Another generation takes the deep dive into experiencing their very own Batman. Robert Pattinson. Eyebrows were raised when those two words were latched onto the film. But, like when Daniel Craig was cast as James Bond, most people were wrong to doubt the judgment of producers who know which boxes to tick. The Batman will only tick a few of the conventional types, the ones that matter to the marketing department and the producers who want to turn in a respectable but interesting offering of The Caped Crusader’s next adventure. After calming the rocky waters around the potential Ben Affleck standalone film, plans fell through, but in the process opened up the chance to reinvent a character that has lived off of the Christian Bale reputation for some time now.
What Matt Reeves has (correctly) identified is that the eponymous character is only as interesting as the pieces that surround them. Supporting cast members, villains and allusions to the future of the series are just as, if not more important, than the leading character. Paul Dano makes for some great background ballast to a forefront story that concerns itself with gritty crime, something that is thrust into the spotlight frequently but detailed rather sparingly. John Turturro and Colin Farrell are marvellous supporting entities. The crime and corruption they dive into are well-developed and the hushed words around them are just as strong as the references to Bruce Wayne’s family. Strong writing ties that together well with the hijinks of a true-crime inspired Riddler, which masks Dano for much of his performance.
The reveal of the man who once portrayed Brian Wilson in Love and Mercy is a delightfully timed one. Audiences will have no doubt as to who is behind the mask, but the Zodiac-like stature of the character has been awarded a little more praise than necessary. The Batman is a gritty flick, that it is. It is a tense and direct approach to the stripped-back simplicity of a vigilante without the pressure to tie this in here or reference that there, like other, equally successful comic book brands have been doing for some time now. Respectfully absent are the obvious nods and winks to camera that could reference the Christopher Nolan era or the time before it. The Batman feels so wholly removed from the big-budget, well-mapped plans of the Nolan trilogy.
But it does not feel better than that. For all the thrills and investigative work, the strong showing from Zoë Kravitz and an entertaining spot-role for Peter Sarsgaard, The Batman still lacks those integral pieces that make the film an emotional ride. Andy Serkis’ rendition of Alfred borrows that British accent cemented in Pennyworth, rather than the tender blows of The Dark Knight. It is a solid change for Robert Pattinson’s performance as a grunge-influenced Wayne and convincing adapter of The Caped Crusader. Nirvana on the soundtrack may be a rather telling and discomforting way of approaching that, but it gets the job done as Batman is seen brooding, fighting or being shot at. He is beat down, hit with a scattershot of plot developments and a hail fire of bullets, and manages it rather well.
Reeves has pulled together a sincerely interesting piece with The Batman, not just because he steps over the aching problems of all the adaptations that came before it, but because he takes this in a new direction. There is no humour to be found in The Batman, a genuine reliance on strong characters like Jim Gordon, played to the peak of that character’s abilities by the incredible Jeffrey Wright. The Batman will not break down any longstanding comic book quips, but it will do much to disengage from the fatigue of an oversaturated genre, by offering something fresh, interesting, and worth following up on. Its thriller elements have been oversold, and rightly so. Brooding characters, dark lighting and some chilling set designs steer The Batman in the direction of an upcoming series of projects worth keeping an eye on.