The Batman is such an intense and darkly brooding take on the Caped Crusader mythos that it almost makes the Christopher Nolan Dark Knight trilogy look like a wacky comedy. While The Batman may take a wee bit from The Dark Knight in that the main antagonist has convoluted schemes involving a multitude of crime bosses, what this one does differently is leaning into the noir detective story vibe. Also, there’s a lot of Seven influence here with a serial killer baddie except he has the Batman instead of Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt on his tail. This probably didn’t need to be three hours either as it juggles multiple plotlines and characters but it is compelling. For a character with a history that spans decades, it is still neat to see a different and exciting take on the Batman.
Bruce Wayne has been moonlighting in Gotham City as the masked crimefighter the Batman (Robert Pattinson) for two years, with only the assistance of his butler, Alfred (Andy Serkis) and good cop Jim Gordon (Jeffery Wright). When the Gotham mayor turns up dead, there is a mysterious message left behind addressed to the Batman from the Riddler (Paul Dano). The search for clues sends Batman into Gotham’s underbelly, investigating the criminal Oz aka The Penguin (Colin Farrell), the crime boss, Carmine Falcone (John Turturro), and cat burglar Selina Kyle (Zoe Kravitz). Disturbingly, the Riddler’s clues keep getting closer to the Batman, seemingly knowing about his secret identity of Bruce Wayne, and Riddler’s plans may have disastrous consequences not only for the Bat but the entire city.
More than almost any other Batman movie, Pattinson’s Batman carries the film as he’s in basically every scene. Unlike some other Bat-flicks, he isn’t upstaged by the villain. Bruce has cut out his regular life and exists primarily as a creature of the night dishing out vengeance to criminals. Moments when he has to be Bruce is jarring, like a man awkwardly out of his “real” skin. It is therefore striking when Riddler’s clues lead to the hidden history of the Wayne family, bringing Bruce’s past crashing into his night job as Batman. The Batsuit is akin to the Dark Knight outfit but feels like something that can withstand some serious firepower (which it does, effectively).
The super convoluted criminal mastermind multi-tiered plan that uses seedy Gotham crime bosses and elite as pawns in his game with the Bat feels really like a redux of The Dark Knight, and Paul Dano’s Riddler certainly isn’t Heath Ledger’s Joker. The Riddler as Serial Killer is a different take as Dano does lots of hollering, sometimes a bit too much. It’s very over the top even by Batman villain standards. Also, it cribs a bit too closely to the John Doe killer from Seven, complete with a serial killer apartment and notebooks about his grand schemes. But his plan is interesting to watch unfold, especially as it reaches its zenith.
Serkis’ Alfred is a bit snippier than Alfred usually is, and Alfred is always snippy. He does help out with some crime solving and Serkis gets in a good twist and emotional scene. Gordon gets to do some investigating with Batman giving the film a distinctive detective noir feel. There’s one bit when Gordon is accused of being too chummy with Batman so he tells Batman to punch him in front of the other officers. Cat-burglar Selina Kyle has a slowly unfolding intricate backstory as Kravitz gets to toy with Batman and also some intense emotional stuff.
The Gotham criminals of Penguin and Falcone are a seedy bunch. Farrell as Penguin is amusingly bombastic. A car chase is set primarily from Penguin’s point of view as the Batman chases him and his reaction when he thinks he’s gotten away is great. Also at one point Penguin is zip tied and has to waddle away which is awesome. There are a few twists upon who is a rat for the police that becomes more in-depth, which makes for a busy if sometimes confusing mystery. Turturro’s sunglasses wearing Falcone presents himself as a cool criminal but more is revealed about him the uglier it gets. There’s a subtle scene when Falcone meets Bruce and mentions how Bruce’s doctor father saved his life just to get under Bruce’s skin.
Co-writer and director Matt Reeves has some really impressive visuals with cool shots that strap onto Batman’s back as he flies away. In one of the few, but funny, jokes in the movie after Batman flies away to safety he lands like a chump unglamorously and runs off. The pace of the film is pretty slow, and it certainly feels like the full three hours, but methodical in its precision. And the finale has some great action but, more importantly, decent pathos and dramatic bits as Batman fights to save his city. As Batman should do (and not run off and retire like at the end of Dark Knight Rises).
This succeeds as distinct takes on a long running character. The Batman switches things up enough so it doesn’t feel too much like previous incarnations of the Bat. This may be one of the bleaker, gloomier takes on the Batman but it still feels like there’s still lots of potential in Gotham’s world.
Director: Matt Reeves
Starring: Robert Pattinson, Zoë Kravitz, Paul Dano, Jeffrey Wright, John Turturro, Peter Sarsgaard, Andy Serkis and Colin Farrell