The Batman is relentlessly grim but it’s visually stunning and a unique take on the character, surprisingly showing us things we haven’t seen before; the atmosphere oozes tension and the performances are faultless. Paul Dano will be in my nightmares for some time and I personally can’t wait to see Colin Farrell as The Penguin in the upcoming TV spin-off. Although not filled with wall-to-wall action it’s still got brutal beatdowns, explosive set-pieces and manages to be a pleasingly ambitious noir nightmare that will stick with you for days.
Plot: Two years of stalking the streets as the Batman (Robert Pattinson), striking fear into the hearts of criminals, has led Bruce Wayne deep into the shadows of Gotham City. With only a few trusted allies — Alfred Pennyworth (Andy Serkis), Lt. James Gordon (Jeffrey Wright) — amongst the city’s corrupt network of officials and high-profile figures, the lone vigilante has established himself as the sole embodiment of vengeance amongst his fellow citizens.
When a killer targets Gotham’s elite with a series of sadistic machinations, a trail of cryptic clues sends the World’s Greatest Detective on an investigation into the underworld, where he encounters such characters as Selina Kyle/aka Catwoman (Zoë Kravitz), Oswald Cobblepot/aka the Penguin (Colin Farrell), Carmine Falcone (John Turturro), and Edward Nashton/aka the Riddler (Paul Dano). As the evidence begins to lead closer to home and the scale of the perpetrator’s plans becomes clear, Batman must forge new relationships, unmask the culprit, and bring justice to the abuse of power and corruption that has long plagued Gotham City.
Review: Growing up Batman was my favourite superhero; I loved that he used his wits as well as his fists to solve crimes with no superpowers whatsoever. Over the past few years I had grown mildly less enamored with the character as we’ve had so many iterations of Batman that it was hard to come up with something we hadn’t seen before.
The trailers to this movie from director Matt Reeves piqued my interest again promising more detective work from the Caped Crusader but also showing him beating up thugs which are the two things we love to see him do the most.
Riddle me this… can I go through this entire review without using the words “dark”, “gritty” or “grounded” like every other review has said? You’ll see…
I thought The Batman would feel similar to Nolan’s movies but it manages to create its own atmosphere feeling like the comics brought to vivid life. We finally get to see Detective Batman which we’ve admittedly seen in small doses before but this has a classic noir vibe at times with Bruce providing a moody voiceover; it only happens at the beginning and the end so it’s never intrusive like it could be.
In The Batman Gotham is falling apart at the seams and the film has this underlying feeling of unease throughout with criminals everywhere ready to pounce on unsuspecting victims; the whole opening 20 minutes establishing the world has you on edge giving off a 70’s movie vibe like Death Wish, with random scary thugs on subways looking for lone civilians to attack. It’s endless night with constant rain giving the city a claustrophobic feel, making it almost a character in itself. This was my favourite aspect of the entire film and I love the scenes of criminals realizing Batman could be near and that they are terrified of him; as much as I enjoyed the rest of the film it was this part which sticks with me the most.
The police are unsure of this “freak” in a Bat costume who walks onto their crime scenes, so they are mostly distrustful towards him, aside from clean cop James Gordon played by the always pitch perfect Jeffrey Wright. He captures the spirit of Gordon and could quickly become one of my favourite versions of the character.
This takes place in year two of Bruce Wayne being Batman so we don’t have yet another origin story which is a breath of fresh air; it’s just him being Batman and doing what he does best.
But what of Batman himself? Many complained about Robert Pattinson as soon as he was announced because he starred in Twilight, forgetting that he has done many films since like The Lighthouse, so he has long since proven himself a talented actor. He spends the majority of this movie in the bat costume and nails every scene; the voice is spot on and not ridiculous like Christian Bale’s could be. He also looks the part in the action scenes and comes across as suitably intimidating (even if he didn’t bother to particularly bulk up for the role).
I’m not sure where he ranks yet in terms of the live action Batmen but he’s certainly better than George Clooney and Val Kilmer. The scenes where he plays Bruce requires him to brood a lot which he has been able to do since his Twilight days; we never see the billionaire playboy Bruce, but I think that will be an ongoing arc in potential future movies. I would like in any possible sequels if they differentiate the personas a bit more as Bruce Wayne basically just mopes around as a recluse and speaks exactly like Batman in a whispery voice so you’d think someone like Gordon would notice that.
Zoë Kravitz was wonderful as Selina/Catwoman and she had real chemistry with Rob on screen; she was different from Anne Hathaway (who never felt like Catwoman anyway) and Michelle Pfeiffer making her the most sympathetic version of the character we’ve seen to date. Personally, Michelle is still my favourite incarnation as she brought the right amount of crazy and sexy, making her unpredictable and feral.
