by Ian Morton
Batman, over the years, has been through many iterations; some good, some bad, but whatever quality the stories hit our screens in, the return of the Caped Crusader is preceded by nervous excitement. As the buzz builds, hearsay speculating over the Batsuit, the Batmobile, the Rogue Gallery, Bruce Wayne, Gotham City, the Director, the style, the colour palette, the music, the tone – basically everything you can think of, overspills to the point where excitement turns to worry.
2022’s The Batman is no different, with initial casting choices dividing audiences before the first jaw-dropping trailer, revealed at DC FanDome, seemed to shake off fan fears. Worry set in again however, once the film was given a ‘disappointing’ PG-13 rating, raising doubts over the direction the latest iteration was going in and leaving anticipating fans once again in the same dizzying spiral of excitement and worry. Thankfully, after several delays and many, many rumours later, the next chapter in the DC hero’s on screen adventures is upon us and its a pleasure to announce… that it isn’t just good, its great!
Following in the footsteps of Christopher Nolan’s ‘Dark Knight’ trilogy, The Batman moves away from the more fantastical elements of the hero’s back catalogue to tell a more down to earth story. This encourages the audience to think about what the true effect of having a vigilante on the streets would do to crime, in a city already on the brink of moral corruption. After the Mayor of Gotham is brutally killed and a clue is left behind alluding to the villain’s next victim, its up to The Batman and a fresh faced Commissioner Gordon to work together, to take the serial killer down.
Writer/Director Matt Reeves wastes no time with overplayed origin stories or theatre alleyways, side stepping the familiar tropes that character introductions often fall into and choosing instead to focus on a rookie Batman, only two years into his crime fighting career. It’s a bold move but one that throws you straight into the action, without the need for training montages or trips to fighting school.
Filling you with deep unease from the very beginning, the film sets a claustrophobic tone early with tight camera angles and unrelenting close ups; invading the characters personal space and focusing you in on facial expressions in a way that intensifies the darkly brooding atmosphere with each passing frame.
In this sense, the film separates itself from other superhero movies and gives us something new, rejecting open vistas and epic space battles for something more tonally akin to Se7en and cinema Noir. The result ultimately gives the story more time to develop Gotham as a setting, committing equally to the world it creates as much as the titular character.
Like its visual style, the plot completely lives and dies on the premise that the city is not a nice place and on Batman’s role as either a catalyst to its decline, or saviour from its sins. It trims away baggy subplots and sticks diligently to a single narrative to emphasise this, cautiously drip feeding you the plot while at the same time giving more depth to the world the characters inhabit. It’s a brave and mostly successful move considering how much content Reeves had at his finger tips whilst putting the movie together, with only a minor stumble in the films third act as it tries to tie things together. All is easily forgiven though, considering how strongly the events leading to the finale play out, wherein we are given the full Batman experience.
Although the film is first and foremost a psychological thriller, it very much dons an action-movie shirt and tie when the Batman moments happen. From our hero skulking in the shadows, to the roar of the Batmobile, its all there. Infrequent enough to not feel like you’ve seen it all in one sitting but big enough to make your hair stand on end. Fight scenes are very selectively used, giving depth to the character while exploding with all the frenetic excitement you come to expect from the Dark Knight.
This is thanks in large part to a very physical turn by Robert Pattinson, excelling as both Batman/Bruce Wayne in a story that sees both aspects of the hero’s personality on the same page, rather than as two opposing forces. Pattinson isn’t the only one to dive head first into their role though, as the mesmerizingly sadistic impression left by Paul Dano is nothing to sneer at. The ‘Saw’-like serial killer known as ‘The Riddler’ easily steals every moment he spends onscreen. Jeffrey Wright and Zoë Kravitz round things off as Commissioner Gordon and an excellent portrayal as Catwoman respectively, both actors rising to the challenge and elevating the film whenever they’re on screen.
The Batman manages to waylay the fears many had at the thought of yet another Batman reboot by ripping up the playbook and taking the franchise in a new direction. Nolan’s trilogy is a hard act to follow, but it hasn’t daunted Reeves in the slightest, as he confidently takes things in both a new and exciting direction that will impress newcomers and certainly won’t disappoint long term fans.
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