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‘The Batman’ review: Moody and stunning detective story

Does the latest reboot bring a fresh take on the Dark Knight, or is he trapped in familiar territory?

When Christopher Nolan rebooted the Batman film franchise with Batman Begins in 2005, not only did it lead to a trilogy of intelligent blockbusters that presented the Dark Knight in a realistic fashion, but began a trend that would shape a lot of subsequent superhero movies, which is the dark, gritty reboot. We saw it happen to Marc Webb’s The Amazing Spider-Man, and Josh Trank’s Fantastic Four, and most notably when Zack Snyder collaborated with Nolan to reboot Superman with Man of Steel, which began a shared cinematic universe that introduced its own Batman and multiple DC superheroes, leading to mixed results. 

Although Snyder was taking cues from what Nolan was doing, movies like Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice were too gloomy and lacking a sense of fun, without realizing that The Dark Knight Trilogy still had to function as summer blockbusters. Originally conceived as an instalment of the DCEU with Ben Affleck directing and starring as its eponymous hero, Matt Reeves’ The Batman functions as its own beast that doubles down on the dark realism and instead of evoking the neon-blue of Michael Mann’s Heat, its Gotham City is drenched in rain like David Fincher’s Seven

Robert Pattinson plays Bruce Wayne, an orphaned billionaire who has operated for two years as the vigilante Batman. With no time for philanthropy given his family’s legacy, he wonders if his time as the Batman is actually making a difference in the crime-ridden Gotham. Meanwhile, a series of murders are committed by the mysterious Riddler (Paul Dano). Teaming up with Lieutenant James Gordon (Jeffrey Wright) and Selina Kyle (Zoë Kravitz), Bruce investigates these murders that uncover a conspiracy that ties in with the corruption that has plagued the city for years. 

Similar to Spider-Man: Homecoming, by this point, everybody knows who the Batman is and what are his origins as this film makes the fresh choice of not showing yet another version of Thomas and Martha Wayne getting gunned down. However, Reeves’ film acknowledges the well-established tragedy through a number of meanings, whether it is Bruce seeing his vigilantism as a way of continuing his family’s legacy, even if it is not as clean-cut good as he hoped as the story progresses. In terms of being an origin story, it not only explores how the Batman could become more than a creature of the night to scare criminals, but also how Kravitz’ Catwoman and Colin Ferrell’s Penguin become their comic book archetypes. 

Surrounded by an incredible cast, Pattinson spends most of The Batman in the cape and cowl as his Batman has great chemistry through the noirish relationship with Selina and the buddy cop partnership with Jeffrey Wright’s Gordon. However, when it comes to his Bruce Wayne, who is more emo than billionaire playboy, it feels like an extension of Edward Cullen from Twilight. That said, he shows more warmth and compassion with Andy Serkis’ Alfred, who doesn’t have enough scenes to make that relationship the emotional core. Much like her character, Kravitz steals the show as she has the lively presence compared to her moody co-star, whilst her subplot carries a lot of the emotional baggage. 

Although you could argue Nolan was somewhat above the comic books when making his Batman trilogy, despite collaborating with screenwriters who take inspiration with the source material, Reeves and co-writer Peter Craig have a greater respect towards the comics, such as Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale’s The Long Halloween. In terms of cinematic presentation, Reeves and cinematographer Greig Fraser presents a world that is mostly drenched in the rain, but is atmospheric and stunning, with an element of horror, not least in the creepiness of Paul Dano’s Riddler, resembling the real-life Zodiac Killer. 

There is action, from a car chase featuring the Batmobile to a third act climax that things typically go boom in these kinds of movies, but most of the narrative embraces Batman’s detective side, which has been ignored in previous movies. You are watching a murder mystery that is close to three hours long and thus it does overstay its welcome with numerous plot threads, some of which don’t have a clear through line, whilst setting up a Batman shared universe, including one sequence that is an obvious sequel setup. 

the batman
‘The Batman’ review: Moody and stunning detective story
The Batman
In a post-Nolan/Snyder world, Matt Reeves’ The Batman presents a different enough take on the Batman mythos that is moody and stunning, whilst showcasing its eponymous detective in a vulnerable and psychological light.
Reader Rating0 Votes
A well-played ensemble cast, with standouts such as Zoë Kravitz's Catwoman and Colin Farrell's Penguin.
A sprawling murder-mystery that grounds its comic book-inspired setting, with a hint of horror.
A murky, but stunning Gotham, beautifully shot by DP Greig Fraser.
Robert Pattinson earns the title of the Dark Knight Detective...
...though his Bruce Wayne leans too hard on the emo side.
Clocking in at three hours, the film does overstay its welcome with a lot that happens, some of which are there to set up this new shared universe.

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