Expertly crafted and drenched in rain, Matt Reeves’ version of the Caped Crusader nails gritty-lite.
Every Batman reboot feels grittier than the last. From Tim Burton’s gothic Gotham to Zack Snyder’s grimdark interpretation, it’s easy to feel like it’s all been done. But this year’s The Batman, the third live-action iteration of the character in a decade, manages to feel like a fresh take. Apes helmsman Matt Reeves takes the rudder this time round and steers a moody, Fincheresque ship: the destination is aesthetically immaculate and features a genuinely novel iteration of its protagonist. This Batman is ominous, shadowed – he wishes to incite fear over hope and beats low-level thugs within an inch of their life. The title’s new “The” encapsulates the work with similar intent, summarising myth and menace; Batman on the big screen has long been dark, but never quite this tonal. The film is so committed to its emo trappings, in fact, that there are 2 unironic incorporations of Nirvana. And it gets away with both of them.
The Batman re-establishes the “detective” in Detective Comics, a noir-inspired crime thriller through-and-through. It’s really only a superhero film in namesake and punch-ups. The drive of the film comes not from citywide action, but a Zodiac Killer reinvention of the Riddler (Paul Dano) and his relationship with the city and its nighttime vigilante. Batman follows the taunting trail of clues into the underworld of Gotham with the help of a stoney Jim Gordon (Jeffrey Wright) and a possibly overdeveloped Catwoman (Zoe Kravitz). Aside from a blistering Batmobile chase with the Penguin (Colin Farrell, unrecognisably), the set pieces of Christopher Nolan’s trilogy have all but been replaced with sleuthing. As the clues start to get personal to Bruce, the narrative becomes a tool to re-explore the roots of the character without showing the origin story we’ve seen a thousand times over. Kudos!
Pattinson is tremendous as Vengeance, walking about as slow as a man can and dominating the screen when in costume (designers David Crossman and Glyn Dillon have outdone themselves with an instant-favourite Batsuit). Bruce Wayne is brooding, even emo, a far cry from any kind of philanthropist or socialite. The character is definitely still moral, passionate about that line he’ll never cross, but there’s something worrying in Bruce’s seclusion and Batman’s bouts of violence. The Riddler antithesises this somewhat; his methods focused against high-profile targets rather than the goons that Wayne uses for cardio. Dano does what he does best, walking the line as an unsettlingly calm ball of anxiety. His chemistry with Pattinson makes for a very gripping interrogation scene in the third act – I wish there had been more of this dynamic. Riddler’s costume is a little drab and over-serious, but probably an appropriate reinvention. Green trench coats will sell like hot cakes in October.
The Batman’s technical contributors are all on top form. Greig Fraser’s cinematography is an absolute feast and simply has to be seen, Michael Giacchino’s score is simple but very effective, and copious praise can be sung for Reeves’ directing hand. The film’s opening monologue sequence is easily the best superhero introduction of recent cinematic memory; I wanted to cheer with how spotlessly the movie’s personnel amalgamate. Unfortunately, the film does feel ever-so-slightly less than the sum of its parts. The second half loses a sense of momentum that had been making the hefty runtime fly by with a focus shift to the interpersonal. When the Riddler’s antics reappear to initiate the third act, it feels as though after an intermission. The film being such a mood piece also renders some of the emotion of the finale, as well as Catwoman’s subplot, apathetic. It’s reminiscent of last year’s Dune in this sense: a technical phenomenon, but a little cold. There’s some disappointing sequel-baiting, too, which soured the film’s final minutes.
But as a tone piece, a technical exemplar, or a vehicle for Pattinson, The Batman absolutely delights. Matt Reeves has well and truly proved himself in the studio space and the film’s technical heads are all at the height of their game. Repeat viewings incoming. Viva la Battinson.
The Batman is in cinemas now with a 15 certificate. You can (re) watch the trailer below: