Since it was announced in 2019, Matt Reeves’ The Batman was always tipped to be the film of the year, in whatever year it was finally released. A gothic, atmospheric take on the world of ‘The Caped Crusader’, it features a strong cast and some fantastic cinematography, but it is not without its faults.
Stylistically, it contains flecks of The Crow, Sin City, Watchmen and Tim Burton’s Batman. Playing on the darkness of Gotham City in the graphic novels, Reeves took cues from Batman titles such as 1987’s Year One and 2000’s Ego, and for hardcore fans of the crime fighter, it does many things right.
Visually, at points, it is stunning, and Reeves’ vision of Gotham City is the closest to the subject material since Tim Burton brought the sin infested hell hole to life 33 years ago. The way it kicks off, heavily drenched in the style of a kind of Se7en police procedural, is also stellar. During this part, it moves at breakneck speed and has you on the edge of your seat as you try to work out The Riddler’s next clue by yourself.
Furthermore, Reeves’ version of The Riddler echoes the real-life Zodiac killer with his almost Slipknot inspired combat mask. Augmented by Paul Dano’s talent, it is the most refreshing and multi-faceted Batman villain we’ve seen in years, arguably since Heath Ledger’s iconic turn as The Joker in 2008’s The Dark Knight.
Once again, Paul Dano displays what a great character actor he is. His performance of The Riddler is unhinged, sorrowful and at points, darkly hilarious, confirming him as one of the most consistent actors of contemporary times.
Then we come to the feature’s big draw, Robert Pattinson as Batman. You could perhaps argue that his version of the titular hero in all his fearsome glory is the best we’ve ever seen. Again, it’s faithful to the graphic novels, and he toes the line between good and evil very well.
However, it pains me to say that as Bruce Wayne, he’s rather disappointing. Before the film’s release, Reeves was keen to stress that Kurt Cobain had played a role in informing his adaptation of the character, and we get it. The use of Nirvana’s ‘Something In The Way’ was a brilliant narrative stroke, and it plays into the themes of the film and Wayne’s character, but in terms of actual density, it’s lacking.
Bruce Wayne dresses as if he’s in Funeral for a Friend, which is kind of cool, but it just doesn’t provide a frictionless fit. He is relentlessly curt towards Alfred and those he comes into contact with, and he provides you with nothing to get you onside; think Tobey Maguire in Spiderman 3, just more contrived. Although it’s meant to be serious, his edge-lord style, at points, is nothing short of hilarious, and often, you end up sympathising with the villains.
We’ll give him this, though. The funeral scene is truly remarkable work. It’s just such a shame that he couldn’t carry such a high level across the film. To be fair to Pattinson, much of this criticism has to be attributed to Reeves’ direction and the script.
The same has to be said for Zöe Kravitz as Selina Kyle, AKA Catwoman. She brings something different to Catwoman, again in an edgy sort of way, and in some instances, it works. However, whether this is the script or acting, we don’t know, but you cannot escape how childish her performance is at points; duly, you’d be mistaken for thinking this some teen-oriented version of The Batman.
Over its 176 minutes, the film fails to deliver on the promise of its opening hour and, by the end, there’s a nagging sense of drag that is hard to escape. Added to this, the ominous musical motif is eerily similar to ‘The Imperial March’ from Star Wars, and it’s tough to get away from.
Of course, to label the film anything other than enjoyable is to perhaps be tougher than necessary for launch a film. However, there are crucial elements that could have been improved. It’s due to some of the supporting actors, along with Dano, that the film stops itself from falling flat.
Jeffrey Wright as James Gordon is outstanding and makes a solid claim for being the ultimate onscreen display of iconic character. Colin Farrell also brings an unhinged edge to The Penguin, and Andy Serkis, John Turturro and Peter Sarsgaard are all great in their respective roles. Even if Turturro as a mob boss does seem somewhat strange, it still works given the context.
How Reeves manages to comment on the dangers of the internet age is an expertly delivered, reminder of his talent. He instils the world of Batman with real grit, not from the pages of a comic but from the soles of our feet in 2022. In truth, it goes beyond the purely aesthetic darkness that Christopher Nolan conjured for the Caped Crusader. Despite some clomping first footsteps, Reeves and Pattinson’s hero could become the greatest.
The Batman hits theatres on March 4th.
Watch the trailer for The Batman below.