After what seems like years of giddy fan speculation, tempered in recent months by the all-too-predictable wave of skepticism and negativity, Matt Reeves’ long-awaited Batman reboot has finally hit cinemas, with Robert Pattinson taking over the cowl for this latest big screen outing. But the question remains… is it any good? Well, let’s find out, shall we?
Right from the opening scene, Reeves sets the tone of his story with some immaculate cinematography courtesy of Greig Fraser and a genuinely foreboding feel. While a grimy, rain-soaked Gotham City isn’t exactly a new thing in terms of Batman movies, Reeves’ version feels the most like an actual city than any version I’ve seen before, and Michael Giacchino’s evocative score makes every storyline beat land with authority. Into this impressively realised backdrop, Reeves inserts a note perfect cast of characters to deliver a multi-faceted crime drama packed with twists, turns, violence and emotional depth.
First and foremost, Pattinson’s Batman an absolute triumph. Physically slighter than the majority of his big screen predecessors, he still manages to command every scene with an intense, imposing presence. When it comes to facing the dregs of Gotham’s underworld or the skeptical, disdainful G.C.P.D., Batman keeps himself very much in check, with every word, movement and gesture perfectly measured and controlled. But in the other moments when the spotlight isn’t shining so brightly, we get brief flashes of uncertainty and self-doubt that give us a deeper glimpse into the psyche of a young man just two years into his journey. Equally as intriguing is Pattinson’s take on Bruce Wayne, a damaged, vengeful young man who hasn’t quite managed to affect the ‘billionaire playboy’ persona that a lot of fans will associate with the character yet.
This is very much a crime noir detective story rather than a quote-unquote “superhero flick”, and while we do get some impressive action set-pieces – a teeth clenching car chase and an impressive spectacle of a finale set in Gotham Square Garden, to name just two – this movie shines brightest in its quieter moments, such as the character and subtext-laden interplay between Pattison and Zoe Kravitz’s Selina Kyle or the cerebral jousting between Batman and Paul Dano’s Riddler.
Speaking of Dano, he puts in an absolutely riveting turn as The Riddler, and while comparisons with Heath Ledger’s Clown Prince of Crime will surely abound, Dano’s performance as the creepy and unpredictable puzzle addicted serial killer will surely stand on its own merits as one of the most memorable big screen Bat-villains of all time. The nods to the likes of Se7en and Zodiac are clear, and definitely welcomed from this particular viewer. I’ve always seen The Riddler as one of the most fascinating members of Batman’s rogues gallery, and seeing his ruthless ingenuity at play here as he cuts a surgical swathe through Gotham is an absolute delight, with Dano putting in a performance that would give Kevin Spacey’s John Doe a run for his money.
The rest of the cast varies from solid to spectacular, with Colin Farrell’s utterly unrecognisable turn as the Penguin providing a real highlight. Jeffrey Wright’s James Gordon fills his role admirably, and the chemistry between he and Pattinson really helps to ground the more detective focused sections of the story. Zoe Kravitz puts in a captivating shift as Selina Kyle, portraying the inner turmoil of the character beautifully, although her relationship with Pattinson’s Batman feels a little unearned at times. Also worthy of note is Andy Serkis as Alfred, who does a great job with what he’s given, even if what he’s given isn’t much outside of one truly memorable scene.
At the end of the day, The Batman is an unconventional yet utterly mesmerising superhero movie, and while it groans a little in the middle under the weight of its nearly three-hour run time, Reeves, Pattinson and co. have put together a truly memorable take on the Dark Knight which leans heavily into the darker aspects of the World’s Greatest Detective. A must-see cinematic event, delivering both visually and narratively, and while the questions remain about whether we necessarily needed another big screen version of Batman, when then results are this impressive, I’m not sure any of us can complain too much.