Who is the Batman?
Director Matt Reeves (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, War for the Planet of the Apes) and Robert Pattinson (The Twilight Saga) attempt to interpret the often answered question in the latest reboot of one of comic book’s most iconic heroes, and in doing so give audiences a new definitive take on the Dark Knight Detective that feels altogether familiar, but distinctly different and iconic at the same time.
Unlike previous reboots and retellings, Reeves does away with the most obvious tale that audiences are all too familiar with – the origin. The gun, parents, Zorro, pearls, leaving the cinema, fear – it all goes out the window and instead, this film is set firmly in Year 2 of Batman’s turn as a vigilante of Gotham City. He has struck fear in the heart of criminals, has an uneasy relationship with the Gotham City Police Department, where aside from Captain James Gordon (Jeffrey Wright), Batman isn’t the embraced trusted saviour of the city. Yet.
But his efforts are recognised, if not openly acknowledged and it’s a good thing that Reeves has opted to focus solely on Batman’s journey, as the almost three hour film is packed tightly with a strong narrative, sharp action, a great soundtrack that builds on the past, yet unfolds tightly in all of its freshman glory, and of course, supported by a staple of every great Batman tale – a definitive array of Batman’s rogues that needs no introduction.
No, really, because we’re seen them before. The big three here – Penguin (Colin Farrel), Riddler (Paul Dano) and Catwoman (Zoë Kravitz) – have previously appeared in earlier outings, though not in this particular combination and yet, there is nothing familiar about these individuals. And that goes for Pattinson’s Batman/Bruce Wayne and Alfred (Andy Serkis) as well, as Reeves has crafted a masterpiece that focuses on the lesser focused detective elements from Batman’s 80-plus years of comic book history.
If you’ve ever felt that Tim Burton’s Batman (1989) grounded the character from the 1960s TV show, and Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Trilogy did the same to the movies that came before it, Reeves’ version actually makes Nolan’s movies seem too comic book-like.
Without an origin story, the movie opens with a brutal murder that sets the sombre tone of the film, and no, this is not an all-ages appropriate movie. If the dark crime isn’t a sign, it will become more apparent immediately after, as time is spent delving deeper into the violent history and current conditions of the city itself. Batman’s appearance in the past year has brought fear into the city, but can one man effect change? This is not the confident Caped Crusader who has a lock on the inner workings of his beloved city, as Pattinson brings a level of deep action alongside angered frustration to his Batman, one who wants to succeed and believes that sheer will has to get him there.
His only friend is Gordon and while Wright’s take is somewhat similar to Gary Oldman’s take in the previous Nolan trilogy, there is a greater sense of certainty and no-nonsense attitude with Gordon here. He realises Batman is a necessary evil and while there is recognition that both men are not friends, there is an unshaking trust in both that teases audiences on the strong future both men are destined to have.
But while Batman knows what he needs to do, Bruce Wayne doesn’t. It’s easy to put on the cowl and start pummeling thugs and villains, but Bruce Wayne is as equally important here, and unlike the facade seen in all other outings, Reeves is keen to show the evolution of Bruce Wayne, not as the millionaire playboy or any other false alter egos that is being projected, but as a boy who lost his parents all those years ago, and has to deal with the legacy of being the last remaining Wayne family, one of the founding names behind the great city.
Pattinson himself has been at the receiving end of plenty of jokes and disses, since most only know of his turn as a glowing vampire from his first successful movie franchise of young adult novels turned film adaptations, but few realise that he has been making great strides as a serious actor in the last decade, and The Batman provides him with a great opportunity to showcase his acting capabilities, much like how Christian Bale dominated his turn as the Goddamn Batman.
Hidden behind the bravado is a hurt child who believes in his duty and sees nothing else, not even the value of his long and perhaps somewhat hostile relationship with Alfred, who bears the brunt of some of Bruce’s pompous attitude, as the minds behind this movie wants audiences to see the journey that one man must take, to become who he’s destined to become. He just isn’t there yet. This arc runs in tandem with the storyline established in several of the Year 2 comic book storylines that have come out in the last 40 years, though Reeves makes it clear he’s paying homage to the creators who helped established the character’s legacy before him, and not adapting any one story from the comics.
It is only when he meets Selina Kyle aka the cat burglar, that Bruce Wayne sees the same hurt and pain in another, and how she, without his privilege, had to overcome to steel herself in this brutal, unfair world.
Catwoman isn’t named in this film, and that’s fine because this movie is about Kyle, and Kravitz shines as a driven but loyal friend who wants justice, but on her terms. Other than Gordon, she is the second character who spends more screen time with Batman, and their doomed relationship, which has been extensively covered in the comics but never to this extent on film, is the heart of this movie. Here are two people bonding through parallels in early childhood tragedy, trying to make sense of their world, and doing what they must.
