Dark Knight Meets ‘Se7en’ in ‘The Batman’
Whether we (still) like it or not, Christopher Nolan’s ‘Dark Knight’ trilogy changed comic book movies – particularly those under the DC banner – forever.
Gone are the days of campy fun, corny jokes, and villains who are equal parts jester and menace. They continue being replaced with realism, “grit,” and baddies whose actions are steered by their societal beliefs rather than money and power in the latest incarnation of Gotham City’s favorite son – Matt Reeves’ ‘The Batman.’
Robert Pattinson as Batman in Warner Bros. Pictures’ action adventure ‘The Batman,’ a Warner Bros. Pictures release. (Photo by Jonathan Olley/™ & © DC Comics. © 2021 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved.)
Having seen the Bat’s origin story ad nauseam, we thankfully skip by that this time and hop right into Bruce Wayne/Batman’s (Robert Pattinson) early days of fighting crime on the streets of Gotham.
Having grown accustomed to Gotham’s typical lineup of crime bosses and violent, albeit unintelligent, street thugs, Batman and the GCPD are taken aback when the mayor is murdered by an incredibly violent and intelligent (by comparison) criminal that calls himself The Riddler (Paul Dano).
As Batman and GCPD Lt. James Gordon (Jeffrey Wright) wade through Gotham’s corruption and bureaucracy, Riddler’s victim’s pile up and nobody, including Gotham’s elite, are safe from his vengeance.
Let’s first address the elephant in the room: Battinson, the sparkly, immortal teenage vampire that grew up to become the Caped Crusader.
And, yes, I realize he’s made movies since ‘Twilight’ was a thing people actually cared about. In fact, I saw ‘Good Time’ before you did and I own a copy of ‘High Life,’ so spare me the “bro, have you even seen …” schtick that’s ruled the narrative of online Team Edward since the casting was announced.
Here’s the thing: when Pattinson is on screen as Batman, he actually does a pretty good job. Despite being in his mid-30s, he still looks young enough to be a young Bats and he’s got the size and physicality to play a credible vigilante superhero.
Robert Pattinson in ‘The Batman,’ a Warner Bros. Pictures release. (Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures/ ™ & © DC Comics. © 2020 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved.)
The problem in his performance crops up when the cape and cowl come off and Batman becomes Bruce Wayne. They can say that Pattinson’s Bruce is (for some reason) influenced by Kurt Cobain all they want, but in reality, he looks more like an almost 30-year-old guy that cosplays as Gerard Way to impress the girl that rings up his guyliner at the local Hot Topic. Any shred of personality, swagger, or charisma he displays as his alter ego disappear immediately, and we’re left with a brooding, mopey, sack of celery. There’s always been a clear delineation between the two, but they’ve always had their own distinct personalities. But not this time.
Thankfully, Batman gets much more screen time than Bruce Wayne.
Zoë Kravitz as Selina Kyle and Robert Pattinson as Batman and in Warner Bros. Pictures’ action adventure ‘The Batman,’ a Warner Bros. Pictures release. (Photo by Jonathan Olley/™ & © DC Comics. © 2021 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved.)
As for the rest of the cast, Wright does an admiral job as Gordon even if I felt he was channeling his inner Roger Murtaugh a little too much. If you like the Rocksteady Studios version of Selina Kyle/Catwoman, then I think you’re going to love Zoë Kravitz in the role. While I would’ve liked to see her with more screen time, she made the most of her time, bringing the depth, energy, and attitude that the character has been sorely missing on the big screen. And, in even smaller roles, Andy Serkis is adequate as Alfred Pennyworth (but let’s face it, nobody is going to come close to Michael Caine), and Collin Farrell’s Oswald Cobblepot/Penguin should be an interesting piece once he’s further explored down the line.
But the true star of the show is Dano. Of the “big” Batman villains, Riddler generally ranks near the bottom of my list, charting in just below Scarecrow and just above Clayface. But Dano’s spin on the character is truly something to behold. He’s sinister, insane, and ruthless – a dangerous and over-the-top threat that would have seemed impossible in the real world had we all not lived through the past 5+ years. Now that we have, it’s not that far-fetched, and that’s what makes it truly terrifying.
Paul Dano as Edward Nashton/the Riddler in Warner Bros. Pictures’ action adventure ‘The Batman,’ a Warner Bros. Pictures release. (Photo by Jonathan Olley/™ & © DC Comics. © 2021 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved.)
With emo Batman, a Riddler that isn’t in the mood for laughs, and a city that’s even more corrupt than its big screen predecessors, Reeves’ vision is dark; and not only thematically. It’s dark, or at least very poorly lit, like, all the time. And it never stops raining. And when people describe it as “noir” they are 100% accurate. Nirvana’s ‘Something in the Way’ simply adds to the bleakness. The whole thing feels very David Fincher’s ‘Se7en.’ Had Batman started asking Gordon what was in a box, it wouldn’t have felt out of place. (Spoiler: there’s no box.)
The good: Pattinson’s take on Batman; Dano’s Riddler; Kravitz’s Catwoman; the cinematography of Greig Fraser; the prospective futures of Penguin and other Gotham villains.
The bad: Pattinson’s take on Bruce Wayne; the running time – at 2 hours and 55 minutes, it’s a bit too long; Andy Serkis isn’t Michael Caine; its realism might not offer the level of escapism comic book movies should offer (I blame the world, not Reeves).
★★★★ of ★★★★★