Ever since his live action debut in 1943, each new Batman has brought something different to the role. Adam West taught us to dance the ‘Batusi’, Michael Keaton made him all mean and moody, Christian Bale bulked up and turned Bats into a beefcake. Ben Affleck… well, it’s hard to know what he did. Anyway the point is that if you want to be remembered as an iconic Caped Crusader, you better have a Bat-plan.
Robert Pattinson’s seems to be to make him as miserable as possible. When we first meet his dark knight, he’s trudging disconsolately through crowds at a rainy Times Square (aka Gotham), hooded and with a scarf covering his face. “Two years of nights have turned me into a nocturnal animal,” he says in one long monotone, water dripping down his face. There’s no tired retreading of Bruce Wayne’s origin story in The Batman. Instead, it finds him post-induction – beaten-down, lonely and isolated.
Plot-wise, there are two main threads which intertwine. The first, and most gripping, sees Batman working closely with Detective Jim Gordon (Jeffrey Wright) to track down a sadistic serial killer – The Riddler (Paul Dano). This masked maniac has been knocking off key members of high society (the mayor, the DA, the commissioner) and revealing their corrupt actions to the world. The other thread follows Wayne’s investigation into his own past. He takes on famous gangsters from the comics like Carmine Falcone (John Turturro) and The Penguin, who is here remoulded by Colin Farrell into a prosthetic-laden mafioso with Robert De Niro’s quirky mannerisms. The closer Batman gets to catching the Riddler, the more Bruce learns about his parents’ dodgy connections to organised crime.
So it’s a bit of a hodgepodge. Director Matt Reeves has mixed up gritty mob drama with film-noir detective thriller – and thanks to Dano’s ultra-creepy villain, some psychological horror too. Most of the time it comes off brilliantly. Pattinson plays him with a dour fanaticism that only occasionally topples over into parody (“I’m vengeance” could’ve come straight from the script of The LEGO Batman Movie). Slighter than Bale and Affleck, Pattinson’s Batman moves more slowly and deliberately than his predecessors. It’s as though he’s permanently punch-drunk, dazed from months of getting the shit kicked out of him every night.
Elsewhere, Zoe Kravitz proves the perfect Catwoman. The last time we saw Selina Kyle on the big screen was a decade ago in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises. Anne Hathaway never really had much to do in that film, ending up as the slick sidekick who occasionally does a handstand. Here, Reeves gives Kravitz a proper backstory and tells it via seedy nightclubs and abandoned construction sites. Now 33, it’s taken a while for the daughter of guitar wizard Lenny Kravitz and actress Lisa Bonet to bag a blockbuster co-lead, but The Batman should take her to the next level.
If there’s one criticism to be made, it’s that The Batman is too long. No film five minutes shy of three hours can avoid dragging occasionally, and there’s a lot of leads to chase down and clues to unravel in this case. Fortunately, the writers know to break up each exposition session with enough action. It’s all shot beautifully too, against a shadowy urban backdrop lit by sudden bursts of neon red and blue. Perhaps the most iconic image comes at the end of a Mad Max-esque car chase down the wrong side of a highway. Batman, engulfed in petrol-fuelled flames, emerges from some wreckage and marches in slow-motion towards the camera. It’s spine-tingling stuff.
Other things that need to be mentioned include the score – Michael Giacchino’s doomy, Nirvana-sampling soundtrack is Batman’s best yet – and the post-credits scene. We can’t tell you what happens in it (press embargoes are more closely monitored than the Bat-signal), but it sets up an exciting new Batverse. If his first foray is anything to go by, Pattinson should play a big part.
- Director: Matt Reeves
- Starring: Robert Pattinson, Zoe Kravitz, Paul Dano
- Release date: March 4