This review does not contain spoilers.
It’s another rainy night in Gotham. The streets are shrouded in shadows. Up in the murky sky, a small beacon of light: the bat-signal, a warming to the criminals of the city. The Batman is coming – and unlike his predecessors, you can even hear his footsteps…
There’s a pervasive mood through Matt Reeves‘ The Batman, accentuated by Greig Fraser‘s shadowy cinematography and Michael Giacchino‘s ominous orchestral score. We’ve seen dark and gritty Batman before – in fact, almost all of the caped crusader’s big-screen adventures have fitted such a description – but there’s something exceptionally moody about Reeves’ version. Gotham feels dirty, and you really can picture Batman emerging from any of the many, many dark corners. The screenplay, written by Reeves and Peter Craig, emphasises the detective aspect of Batman more so than any film before it, in a sprawling, slow-burn murder mystery with clear influences from David Fincher‘s Se7en and Zodiac.
Despite his face being covered by the iconic cowl for most of his screen-time, Robert Pattinson brings some real nuance to Batman: he’s brooding, yet also thoughtful, with a fragile look in his eyes. And while he may be early in his vigilante career, his morals are solidified immediately – this Batman does not kill. His partner in fighting crime is GCPD Lieutenant Gordon, played by Jeffrey Wright – the perfect Jim Gordon if ever there was one – and it’s great to see the two characters actively working the case together, albeit separated somewhat from the rest of Gotham’s police. Colin Farrell (disguised under some incredible make-up) is strong as the Penguin, although his role feels more like set-up for future instalments, but the real villain here is Paul Dano as a reimagined version of the Riddler. Hidden under a Zodiac killer-influenced mask, and with his voice distorted, it’s up to Dano’s manic delivery to sell the threat, and he does so superbly. The highlight of the entire cast though is Zoë Kravitz as Selina Kyle/Catwoman: seductive, impulsive and generally kick-ass, Kravitz is sure to become a fan-favourite, and her femme fatale dynamic with Pattinson’s Batman is a joy to watch.
I imagine that The Batman isn’t exactly what some audiences will be expecting: it does take its time to unravel the mystery, and the action sequences – while excellent – are few and far between. The big Batmobile chase is shot in tight close-ups, emphasising the intensity of the chase rather than the spectacle, while many of Batman’s hand-to-hand fights are shot in near-darkness, with the dark knight often silhouetted. The Riddler’s point-of-view introduction feels like something out a horror film, with his muffled breathing surrounding the audience in a feeling of unease. Parents should be warned that this isn’t a Batman movie for younger audiences, exemplified by the BBFC’s 15 rating.
In some respects The Batman feels like the perfect Batman movie: a neo-noir thriller, dripping with atmosphere, utilising the rich cast of characters in Gotham City. Just when the third act threatens to veer off into something quite generic, the film saves itself with a brilliant finale and a great conclusion to Batman’s arc. While several key story beats are left deliberately open-ended for a sequel, it is a satisfying narrative. Quite where future instalments could go without re-treading familiar ground I’m not sure, but if Matt Reeves and his team can offer up more Batman films to this level of quality, fans should be very excited indeed…
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