One of ScreenHub’s and Film & Spirits’ most anticipated films of the year, The Batman has changed quite a bit ever since it was first announced. Originally, it was going to be a sequel to Justice League directed by Ben Affleck, the Batman from the DCEU who made his debut in the controversial Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. But after the mixed reception to the Joss Wheadon theatrical cut of Justice League, those plans were scrapped and War of the Planet of the Apes director Matt Reeves was brought in to reimagine the film. He scrapped Affleck’s script, opting for a darker film that would eventually star Robert Pattinson in the lead role. Many were confused and even hostile towards the casting. But now that the film is here, did the former Twilight actor turned acclaimed method actor deliver a memorable caped crusader and how was the movie overall? Let’s find out.
As implied by the title, Robert Pattinson stars as the titular Batman. Whereas previous actors who’ve donned the cowl have found a balance between the caped crusader and Bruce Wayne, Pattinson is masked for almost the entire duration of the film. He’s been Batman for two years now and is still finding his footing with his nocturnal activities. Unlike recent Bats like Bale or Affleck, who were able to take on scores of goons with precision-like effectiveness, Pattinson’s Batman is still learning the ropes, which means his style and technique aren’t refined. He takes a lot of hits in this movie. But he’s also something of a recluse. Usually, Bruce Wayne is a selfish billionaire playboy type, but this version of Bruce is merely an extension of Batman. He’s quiet, focused and reserved, putting up walls around him and, unlike his parents, rejecting the life of philanthropy. Pattinson played the part inspired by Nirvana frontman and known recluse Kurt Cobain and Michael Corleone from The Godfather. Bruce/Batman doesn’t have much of a character arc, as this film is heavily invested in the plot surrounding the murders, but he’s still a different person by the end of the movie. Selina Kyle definitely has more of an arc than Batman does, which may frustrate people going into a movie called “The Batman”, but considering Batman is so involved in the plot, it wasn’t an issue for me.
Matt Reeves definitely wears his influences on his sleeve when it comes to the visual and narrative aesthetic for The Batman. Despite being a “superhero” film on the surface level, this is very much a neo-noir thriller. The use of rain and the noir vibe reminded me a lot of David Fincher’s Se7en and the Riddler killings were heavily inspired by Fincher’s true-crime adaptation, Zodiac. Unlike the Jim Carrey version from Batman Forever, this iteration of the Riddler, played by Paul Dano, is a brutal and haunting serial killer who leaves cryptic clues, riddles and ciphers at the crime scenes. A letter pinned to the first victim, addressed “To the Batman”, sucks the caped crusader into this fascinating and sinister mystery.
As Batman begins his investigation with the help of Alfred (Andy Serkis), he crosses paths with memorable and iconic Batman characters, such as Jim Gordon (Jeffrey Wright), Penguin (Colin Farrell) and Selina Kyle, aka Catwoman (Zoe Kravitz). Every actor in this film brings their A-game. This Batman film is very much a noir investigative film, so having an ensemble cast of rogues and allies is critical. Batman’s rapports with Jim help drive his investigation forward, which in turn leads to collaborations with Selina, someone who is in many ways, his opposite but also his equal. Farrell is clearly having a blast as Penguin. In many scenes, I could’ve sworn they got DeNiro instead. He goes big on a New Yorkish accent and his prosthetics almost completely hide his recognizable face. Alfred is the one who has the least to do of all the major players, but he does get a critical scene with Bruce later on in the film. And Dano as Riddler is just unsettling. I felt like I needed a shower after some of his scenes, which pushed the limits of the PG-13 rating. He’s not in the movie much perse, but his presence is felt throughout.
On a technical level, The Batman is superb. Particular credit should be given to composer Michael Giacchino for his score. I often find most blockbusters have forgettable or lacklustre music, they exist to service the movie rather than to enhance it, but Giacchino really struck a chord here. The primary theme for The Batman reverberates through your body, striking fear upon every note. It’s dark, bold, loud, imposing and memorable while also being hopeful and optimistic. Likewise, the film incorporates horror elements from time to time and the score reflects this, using tense string arrangements that will make the skin on the back of your neck stand on end.
The film also looks great. While sometimes too dark, the film’s use of shadow and darkness, contrasted with bold oranges, yellows and reds, creates a distinct and unique colour pallet, which is quite refreshing as many blockbuster films opt for a slightly muted colour pallet these days. Gotham has never looked better on the big screen. It comes across as a mix between Chicago and New York City but feels closer to the source material than it ever has before. Neon signs burst through the night and the architecture feels pulled from the 1920s, despite the modern trappings like large television plastered over Gotham’s version of Times Square.
The Batman is three hours and while it never drags, it does feel a little long towards the end. But apart from that and my minor gripes about some scenes being too dark, those are honestly my only real issues with the movie. The Batman wisely doesn’t try to emulate other comic book movies by making a fun, accessible film. It swings big by giving us a neo-noir crime thriller that’s haunting, dark, violent and gripping. The Batman is quite simply, a must-watch and one of DC’s best films to date.