Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Matt Reeves
Stars: Robert Pattinson, Zoe Kravitz, Jeffrey Wright, Paul Dano, John Turturro, Colin Farrell, Andy Serkis, Peter Sarsgaard, Barry Keoghan, Jayme Lawson, Gil Perez-Abraham, Rupert Penry-Jones, Luke Roberts.
We’ve moved a long way from the camp sensibilities of the old Adam West television series of the 60s as both Tim Burton and Christopher Nolan gave us an increasingly darker take on the caped crusader. The character has always been reinvented by the different filmmakers and actors who have played them in the past. The DC cinematic universe has always been darker than its Marvel rival with the telling of its superhero stories, and this new take on Batman is, arguably, the darkest yet.
A dark psychological thriller, The Batman is set in a rotten Gotham City, a cesspool that reeks of corruption and its neon lit streets, its sleazy environs are reminiscent of the New York of Taxi Driver or the rain drenched unnamed city of Seven. Cinematographer Greig Fraser (Dune, etc) has shot the film in a gloomy dark colour palette that captures the noir-like aesthetic and gives it a gritty edge. Most of the film takes place either at night or in darkly lit interiors. There is very little light in this grungy and seething underbelly.
For two years Batman has been trying to clean up the city, to no avail. Crime is out of control and the criminal underworld is run by the powerful Carmine Falcone (John Turturro). And all the mayhem here is neatly tied into the murder of Thomas Wayne years earlier, thus extending the familiar backstory of Batman’s origins. Wayne’s unsolved murder is inextricably linked to the events of this film.
Writer and director Matt Reeves (War For The Planet Of The Apes, etc) has made some bold creative choices with this revisionist take on Batman here, and many of them pay off beautifully.
Casting Robert Pattinson, best known for his work as the sensitive emo vampire from the Twilight series, was a strange choice for the role, but he has been making some interesting choices. He actually makes for a good fit when he is in the bulky bat costume. He brings a brooding and solemn quality to his role as a conflicted Batman obsessed with cleaning up the city, lurking in the shadows. However, as the reclusive billionaire playboy Bruce Wayne he is less impressive and at time he sports the haunted emo look, and he looks a bit like Brandon Lee from The Crow. But he brings a hint of vulnerability to the character.
Other notable choices include the depiction of some of the main villains from the Batman universe. The Penguin is not the diminutive wobbling figure of malicious glee as played by Burgess Meredith or Danny De Vito; rather he is Oswald Cobblepot, the owner of The Iceberg Lounge, a nightclub refuge for criminals, and he is also a ruthless henchman of Falcone, and he is played by an unrecogniseable Colin Farrell, buried under layers of prosthetic makeup and a fat suit. It wasn’t until the final credits that I realised who he was. Similarly, Batman’s arch nemesis The Riddler is portrayed as a demented serial killer and frightening psychopath who is murdering all of Gotham’s corrupt leaders in brutal fashion and leaving a series of cryptic clues for Batman to follow. He is played by Paul Dano (from Prisoners, There Will Be Blood, etc), delivering another of his weird, unhinged and creepy performances. And makes him a much more complicated and complex character.
And Selina Kyle, aka Catwoman (played by an impressive Zoe Kravitz) is more of an ambiguous character, an ally of Batman at times in his fight against crime, but she is also pursuing her own personal agenda. She shares a palpable chemistry with Pattinson. Jeffrey Wright (Felix Leiter from the Daniel Craig Bond films) gives us a different take on the character of James Gordon; he is not the police commissioner but rather a respected detective and one of the few people the Batman trusts in this sinister, murky world. He is one of the few people in this corrupt city that realises that Batman is one of the good guys fighting crime in his own way.
And Andy Serkis gives us a more sympathetic portrait of Batman’s loyal butler Alfred, although he is underused.
The production design from regular collaborator James Chinlund is impressive. He even makes stately Wayne manor seem like it is decaying and rotting and shrouded in darkness. And even the Batmobile here is markedly different, a muscle car that is equally as menacing in looks when it appears growling ferociously in time for a car chase. Michael Giacchino’s pounding score is also perfectly suited to the look and tone of the material. The script has been co-written by Peter Craig, who also previously wrote the gritty crime thriller The Town, and he and Reeves delve into the psychology of the character. There is clearly a subtext that deals with the current state of the world and recent political events, especially in the US.
This is supposedly the first instalment in a proposed new Batman trilogy, and there is a coda that hints at a new character that will be a key player in the sequel. And it is to be hoped that Pattinson’s vigilante Batman will move closer to the light as he begins to clean up Gotham City.
Nolan’s The Dark Knight is still the best Batman movie, but this new take on the character is also an interesting and engaging film. With a running time just shy of three hours, The Batman may be a bit of a stretch for some people, but I wasn’t conscious of the time.