Kravitz shines in the few moments when she is on screen, be it face to face against Batman, or showing why Kyle is not just some damsel relying on someone to save her. She knows she needs the Batman, but just as much as he needs her, and their partnership in the final act is a well deserved one. This more modern take on Kyle matches her more recent outings in the comic books, taking certain liberties with the classic character, but building her up as someone with the capacity for both good and taking revenge. If there is a sequel, Kravitz needs to return and continue the exploration of the relationship between the Bat and the Cat.
When it comes to the villains, it’s not about how well Dano or Farrell adopt their new personas, but what comes next? The Penguin is the embodiment of every crime lord in Batman’s Rogues Gallery, from Black Mask, Rupert Thorne to Salvatore Maroni, using his position to defy the law and lay claim to the city. But this isn’t some over the top performance by Farrell. In fact, Farrell is totally unrecognisable in this film, giving off a strong Robert DeNiro as Al Capone vibe ala The Untouchables. Sure, John Turturro is beside him as Gotham City crime lord Carmine Falcone, but Farell’s Oswald Cobblepot is the real menace.
His screen time isn’t much, but if you’ve seen the trailer, there is a chase sequence between Ozzy in his Maserati and the Batmobile, and that chase sequence, aside from being realistic, in intense and the majority of the reaction, aside from audiences, is seeing Ozzy respond and react to a brutal vigilante tearing down the freeway trying to catch him. It’s just Farrell talking to the camera for the most part, but we feel every false victory and sense of relief he experiences, up until the moment he is caught.
And there’s the Riddler. Even in the comics, the character is somewhat of an intellect who wants to outsmart the World’s Greatest Detective, and uses puzzles to toy with his intellectual equal. Here though, Reeves has made him the embodiment of every crazed criminal to ever plague Batman. Dano’s Edward Nashton is more than misguided as he’s the Joker, Mr Zsasz, Two Face and even Hush rolled into one, and what’s scarier is that his mission is the same as Batman’s – they both want to clear Gotham City of the human disease and corruption, and both are willing to go to extremes to get the job done. Interestingly, his methods might be disturbing, but his goal is not a selfish one. It’s unfortunate that Dano is pretty much masked up for the first two acts in the film, and we don’t get to see his portrayal in its full glory, but when we do, it’s amazing how he’s made a one-note comic character into something so intense and evil, yet still look like the boyishly innocent looking Dano.
One wonders what Reeves can do next, should he get a chance to make a sequel, but it seems like Reeves has it all planned out, since he actually inserted a fourth, unnamed rogue at the end of the movie. Given the similarities between this Riddler and who we think this rogue is, it will be very interesting to see where Reeves will bring the story, and audiences.
Given the more than obvious nods to the neo noir mood and mise-en-scene of films such as The French Connection and Se7en, Reeves is pushing the realism here, though because this is Batman, there will always be a fantastical element that no one can escape from. Audiences will wonder about Batman’s bulletproof suit that can take machine fire and a close range shot in the chest from a shotgun, and just as you wonder how much more powerful this Bat-Armoured suit is, there’s the appearance of the Bat Wingsuit. The film doesn’t explain where Batman gets his wonderful toys, some of which are rather unbelievable, and just like putting a Fast and Furious chase scene in the French Connection, it’s somewhat out of place.
Interestingly enough, the new Batmobile is a menace on its own, and is both a practical vehicle and a smaller Tumbler with the same viscous attitude that strikes fear to those staring it directly in the headlights, or being at the receiving end of its flaming afterburner. You’ve seen the vehicle in the trailers, and read up on it but it takes seeing it tearing up the streets to realise how much of a partner it is to the Batman mythos.
And credit needs to be extended to composer and Reeves’ frequent collaborator, Michael Giacchino. Giacchino has made his name with imposing soundtracks from the recent Star Trek reboot trilogy, and Sony’s recent Spider-Man trilogy, and The Batman will go down as the project that places him firmly in the exclusive leagues of top-end movie composers the likes of John Williams and Hans Zimmer.
His ‘The Batman’ track from the movie is memorable, definitive and brooding, but contains a surprisingly rousing element that blends action with sombre mood, which is itself a repeating theme throughout the movie. At close to three hours, the movie is long but quick pacing, strong visuals and an immersive soundtrack helps to push the movie along, even at points where it seems as if the movie is over, but it still moves forward. Time is spent to ensure that things are wrapped up, and while the final act that follows Batman might seem out of place, it’s actually about the man under the cowl, and what he discovers about the people of Gotham and himself.
Intense, brutal yet uplifting where it needs to be, The Batman is a comic book movie that doesn’t follow a tried and tested formula, but continues to set its own tone and rules for other comic book superheroes to follow. He is the Batman after all.
GEEK REVIEW SCORE
The Batman might not be an origin story, but it is the start of how Batman begins, and Reeves, along with Pattinson, have embarked on a beautiful journey that unlocks further questions and makes us stop wondering who Batman is – we’re just ready to go wherever this dynamic duo takes us.
Story - 10/10
Direction - 9.5/10
Characterisation - 10/10
Geek Satisfaction - 10/10