It never rains, but it pours. Especially in Gotham. Robert Pattinson’s Batman stalks Gotham’s streets, braving some of the most incessant rain ever committed to film. Given all his toys, you’d think he’d have a Bat Umbrella in his belt.
Matt Reeves The Batman is a grim and gritty crime chiller, far removed from the superhero multiverse of Zack Snyder’s Justice League or Andrés Muschietti’s upcoming The Flash.
When Tim Burton gave Batman his own adult spin, Warner flipped out, for fear of torpedoing merchandising revenue. The result led to Joel Schumaker’s much ridiculed Batman Forever and Batman and Robin efforts. There’s seemingly no such reticence here.
The Batman owes more to Seven than Shazam. Sporadically brutal, the 15 age rating seems entirely appropriate.
Pattinson’s Batman is no superhero; he’s a vigilante detective in a combat suit, who drives a hot rod. Bruce Wayne barely gets a look-in. It’s not Burton or Snyder, but it’s not Chris Nolan either. This is something different.
Pattinson delivers a great performance as the titular hero; lean, mean, with a bullet-dent in his cowl. There’s a novel physicality to his performance. He navigates crime scenes with a measured walk. People react to the Batman, he doesn’t react to them.
Tonally, I’d rate The Batman as a companion piece to Tod Phillips Joker, but they’re self-evidently unconnected. Penned with screenwriter Peter Craig, Matt Reeves’ script occupies its own dark corner in the DC multiverse, and takes place in the here and now, despite its Seventies aesthetic.
Pattinson’s Batman is no superhero; he’s a vigilante detective in a combat suit, who drives a hot rod…
“Batman started as a detective,” says Reeves, “so, to find a way to go back to that, to strip away the fantasy aspect of a DC Superhero but to still have him be aspirational, was a really exciting idea. I always find that, with genre work, the important thing for me is to find a personal avenue in, and Batman stories allow that. We wanted to make him someone whose real superpower is that he will endure anything to do what he has to do.”
We join Bruce Wayne two years into his ‘Gotham project’ as a vigilante detective who has the ear of GCPD’s Lt. James Gordon (Jeffrey Wright). You know the two are buddies, because they talk to each other in the same competing gruff whispers.
Bruce patrols Gotham, but not in uniform. He spies on wrongdoers from the shadows, travelling by motorbike.
Providing guidance and cryptology support is Alfred (Andy Serkis). More surrogate father than butler, his talents are helpful, particularly as a serial killer is knocking off dignitaries and leaving cryptic cards and cyphers behind.
One of the movie’s core strengths is its reimagined Batman’s rogue’s gallery. Paul Dano’s Riddler is weird and disturbing, the Penguin (an unrecognisable Colin Farrell) merely a low level gangster. Carmine Falcone (John Turturro) exudes traditional mob menace as Gotham’s sleazy crime lord.
Zoë Kravitz also offers a fresh take on Selina Kyle, portrayed as a proto-Catwoman. Casting throughout is excellent.
The Batman also looks gorgeous. Cinematographer Greig Fraser delivers a barrage of striking sequences: Batman slowly emerging from the shadows, rain shredding the light; the Bat and Cat silhouetted above the city; Kravitz catwalking through Penguin’s Iceberg Lounge nightclub – this is mesmerising, memorable stuff. Costume and production design leans heavy on the Batman: Year One limited comic series, which was also a big inspiration for Reeves’ take on the Caped Crusader.
And the city looks amazing. Production designer James Chinlund found his gritty Gotham in London, Liverpool and Glasgow. “We noticed a decayed Gothic layer that we just don’t have in the States,” he says. “It gave us a real opportunity to combine practical set builds and some Chicago location work with this amazing rich tapestry of architecture from the UK.”
Similarly, the sound design is top notch. Batman’s boots are heavy, and their stomp is a signature motif – it’s a cross between Robocop and Clint Eastwood’s spurred cowboy boots.
With The Batman, Matt Reeves has taken DC’s Dark Knight up a deliciously dark alley, and he feels right at home. Two Bat-thumbs up.
The Batman is directed by Matt Reeves, and stars Robert Pattinson and Zoë Kravitz. Rated 15, running time 2 hours 55 minutes.
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