Disclaimer: The Batman is a film that will reward repeat viewings down the line, and even without that, there’s a lot here to digest and unpack. These thoughts below are but a brief, immediate response to the film.
As Nirvana’s Something in the Way plays over an early monologue of dark, brooding Batman narration – “I’m not in the shadows, I am the shadows” or words to that effect – it’s very clear what tone Matt Reeves’ The Batman is going for. This is a grungy, emo take on the character and his world that firmly puts the dark in dark knight.
It’s always risky to reboot a character as iconic as Batman, who has already had so many cinematic adaptations – especially ones so beloved in film fans’ hearts, like Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight. Reeves’ neo-noir take brings the character back to his roots as the film takes on more of a detective story approach, and at three hours long, The Batman certainly comes close to indulgent – but the extended runtime is rarely felt thanks to the genuinely compelling mystery at its core.
As psychotic serial killer The Riddler (Paul Dano) targets Gotham City’s elite during Batman’s (Robert Pattinson) second year fighting crime, the nocturnal vigilante finds himself journeying deep into the seedy underbelly of the perpetually dark, rain-soaked city to uncover the haunting truth behind the murders.
With echoes of David Fincher‘s Zodiac and Se7en felt throughout, The Batman often feels like more of a serial killer mystery/thriller than a superhero film – Dano’s Riddler is especially haunting; his unforgettable scenes could have easily been pulled straight out of a horror film. Pattinson is certainly one of the quietest and most disturbed iterations of the character yet, putting in a stunningly restrained albeit brutal-when-required performance. The supporting cast – Zoë Kravitz, Jeffrey Wright and an unrecognisable Colin Farrell as The Penguin are all mesmerising. But as is the case with a lot of comic book films, The Batman belongs to its’ villain and Paul Dano is flawless.
The film looks and sounds utterly stunning – the production design is impeccable, offering the most frightening and truly alive Gotham City ever seen on screen. The score is also top-notch, with Michael Giacchino delivering the finest Batman theme to date. Sorry Hans. The action is thrillingly visceral with every punch felt, and stunningly choreographed. There is a lot to love here.
But The Batman is not without its’ issues. As mentioned, the extended runtime can veer dangerously close to indulgent as the film desperately crams itself with twists and turns. There is a lot happening and the film can be quite exhausting as a result, even if it is engrossing. And the grungy approach can certainly feel quite pretentious and laughable – the repeated use of Nirvana feels almost like a spoof while the (thankfully sparingly-used) narration certainly doesn’t help that issue.
On the whole, though, The Batman is an unmissable cinema experience that will almost certainly go down as one of the finest caped crusader adaptations.