Movie Review: ‘The Batman’

Director: Matt Reeves

Cast: Robert Pattinson, Zoë Kravitz, Paul Dano, Jeffrey Wright, Colin Farrell, John Turturro, Peter Sarsgaard, Andy Serkis

Plot: Street vigilante Batman is drawn into a game played by a deranged serial killer calling himself ‘Riddler’, who is targeting corrupt power-players in the city of Gotham. Batman teams up with Lt. Gordon of the police and cat-burglar Selina Kyle to delve into the underworld and uncover the maniac.

Review: No film exists in a vacuum, it’s always a response to current media and cultural trends. This is especially true of any media involving Batman, as the previous versions remain very much in the forefront of people’s minds. Batman is a character who everyone is going to have an opinion on, most often holding up the most recent successful film version as the standard. The truth is that Batman is an incredibly flexible character with an immense back catalogue of styles, stories and ideologies to tap into.

With that said, it’s time to look at the newest version of this character to appear in cinemas in The Batman. Whilst Tim Burton’s Batman was a gothic, cartoony comic world and Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy is a grounded, realistic philosophy exposition, our new take lands somewhere in between. The world is stylised with murky yellows, greens and reds and Gotham looks like the rot has well and truly set in. The characters, meanwhile, land closer to the realistic end of the spectrum, feeling well fleshed out, motivated and having complex relationships. Bruce Wayne (Pattinson) himself in a famed recluse, rarely appearing in the public eye and being almost impossible to contact, taking up the mantle of Batman two years earlier and questioning if he is making any difference to the cesspit that Gotham has become.

There’s an assumption here that the audience is already familiar with the Batman story, or costumed vigilante characters, at this point and we don’t need the basics spelt out for us. We learn at the beginning that Batman is very much a loner, driven by revenge to fight crime, and has very little identity beyond that. He has spent two years trying to clean up the city by beating up muggers and bank robbers and feels as though he is making any difference in the grand scheme of things. This changes when psychotic murderer called The Riddler (Dano) horrible kills the mayor and leaves a puzzle for Batman himself to solve. The revelation that the mayor has been involved with the crime families opens him up to the true evil in Gotham, a world he must infiltrate to predict Riddler’s actions and put a stop to him.

This is a very good starting point for the character. We’re not retreading old ground and we’re not trying to reinvent the wheel. He’s established as a crime-fighter, but is still honing his craft. His attempts to enter the Iceberg Lounge to confront Penguin (Farrell – acting the hell out the role through a thick layer of prosthetics) are clumsy at best, and we develops more finesse as the movie goes on. Unlike Zack Snyder’s Batman, who effortlessly takes down a room full of thugs with some light taps on the noggin, or Nolan’s version who cooly deals with every situation, Reeves’ Batman makes mistakes and has to learn from them if he is to succeed. The first time he has to jump from a rooftop he looks scared out of his mind and it could very well be the first time he’s put his gliding equipment in use in the field.

In addition to his ally Jim Gordon (Wright), who helps Batman navigate dealing with the police and points him in the right direction, we have Selina Kyle (Kravitz) becoming his tenuous partner. This burglar is drawn into the same situation through a personal connection, but provides Batman with an in-road. The pair of them have strong chemistry, making their dynamic fun to watch, and it’s nice to see a Catwoman more than capable of meeting Batman on his level. It’s a very good adaptation of the comic characters.

Conversely, Riddler is essentially a new character and has little in common with his comic book original. The green colour scheme is replaced with an aesthetic and MO best described as Zodiac Killer Chic. From the outfit and mask to the cyphers to the manipulation of the media to the use of symbology, he’s very clearly modelled after the real life serial killer who taunted the police and the public during his crime spree. He’s a deeply disturbed man who is ultimately revealed to be very detached from reality. For the bulk of the film, he’s brutally murdering powerful figures in Gotham with a promise to reveal their lies. Batman is forced into following his clues to uncover an informant who prompted the biggest crime bust in the cities history. For a while we thought that the trailer had given us too much information, but this was a deliberate manipulation and led to a solid turn late in the game. The way things escalate in the final act reveals just how out of his depth Batman is dealing with this level of mania.

So far this sounds like a review chock full of praise – and it is – but we did find the story struggling to keep everything linked together during the final hour of this three hour epic. Although they are connected in theory, they struggle to blend together the hunt for the Riddler and the underworld conspiracy and it feels like one story is put on hold for a long stretch before being swapped out for the other. It’s almost episodic in how quickly they shift from the resolution of one story to the third act of a different plot.

At heart, The Batman is about Batman learning his true value as a symbol of hope for the innocent people of the city. Each of these threads, as seperate as they may feel towards the end, both contribute to this character arc. The crime syndicates reveal the degree to which corruption in embedded in Gotham, and the Riddler is Batman’s first experience dealing with a his insane, criminal counterpart. A few of these threads are left hanging for any sequels they’re going to green light, and we’re keen for it.

Oh, and my mate said there’s a hidden URL popping up at the end of the credits. Did anyone catch that?

Review: NINE out of TEN