Opening with a lilting waltz, director Matt Reeve’s The Batman is a disarming murder mystery. Spying down upon Gotham, Paul Dano’s The Riddler, is a wheezing Darth Vader-like assailant who is intent on making his presence felt. Killing off members of Gotham’s power elite wherever he senses injustice, he justifies each kill with a cryptic message left for Robert Pattinson’s Batman. However, as all of the clues mount up, they all point to a deeper, much more personal abuse of power than Batman could ever have imagined…
... Pattinson's haunted trust-fund kid is a big, brave step away from the Bruce Wayne's of old.
If you’re looking for immediate reassurances in this latest Batman movie, it’s fair to say that there are several. First off, it has its own tone. Stradling the campy theatrics of Zack Snyder’s Batman vs Superman and the kinetic action of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, The Batman is bathed in gothic melancholia. Rain hammers down in every shot and most buildings, be they police stations or Bruce Wayne’s midtown mansion, pretty much all resemble gothic churches – and the funereal vibe doesn’t end there.
With Robert Pattinson as Batman, the film interestingly dangles the idea of Bruce Wayne being a recluse, whose vigilantism has nearly bankrupted the Wayne empire. Add to that a detective-led storyline where both Batman and the audience are on the trail of an unseen suspect and The Batman becomes the first superhero movie to honestly move into The Silence of The Lambs‘ territory. Similar to Jonathan Demme’s 1991 masterpiece, Paul Dano’s The Riddler is far removed from Jim Carrey’s cartoonish rendition to become a much more cerebral Unabomber wrapped in gaffer tape. Toying with his quarry as Anthony Hopkins’s Lektor did in his cross interrogations of Clarice Starling, Dano’s The Riddler can see the questions that Batman dares not even look at.
Also in terms of not looking at things, Matt Reeves and his team have played a masterstroke here with The Batman‘s marketing. With its trailers almost made up exclusively from the film’s opening fifteen minutes, this means there is still a whole movie’s worth of surprises to be had once you get to minute fifteen. Most satisfying of which I think is Colin Farrell’s disappearance into his role of the Penguin. Waddling around and smeared in prosthetics, Penguin runs a private drinks club where Gotham’s nobility can forget their responsibilities. Also Zoe Kravtiz’s Catwoman, aka The Cat for this movie, gets better treatment than in other movies. Mercifully decked out in a costume that is believably rooted in motorcycle leathers, she also gets some nice undercutting comments at Batman’s expense.
So, on to the main event. Jutting of jaw and hooded of brow, I can honestly say that Robert Pattinson really delivers in the movie’s central role. More scrawny and believable than Ben Affleck’s pumped-up crime fighter, Pattinson’s haunted trust-fund kid is a big, brave step away from the Bruce Wayne’s of old. Joining him in the dour, earnestness-stakes is Andy Serkis as Alfred the butler. Although shorn of any butler-ly fisticuffs that you might have been hoping for, both the characters of Alfred and Bruce are bystanders when it comes to the main event. As the titular Batman, Robert Pattison gets to move his neck, the cape doesn’t get in the way and his new batmobile has the same, superb introductory whine much akin to Mel Gibson’s ride in Mad Max II. However, as probably already fore-shadowed in this piece, Paul Dano’s Riddler rules the day. Acting as the mysterious red line that pulls you through the entire movie, the parallels to Heath Ledger’s Joker in The Dark Knight are all there to see. Continually taunting Batman throughout, Dano manages to turn the Riddler into a distinct and threatening presence without any excessive acting flourishes, and as such, steals the movie.
With a decent twist that you won’t see coming, dread is the central theme of this movie. With Michael Giacchino’s Nirvana-like score heavily piano-striking throughout the entire movie, the only real concern is how its repetition highlights the running time. Having given you two-hour glorious hours of intrigue, I guess there is a reckoning to be paid. Having gone small-scale and intimate for its setup, maybe there is almost a contractual obligation for a big, climatic mise-en-scène. Then further drawn out with an odd end scene that splutters out “sequel”, Robert Pattinson’s Batman doesn’t quite get the closure that the movie’s opening hinted at. Yet, in saying that, a surplus of goodness is but a small thing to gripe about.
Pattinson’s toothy snarl through Batman’s cowl is a welcome discovery and once the laughter in Arkham Asylum has died down, I think you’ll know who to expect in chapter two…0