REVIEW: The Batman (SPOILER-FREE)
It’s important to say at the beginning that The Batman is not a superhero film. Matt Reeves’ epic has more in common with Taxi Driver and Seven than any previous screen incarnation of The Caped Crusader, or any other comic book film before it besides, perhaps, The Crow. Reeves has managed to give audiences a Batman film that steps out of the long shadow cast by the legendary Christopher Nolan trilogy.
From the first few minutes, the tone is set and the world established perfectly. It is a threatening, hopeless and repugnant Gotham City, existing seemingly in a constant state of winter dusk and night; it’s a place where the sun can never shine its light on the brooding Gothic architecture dominating a dystopian metropolis. An urban hell, haunted not just by scum, serial killers and organised crime, but by a vigilante who may very well be just as disturbed as those he hunts.
Robert Pattinson’s Batman is terrifying and brutal, but not infallible. He takes a lot of punishment throughout, demonstrating he is not yet the invincible legend the character will become over the years. Much like Taxi Driver’s Travis Bickle, this Bruce Wayne is a withdrawn, socially-awkward insomniac. It is as though the Batman is a morally dubious entity that infected Bruce Wayne long ago, now at a point where it has nearly taken complete control. It is a film about Batman, not Bruce Wayne: Pattinson spends most of the movie in the costume, and when he’s not wearing the armoured gear, there is a palpable sense of separation anxiety. Wayne cannot live long outside of the suit.
Pattinson’s performance is mesmerising, but so are those of Paul Dano’s menacing, unhinged Riddler; Zoë Kravitz’s mysterious, seductive Selina Kyle; and Colin Farrell’s up-and-coming disfigured mobster, Penguin. All the performers put an iconic stamp on their famous characters, further enriching the universe of Gotham that Reeves has created.
There are no CGI-fest fights here, the film is a neo-noir detective story in narrative, visuals and execution. The investigative element of Batman is focused upon heavily, as is his relationship with GCPD officer James Gordon. The police are facing a losing battle and must reluctantly rely on The Dark Knight’s resources and determination to do their jobs. The chemistry between Jeffrey Wright and Pattinson is on par with Oldman and Bale.
Reeves also confronts the idea that Batman may in fact be the cause of the sick monsters he battles. Those who pay attention and know their comic book lore will understand the significance of involving Bruce’s parents in the second half of the film. Speaking of comic book influences, The Batman draws heavily on several of the best graphic novels of all time, primarily Batman: The Long Halloween, Batman: Earth One and Batman: Year One.
Some initial reviews have complained about the tone and the lack of humour, without really elaborating upon why that is an issue. Batman, of all the well-known comic characters along with Daredevil, is at his best when taken very seriously. Not in the way Zack Snyder took him seriously, clearly, but being brave enough to explore the textured, dark material that exists in the comics. There is humour here, but not of the kind Marvel fans would be used to. The film’s subtle comedic elements are more in line with “Leave the gun, take the Cannoli.”
An immersive experience that may be the definitive – and most unique – cinematic take on the character so far. Reeves and the cast have given birth to a new and exciting world for Batman.