Considering how many times the character has been brought to the big screen, its impressive that Matt Reeves has found a new take on The Batman. Reeves take on the character is one we haven’t seen on screen, “early Batman.” Its a Batman who isn’t confident in his ability, gets hit, shot and loses fights (even to goons) and makes clear mistakes. Its a refreshing and interesting take and if this is a Batman we will see develop over a series of films (which I’m sure we will), it will be rewarding to see the character develop.
This take on Batman is also much more detective. Aspects of that were shown in Christopher Nolan’s version but here is solving a case rather than going out each night looking for heads to smash. As a comic book fan, its refreshing to see this version of the character finally on the screen, as a movie fan, its great to see a “superhero” movie presented as more of a crime thriller.
This is a movie which has more in common with Seven or Saw than it does the previous superhero versions of Batman. There is a case to be solved, as The Riddler, in this version much more of a serial killer in the vein of Jigsaw, lays traps, leaves clues and sets a cryptic puzzle for Batman and Lieutenant Gordon to solve. And solved it is, slowly and methodically, with the reveals making for a compelling mystery rather than just a series of easily found breadcrumbs that lead us to each next set-piece.
That doesn’t mean that The Batman doesn’t have the required action though. There are a series of impressive action sequences which stand-up against earlier version of the character. The opening sequence where we see the fear that The Batman has placed in the criminals of Gotham shows that there are new ways to present this and when we finally do see Batman, he doesn’t disappoint. Its brutal, raw intense fight sequences which don’t feel overly choreographed but resemble much more of an actual scrap. This is followed by a great introduction of the Batmobile, with a chase which is quick but effective. Add to this sequences which Catwoman or a nightclub throw-down and there is plenty of opportunities to see The Batman in all his vigilante glory.
Reeves’ other issue was always going to be bringing characters to the screen that we have seen done tons before and played by some iconic actors in the past. Reeves casting was superb though and each actor delivers on their version of their familiar characters. Robert Pattinson plays a Batman who isn’t about stalking in shadows but using brute force and up-front intimidation and it works. His Bruce Wayne is more reclusive and brooding, representing the early version of the character you’d expect. Its a character who can grow and there is a confidence to Pattinson which shows he will handle it ably.
A superhero movie is only as good as its villains though. Paul Dano is a perfectly demented Riddler. He treads a fine line between threatening and silly but the sequences where he captures his victims show a different type of horror we haven’t seen in a Batman film before. Once the mask is taken off, his motives are clear and well-realised and Dano gives a performance you want to see again in future movies.
Reeves is setting up a world with characters we can return to, so although not the principle villain, Colin Farrell’s Penguin is a believable gangster who will get opportunity to develop later. Hopefully the same can be said of Zoe Kravitz Catwoman as well. There were also the safe hands of Jeffrey Wright as Gordon, playing world weary and tired of crime as well as Gary Oldman did, Serkis gives a new version of Alfred that we haven’t seen before and its always great to see the familiar but secure performances of the likes of John Turturro and Peter Sarsgaard. This is a cast and world which can be developed and hopefully Reeves gets the chance.
To say The Batman is not a superhero film would be a fair assessment and because Reeves has decided to lean closer to a crime thriller, it struggles to deliver the knockout punch finale that it feels a Batman film needs. The finale is in-line with what has been built but doesn’t satisfy enough in the terms of stakes or action like you feel this film would need to stand toe-to-toe with The Dark Knight, but there is plenty of chance to build this up going forward.
Overall, The Batman is a refreshing, original take on well-known characters. The tone of the film is different, straying much more towards crime thriller than superhero. Reeves builds a world full of well-realised characters that you will want to return to. It also helps that each actor delivers on their performances, particularly Pattinson and Dano. Look past the slightly underwhelming finale and this is a worthy entry in a long line of impressive Batman movies.
Rating – 4
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