much owes a debt to the Nolan and Snyder aesthetic in that it is a darker and grungier interpretation. Experiencing Batman as a detective figure is refreshing. The notion of Batman providing narration is also innovative, yet uneven in that it’s not sustained throughout the film. The extended run time of 176 minutes isn’t to the film’s detriment. It’s always promising to see a director allow a film breathe when it warrants it rather than resorting to quick cuts. Reeves has clearly been inspired by the filmography of David Fincher, with the aesthetic and narrative highly reminiscent of Se7en and Zodiac. There are also visual elements of Alfred Hitchcock in its ideology of crafting suspense (Reeves isn’t always successful), as well as an ode to Saw with some of the elaborate traps that the Riddler places his victims in.
Batman is easily Pattinson’s highest profile role since his early career Twilight days. Pattinson has proved a particularly versatile screen presence, picking thoughtful projects and always being a highlight in them, with films such as Good Time, Tenet and The Devil All The Time. His portrayal of Batman is expectedly excellent, although his Bruce Wayne needs some work. This is more a choice of the script rather than any wrongdoing by Pattinson as Bruce Wayne doesn’t receive a particularly meaningful arc so he isn’t granted the opportunity.
Other highlights of the cast include Colin Farrell, who is almost unrecognisable as Oswald Cobblepot in his early Penguin days. Here, he is presented as a mobster and Farrell does a great job here, although the role is rather limited. I can’t wait to see where they take the character in future instalments.
Jeffrey Wright is effortless as James Gordon and provides strong support to Pattinson. Andy Serkis portrays Alfred and represents a much younger portrayal from other actors who’ve taken the role such as Michael Caine and J.K. Simmons. I wasn’t sold on Serkis’ performance to begin with, as he lacks the wisened nature of his predecessors but I was won over later in the film, although his role is also quite limited.
Moving onto the lesser performances, The Riddler is an interesting villain and poses a genuine threat to Batman throughout much of the film. He’s not in it a great deal but the spectre of his actions loom heavily throughout. Paul Dano does a reliably good job, as we’d expect him to do after performances in Prisoners and There Will Be Blood where he’s proved he can play this kind of deranged character. Unfortunately, his character arc is severely let down towards the end of the film to the point where he doesn’t pose a threat and his performance borders on being laughable. A scene that suggests a future direction for a sequel that features Dano is also ill-judged and undoes a lot of the solid groundwork.
Zoë Kravitz also doesn’t particularly make much of an impression as Catwoman. Pattinson and Kravitz just don’t share a particularly believable chemistry, nor is their relationship believable from a scripting point of view.
The narrative that Reeves has concocted is pretty convincing and there are some interesting twists in the narrative. The riddles that The Riddler creates are not straightforward to answer and the way his intentions unfold over the bulk of the run time is mostly satisfying.
I appreciated the darker tone that Reeves aimed for. Although the BBFC have rated the film a 15 in the UK, in reality, it is more of a high 12A as the violence doesn’t dwell on detail and there is only one use of strong language. The gritty world that Reeves creates is screaming for an adult rating and it feels a little restrained within the confines of being appealing to the broadest audience possible.
Reeves also isn’t quite sure on how to open the film. There are effectively three openings with two false starts. Some shuffling around of these scenes would have worked in the film’s favour, establishing Batman and the city of Gotham before introducing a problem.
The score by Michael Giacchino is really excellent and he establishes very memorable themes for the characters. His score centres mainly on three themes, one for Batman, Catwoman and the Riddler. That said, how his score interacts with the scenes isn’t always brilliant and it’s also overused in places. Nirvana’s Something’s In The Way (which had also featured in the first trailer) is used twice, but it is inserted clumsily, as it is over speech and just doesn’t really fit.
The cinematography by Greig Fraser is beautiful, hot on the footsteps of his similarly excellent work on Dune. He doesn’t resort to quick cuts and finds refreshing angles to shoot from. The film is pitch black, creating an atmosphere where Gotham’s criminals are unaware if Batman could be overseeing their activities. A high-octane car chase in the pouring rain is particularly interesting in that it has intentionally been shot incoherently. There is a beautiful shot towards the end of the film where the light erupting from a flare is contrasted against black.
Ultimately, The Batman is a strong interpretation of the material and I’m looking forward to see where future instalments could go, although I have some reservations with the teases. However, it’s not quite the masterpiece that some have proclaimed it to be and Reeves is just not as competent a director as Nolan or even Snyder. Snyder may get a bad rap for his storytelling when he is restrained by a run time but despite any shortcomings, they are packed with his authorial traits. A neo-noir, detective spin is a strong stylistic choice from Reeves to go for and I hope he sustains these traits if he is to further develop this world. As a standalone film, The Batman is a promising diversion for the Caped Crusader, if not without its flaws.