Matt Reeves is a director who has always delivered against the odds. An English language remake of Let The Right One In? Terrible idea and yet Let Me In was a great take on the story. Turning a reboot of the Planet Of The Apes franchise into one of the best and simultaneously most underrated trilogies of all-time? No problem whatsoever. So when he announced that he would deliver a new take on the Caped Crusader, a superhero who has had five iterations in the last thirty three years, there was the usual scepticism. However The Dark Knight is the comic book equivalent of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. A tortured protagonist who lost his father that can be adapted to new and exciting visions and The Batman is no exception.
We have had camp Batman (Adam West), Gothic Batman (Burton), grounded Batman (Nolan) and sad Batman (Affleck). Even a Lego Batman. Finally, we get a sleuthing Batman. You know the detective Batman who appeared in Detective Comics.
If The Dark Knight felt like the genre’s take on Heat, with an intrinsically linked hero and villain, this is Batman via Se7en. The Caped Crusader forced to solve the elaborate and chilling games of The Riddler who is targeting political figures in the city.
Reeves wastes no time in putting his own unique stamp on proceedings. The opening segment which establishes Gotham City and Batman’s current place in it is arguably the character’s strongest introduction since Keaton’s in 1989. The moment he emerges from the shadows, “Criminals think I’m hiding in the shadows… I am the shadows”, Pattinson’s Batman is anger and retribution personified. After beating a punk half to death, when he says “I’m Vengeance!”, he means it and you feel it.
It helps when the scene is scored by Michael Giancchino, who is able to deliver a haunting and dramatic new theme for The Bat. Outside of Reeves and Pattinson, Giancchino has the trickiest job of the crew. Having to, ironically, emerge from the shadows of the likes of Danny Elfman and Hans Zimmer. To create a score and theme that is distinct from theirs, is memorable but also fits in with this new version of the story. They shoot, he scores. Not only is it tonally perfect but his theme for The Bat and The Cat is the sexiest the series has ever been. Building on the excellent chemistry between Pattinson and Kravitz.
So what of Robert Pattinson? R-Patz or is that now R-Batz? The worst vampire in the world who took ten years since the last Twilight film to turn into a bat! The actor left behind the tentpoles to have a career on the fringes. Choosing interesting projects over paydays and becoming the poster boy for A24 in the process. Those who criticised his casting had clearly watched Twilight and not the like of Good Time and The Lighthouse. Given the past few films on his resume, there must have been something to Reeves’s vision that lured him back into the blockbuster machine.
With the film opening with Bruce Wayne’s internal monologue, it is reminiscent of two things. The narration by detectives in the hard boiled film noirs of the Forties. Thereby bringing the character back to his roots. It also evokes images of Travis Bickle from Taxi Driver. A unhinged protagonist who similarly hated what his city had become and looked for a way to “wash the scum from the streets”.
In the second year of his “Gotham Project”, this is a Batman who is still rough around the edges. Clearly a incredibly intelligent deductive mind but one that is still to master his emotions and rage. As one could put it, so very close to “the hero Gotham needs right now”. Pattinson may have a grungy, emo appearance as Wayne but he is suitably brooding and menacing as Batman.
His Gotham’s rogues gallery also harks back to the Film Noir genre. Colin Farrell’s Penguin is an old school mob boss “Take it easy Sweetheart” and Selina Kyle is pure Femme Fatale. There is one exception though. Paul Dano’s The Riddler.
Rather than drawing on previous incarnations, if there is a particular influence on the film, it is in the form of David Fincher. The Riddler is worlds away from Jim Carrey or even Frank Gorshin. This is a villain inspired by John Doe from Se7en and the Zodiac Killer. His costume, love of ciphers, his diaries. He even strays into Saw territory with some gruesome traps used to enact his own form of justice. Admittedly unable to compete with Batman physically, he uses his strongest muscle to gain the upper hand.
While the film soars in the first two acts, it struggles to nail the superhero landing. Once the masterplan is revealed, it feels too similar to other comic book movies. Side Note; can we please call an amnesty on villains needing to be caught as part of the plan? The final stretch looks too neat and glossy. Losing the grit and grime that cinematographer Greig Fraser had brought to this Gotham City. Also there are a couple of unnecessary world-building/sequel setup scenes that clearly indicate R-Batz is not a “one and done” and will don the cape again.
Saying that, it could be a welcome return as this is certainly a version of Gotham that has scope for many more new takes on existing stories and characters.
It is important to remember that Batman has always been a superhero whose super power was his intelligence… and his money. The film is at its best when he is a detective and not a superhero.
The Batman is a brave, bold and brilliant new take on a familiar character and Reeves and Pattinson have done him proud.
The Batman is in cinemas from March 4
Director: Matt Reeves
Stars: Robert Pattinson, Zoe Kravitz, Paul Dano, Colin Farrell, Andy Serkis
Runtime: 176 minutes