I walked (or ran, if I’m being honest, because of the runtime) into the restroom after watching The Batman, where I told a fellow reviewer that Matt Reeves and writer Peter Craig really put the goth in Gotham with Robert Pattinson playing a brooding, emo Batman we always knew we wanted. She told me it was an excellent line that I should put in my review. And so here we go. That’s what good films do, they inspire in the most unlikely ways. And Reeves’ noir take on one of the most favourite comic book hero stories of the world is not just good, it’s great, and feels so inspired, with its goosebump-inducing score by Michael Giacchino that just adds gravitas to every single frame, shot remarkably by cinematographer Greig Fraser. The Batman as rich as Bruce Wayne, as deep as the dark black he paints around his eyes, and as stunning to watch as Catwoman, played by Zoë Kravitz, is when she nails her feline landings in her suit. The cast also includes Andy Serkis as Alfred, Jeffrey Wright as Gordon (not yet Commissioner), John Turturro as Carmine Falcone, Peter Sarsgaard as DA Gil Coulson, an unrecognisable Colin Farrell as The Penguin and a terrifying Paul Dano as The Riddler.
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The opening sequence of The Batman is something that, though, was dark and sinister, the theatrical nature of it made me chuckle, as all those emo Batman memes came flooding into my memory. There’s this internal monologue, of Bruce Wayne writing down a “Dear Diary’ entry about the despair and criminal infestation in Gotham, and how he prowls through the city amongst the crowd… watching, picking his battles, as the Bat signal already lighting up the sky serves as a reminder to criminals to watch out for the shadows. It’s such a fan moment for every person who has ever played pretend Batman, constructed his own monologue, and then had the bad guys cower before him. But it’s so effective as we wait for our eyes to spot that familiar silhouette in the dark. There’s that one moment where the fear that his vigilante inspires is visible in both the good people and the bad, a symbol of just how misunderstood this character has been throughout. A dark knight indeed.
The Batman begins (pun intended) in the middle, with the murder of the Gotham city mayor, giving us a fantastic and truly jump-scary meet-cute with The Riddler. Next thing you know, Batman’s at the crime scene, playing Sherlock Holmes in a cape, with Gordon by his side as his own Lestrade. A series of murders follow, which bring him to Selina aka Catwoman, who has her own case to solve, and who fascinates him because she clearly has unresolved issues of her own. It is up to him to find the answers, mainly because The Riddler keeps leaving Batman these cards with riddles on them. Now I’d read divisive early opinions on the riddles being easy or hard, but let me tell you, they were sufficiently macabre, thank you very much. The Riddler isn’t here to be some taunting serial killer who doesn’t ever want to be found. The riddles are just the perfect amount of taunt and bait, answer and question, to reel Batman in. And you might be tired of the Sherlock analogies but come on, there’s too much of that Sherlock-Moriarty energy here to ignore! In the words of another notable detective, the game is afoot.
Does this Sherlock have a Watson? Oh yes, he does, and you’ve got Andy Serkis, for a change being one of the only people not donning any masks or prosthetics and just looking his handsome self as Alfred Pennyworth. While Reeves peppers most of the wry humour that the film is laced with during the crime procedural bits, he saves a few choice ones for Bruce’s interactions with Alfred, Gordon, Selina and The Twins. Bruce legit gets asked if he lives in a cave! In one scene, Alfred offers berries to Bruce, and it immediately made me think of how bats do eat berries off of trees! Bruce dons pitch-black sunglasses, which reminded me so much of RPatz’s Edward Cullen from Twilight, only here he wants to hide not the fluorescence of his eyes but the darkness in and around them, or even as a shield from the day because he is so used to the night. The Riddler too gets to have fun, with some very on-the-nose jokes that might feel like they aren’t too much, but just the twistedness of them will make you both laugh and shiver. There’s a very old-school cartoon or comic-book humour quality to the dialogues that I couldn’t shake-off and thoroughly enjoyed.
What’s also conspicuous in its absence is the lack of the usual display of Wayne wealth. Gotham is in shambles, but in the single shot we get of the Wayne Tower, it doesn’t feel indomitable or imposing. It’s slinking back as if trying not to be in the eye. And that’s Pattinson’s Bruce Wayne for you—no flamboyant displays of wealth, not yet a playboy, just pure, unadulterated hurt, fuelling the detective and vigilante.
In fact, as I watched this yet another iteration of The Batman, I wondered why nobody had ever thought of portraying this character in a way that he, and absolutely nothing else and no one else, was the most twisted mystery of all that needed unravelling. There’s a deeply wounded, haunted quality about Reeves’ Bruce Wayne, which I don’t think I have seen this intensely brought out and portrayed as Robert Pattinson does. And in perhaps one of its bigger gambles, we don’t see the infliction of that defining wound on young Bruce’s psyche at all. It amazed me how, despite this creative choice, Bruce’s gnawing pain is still so palpable, as he solves murder after murder in true detective fashion, his urgency to get answers fuelled by the unsolved nature of his own personal tragedy.
Is that what makes him the greatest detective as he’s known to be? You bet. But it was refreshing, after the last few outings, to see a Batman that has not (yet?) embraced his Bruce Wayne, playboy, persona, and is simply a recluse who’s hurting severely from the loss he bore years ago. He’s Bruce Wayne only once or twice in the film, and even then, he has a certain nonchalance to his demeanour and his dressing. For most of the film, he is Batman in that suit of his, and the imposing space that he takes up literally feels like baggage he’s carrying around. It’s not a perfect suit too, his hair is messed up, his Batcave and his car and bike are all substance and no style (except whatever he adds it).
This deep dive into Bruce Wayne’s psyche is easily one of my favourite things about Reeves and Craig’s The Batman. And the other favourite? Damn, those visuals! I would love to explain in detail every single frame to you or tell you that the Penguin car chase scene you might’ve seen enough times in the trailer is still just as exhilarating, but I wouldn’t do it justice (pun intended, again). Everything from the framing to the way the camera moves during the car chase scene, in a near-constant cover of rain which is another essential characteristic of this grimy, grisly, greedy Gotham, is what gives this film a true noir feel. And every minute of it is captivating. It all only gets better when you add Michael Giacchino’s score to it. The goosebumps are felt because watching the film in IMAX as intended meant my seat was vibrating with those deep sounds when the Batman theme was played. You know how in old detective classics, music was the cue to tell you just how you should feel about a back alley meeting between two people? Bang on, that’s exactly the vibe I got! And I loved it!
Look here, I love Michael Keaton as Batman and believe Jensen Ackles has the perfect voice for Batman too. And yes, Christian Bale is undeniably a crowd favourite here; he was mine too. But can I just say, Robert Pattinson is my new favourite? That jaw is perfection under the cowl. He brings the angst, the mystery, and the brooding, which is pretty much a refined, elevated version of his former on-screen vampire persona. And I cannot wait to see his Batman evolve, especially find him finally put his Bruce Wayne persona to use as he realises that being the rich, affluent Wayne legacy can open doors for him that might not open for Batman.
Let’s also talk about Zoë Kravitz who makes an impressive Catwoman, nursing her own wounds but much like a cat, putting herself first. Though I did think she fell for our Batman a tad too soon. Though, not complaining because I lowkey dig the chemistry. The scene where the Bat and the Cat ride together until they go their separate ways is beautiful, and once again their exchange reminded me of how such scenes are written in the comics.
Colin Farrell as The Penguin is just unrecognisable. I mean no vestiges or traces of the actor’s face or personality remain when he is on screen, and while it is incredible, and has the right creepy effect, especially in the car chase scene, I won’t deny that having an actor who looked like it play him would still not make much difference to the story, right? Jeffrey Wright as Gordon and Andy Serkis as Alfred are good, but I feel like they might get more to do in the next instalment, since the focus right now was entirely on the Bat. It’s the kind of origin story that leaves little space for the other characters, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing when you’re exploring the complicated psyche of a character like Batman.
That being said, Paul Dano as The Riddler deserves a hat tip! He is spine-chillingly terrifying when he mouths B-R-U-C-E W-A-Y-N-E in that one scene! Mostly behind a mask of his own, when we finally see his true form, he sells that madness with such scary conviction. What’s even more terrifying for me is the reality of his villain story. In the comics, he is an accountant. In the film, we don’t exactly know what his profession is, but what we do know is that he could pretty much be any random dude on the Internet, with lots of time on his hands, brains, and a cause he is passionate about to the point of insanity, which can then convince others to join the party too. He’s a villain that jumps out because the chaos he is stirring is something we see in the real world as well.
The Batman is, shall I say, a Batman for our time. If Nolan’s Batman delved into the man, the myth, the legend, making him this larger-than-life character, Matt Reeves’ Batman is a more realistic version that just wants to find a way to channel all that rage and pain from an unhealed wound. His villain too feels like a very real threat, and all of it together makes this a very unusual but extremely compelling and engrossing thriller as opposed to a slightly fantastical superhero film.
In one of the scenes, as the cops are going around collecting forensic evidence at the dead mayor’s house, the ME (medical examiner) is just doing his thing when he suddenly bumps into and realises that The Batman is literally standing right there, hovering over his job. It’s such a funny scene because he’s supposed to be this enigmatic dark knight of the Gotham who’s just standing there, solving a case like he was your not-so-friendly neighbourhood detective! I’m not saying Matt Reeves gives us Batman as the greatest detective, but what he does give us is a Batman origin story that’s going to make him the best detective because of his obsessive need to uncover the truth about this city he feels he owes something to because that was his family’s legacy. This Batman falters, falls down, has accidents, and even gets beaten up. And he is vulnerable.
And that’s a take on Batman that really is refreshing, especially when styled like a noir, and acted by an actor like Robert Pattinson who shuts his critics down on any doubts about his casting. Because he is perfection. My one teeny problem is that it is a long film, but it is a rich, stunning spectacle that looks so grand on that IMAX screen that it dwarfs any concerns you might have about that runtime. I’d say, this is one of my favourite Batman films, easy.
And I’d love to know if it is yours too. Either way, you won’t regret watching this on the biggest screen possible.
The Batman, a Warner Bros. film, is currently in cinemas.
PS: Totally, stay till the end.