It’s night. It’s raining. There is a dark city full of dark secrets and populated by people consumed by darkness. And atop them all sits a Dark Knight. One problem with such iconic characters is parody can override source, something hard to escape as director Matt Reeves’ noir-drenched The Batman opening monologue growls through the speakers.
“They think I'm hiding in the shadows. But I AM the shadows,” intones Robert Pattinson, the latest actor to don the Batsuit, before adding, “Fear is a tool”.
This speech shakes hands with Rorschach’s opening monologue from Watchmen. Watchmen writer Alan Moore very much designed Rorschach to be a fascist Batman proxy.
Now Batman on film has arrived so close to an ostensible send-up of him that it can be hard to hear such words and take them in the serious tone they are intended.
What Is The Batman About?
With a dark palette and very little of the Bruce Wayne playboy lightness on screen, The Batman eschews big action set pieces (for the main) to draw on Chinatown and Hitchcock-esque and duplicity.
The movie keeps Pattinson in almost perpetual night, brooding. His sunken expressions and sullen attitude are more akin to a drug addict than a billionaire businessman.
Batman movies often struggle to give him something to do. The antagonistic force is always one of three things: everyday crime to punch; extravagant villains whose Batman’s mere existence tends to perpetuate; or mafia crime lords.
In Nolan’s Batman trilogy the mafia part always sought to fill in the run time gaps and was never of any individual interest. The Batman strikes a commendable balance towards the second two and brings out the little explored ‘detective’ side of the character.
One character swooping from scene to scene for 3 hours would hardly be enough to hold our attention, and thus Pattinson is nicely balanced out by Selina Kyle (Zoe Kravitz).
Kravitz exudes stubbornness, vulnerability, independence, and femininity all at once, delivering a much-needed counterpoint that grounds what otherwise threatened to be a ‘woe is me’ overwrought Batman.
Much has been made of the 3-hour run time and very dark colour palette of the movie. But for the most part, Reeves pulls it off.
The Batman Official Trailer
Is The Batman Worth Watching?
Batman has been on our screens in one form or another for nigh on 60 years, but it is a joy to say ‘never like this’ and mean it.
The usual ‘downtime’ of Bruce’s playboy mask never occurs and even through 180 minutes, the story remains laser focused. This Batman is either investigating or fighting: there is nothing else.
Such singular focus does bring about some casualties. Dano’s The Riddler spends almost all the movie behind an unwieldy gas mask and has to resort to a smattering of loud vocal outbursts to break through it.
His puzzles, which present like Saw-esque traps, carry little satisfaction from their escape or decoding. Dano looms over the movie but matters more to the characters than to the viewer, ultimately.
Another character felt but not seen is Andy Serkis as Alfred. You only have to look at the recent hit Andor to see what Serkis can do with a little screen time.
This Alfred is more riddled with self-doubt and concern than previous iterations, which bodes well, but sadly his handful of scenes are not enough to cause much of a dent.
Yet amongst the moody lighting and black-stained eyes of the central cast there are other delights. For a film deliberately holding back on the action, when Reeves does let loose, it is like a snarling dog unleashed.
The Batmobile chase sequence as a ravenously garrulous Penguin (Colin Farrell, The Banshees of Inisherin) flees in panic is as exhilarating as it is cathartic.
Farrell’s star has been high for some time now, and his overcompensating middle-man posturing injects some much needed bounce into the movie during key moments.
Pattinson’s chemistry with Kravitz (who really ignites this film) also helps drive the movie through its slower moments, while John Turturro bleeds life into mob-boss Carmine Falcone whom Reeves gifts enough screen time that the criminal element of the story doesn’t feel like an afterthought.
The Batman ticks many boxes and, crucially, several that haven’t been ticked before in a Batman film.
Pattinson’s broodiness is a refreshing change. His Bruce – a listless shell merely killing time until he can don the suit again, because what else is there? – has an individualism that stands out from his predecessors.
Visually sumptuous with the kind of editing that drives your attention to beautifully framed shots, be they languid or snappy, makes The Batman gorgeous for the eyes amongst all the murk and rain.
You can’t have the caped crusader without a little darkness, and for once his claim to be the shadows rings true.
Words by Mike Record