For a superhero who is on his seventh actor portraying the character, it’s impressive that they’re still finding new ways to depict the Dark Knight.
“The Batman” is a reboot of the titular hero, with Robert Pattinson taking over the role from Ben Affleck. The film follows Batman in his second year of crime fighting as he faces off against the Riddler (Paul Dano), a serial killer who is targeting Gotham City’s elite. Zoë Kravitz, Jeffrey Wright, John Turturro, Peter Sarsgaard, Andy Serkis, and Colin Farrell also star, as Matt Reeves co-writes and directs.
I’m a big Batman fan, he’s always been my favorite superhero. I’m also a Robert Pattinson supporter, so when he was announced as the latest actor to portray the character I had faith he would do a good job. The first trailer for “The Batman” dropped back in summer 2020 and it was clear that this would be something special, a more grounded version of the character than Ben Affleck’s take and more gritty than Christian Bale’s. People have said that “The Dark Knight” is essentially “Heat” with superheroes and that 2019’s “Joker” is just “Taxi Driver,” so going off that trend, “The Batman” is “L.A. Confidential” and “Chinatown” meet “Zodiac” in an epic (if not slightly overlong) detective story.
Robert Pattinson (or R-Batts, as the internet dubbed him) does a good job in the lead role. His Bruce Wayne/Batman is much more gloomy than previous versions, so much so that there really isn’t any difference between dark and serious Batman and billionaire playboy Bruce Wayne. This may rub some folks the wrong way, since the point of a secret identity is to dilute all suspicion, but for the world that Reeves and Pattinson are going for, one where there isn’t much hope, it works. I didn’t get the “this could end up being my favorite version of Batman” thoughts about Pattinson like I did after Bale and Affleck’s debuts, but that isn’t to say he doesn’t do what is being asked of him well.
My favorite performance comes from Paul Dano as the Riddler. Both Dano and Reeves have openly said they based this version off the Zodiac Killer, and it is clear to see why as he leaves messages and ciphers at the crime scenes, toying with police. However I think it isn’t until we finally meet the character face to face that Dano dials it up. With his babyface, the actor is unassuming and doesn’t look like a criminal mastermind (and even drew laughs form the audience the first few times he is on screen for that very reason), but that is what makes him all the more chilling.
The rest of the cast is solid, with Colin Farrell being completely unrecognizable under makeup as the crime boss Penguin, Zoë Kravitz is seductive as Catwoman (though her chemistry with Pattinson is passable at best), and Jeffrey Wright doing a good job as Batman’s reluctant partner Lt. Gordon.
The action is really well-staged, with Reeves favoring wide shots and steady camera work over shaky-cam close-ups. This version of Batman is brutal, and you feel every bone break and bruise delivered as he punishes bad guys. I also appreciated how they let Batman (dubbed “The World’s Greatest Detective” in the comics) do some actual detective work to uncover police and political corruption, even if he solves all of Riddler’s puzzles in a matter of seconds before the audience can get a chance to themselves.
My biggest issue with “The Batman” is its length; it runs 176 minutes, just four shy of “Avengers: Endgame’s” behemoth runtime. Not every scene feels needed, and a case could be made that the Penguin doesn’t really need to be in the film at all. There are a few decent plot twists and reveals, but they often aren’t left to marinate before we cut to the next scene, or their impact is quickly negated altogether.
In a world of shared cinematic universes, quips, and cameos, “The Batman” is a welcome change of pace to the superhero scene. It is a dark, moody, and at times brutal piece of cinema, that definitely is worried about appealing to fans of the character first and everyone else second. I really enjoyed the film and the world it has built, and am looking forward to where Reeves and Pattinson will take us next.
Critics Rating: 8/10
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