In an interesting piece of timing this week marks the 15th anniversary of David Fincher’s Zodiac and as we’ve all seen from the trailers The Batman feels very much inspired by that particular killer. The Riddler has never been more threatening with Paul Dano coming across as unhinged and genuinely scary; this is a far cry from Jim Carrey’s antics and the character has never been so twisted. I knew Dano would be perfect for this role after seeing him in Denis Villeneuve’s Prisoners where he plays a similarly damaged character. It could be argued that he does overdo it at some points (especially in the latter stages) but we do need to have some theatricality and it just makes him seem even crazier. Before seeing the film I wasn’t sure how I felt about his gimp mask look but after viewing it in context it worked and just made the character even more unsettling.
One of the under appreciated characters in the movie is Carmine Falcone played by John Turturro who is understated but still menacing, rarely taking off his sunglasses so you never know what he is thinking which makes him all the more sinister.
In terms of flaws, there is no reason for a Batman movie to be 3 hours long; I wish filmmakers would get back to telling stories in less than 2 hours. I’m middle aged now and my bladder just isn’t what it used to be. I also thought that it is occasionally funny just how serious it takes itself; I mean, this is about a guy who dresses up as a bat to fight crime, but on the flip side it is a Batman movie so that’s what we’ve come to expect.
We do get a few laughs mostly from Colin Farrell who for me nearly steals the picture as The Penguin; I still can’t believe that’s him under that make-up so there needs to be some awards recognition for that. This is a different kind of Penguin reminding me somewhat of Robert De Niro in Goodfellas so some may not like that it strays from the comics but I enjoy unique takes on characters, otherwise why bother?
I will likely get a tirade of abuse for this but am I the only person who is bored of seeing Batman done in a more realistic approach? We already got that in Nolan’s trilogy; I want to see the more outlandish villains like Clayface, Manbat or Scarface in live action as we’ve seen Catwoman, Penguin and Riddler done before – admittedly not quite like this but someone new would be refreshing.
It took a while to get here but finally let’s talk about the action; The Batman isn’t exactly packed with action but there is enough to keep things moving (just). I wish there were a few more fight scenes but what we get is unglamorous looking and the camera holds back letting us see everything. Batman himself is truly vengeance incarnate as he beats thugs unconscious (but never kills them) however, the warehouse fight from BvS is still my personal favourite live action Batman beatdown.
Batman is supposed to be a ninja but we rarely get to see any of that here as the film tries so desperately to make everything serious and I personally miss the more fantastical elements. In this he knocks on doors to get into clubs and that felt weird; he should be coming in through the roof or windows but again maybe he will do that in later movies.
The car chase which we see in the trailers is fantastic and I personally love the new Batmobile; it doesn’t especially progress the story but it provides some much needed excitement. The moment it’s introduced our whole cinema shook and the sound managed to make my ribs vibrate. The wingsuit idea was something we hadn’t seen before in a Batman movie and I almost cheered as my brother will attest, I’m strangely obsessed with watching wingsuit videos on YouTube. The finale is pure spectacle (reminiscent of Sudden Death now that I think about it) and makes up for any potential pacing lags in the mid-section; it also had several twists I didn’t see coming.
The visuals are at times stunning creating a grimy, dangerous world but I found that in certain scenes it would blur around the edges which was a little distracting but maybe that was just me.
Michael Giacchino provides us with arguably his best score to date with music that is haunting, romantic, somber and bombastic capturing the tone of the film to perfection. There is a track on the score called Sonata in Darkness which is just a 12-minute piano piece which is something we’ve never heard in any comic book movie before. The main theme is reminiscent of John Williams’ Imperial March and is becoming one of my favourite Batman themes; The Riddler’s theme is like old-fashioned horror movie music and Catwoman’s theme is almost James Bond-esque in its slinkiness. I think Danny Eflman’s triumphant score to the 1989 film remains the best but that’s just my personal opinion.
If you’re looking to take the kids to see this movie I would maybe leave them at home as this is surprisingly disturbing and I’m amazed it got a PG-13 rating, as there is some imagery that kids don’t really need to see (occasionally reminding me of Saw). Mind you I was watching RoboCop when I was a kid and look how I turned out… OK bad example.
Although the movie is 3 hours long it’s hard to think of any scenes I would cut out; maybe the club sequence with Peter Sarsgaard could have been excised or least shortened but I need to see the film a few more times to get a better idea.
Overall, The Batman is overlong and almost hilariously grim but the story and characters are compelling and there are some spectacular set-pieces. I will wait for home video before I watch it again so I can pause it for comfort reasons but it is a movie that needs to be seen on the big screen for maximum enjoyment. I need to see it a few more times to see where it ranks in terms of live action Batman movies but it’s certainly a bold take which will likely have fans and non-fans debating alike.
Note: I made it without using those three words; I am officially impressed with myself.