In the last ten years, DC’s live action “Batman” has been rebooted three times, with Ben Affleck recently exiting the role of the caped crusader without getting his own standalone film. When I heard that Robert Pattinson would play Batman in his own trilogy, I was cautiously optimistic, but like the “Spider-Man” franchise, I was weary of the franchise having so many resets in such a short amount of time. Still, a fresh start with Batman is what DC needed after its Extended Universe imploded.
“The Batman” sees Pattinson play a younger version of the titular character, in a Gotham City we can reasonably assume takes place in the current day due to the technology seen in the film. He’s been Batman for a little while, having formed a partnership with James Gordon (Jeffrey Wright) of the Gotham City Police Department, and he starts the film already having a bat signal and a reputation that’s widespread enough for him to strike fear in street-level criminals.
The film’s inciting incident comes when Gotham City Mayor Don Mitchell Jr. (Rupert Penry-Jones) is killed by the mysterious Riddler (Paul Dano) in the middle of his reelection campaign, which is the first in a series of murders Riddler commits aimed to expose the criminal underworld of Gotham, and the mobsters that actually control the city through violence and corruption, which eventually sweeps in Bruce Wayne through the sins of his father, Thomas Wayne (Luke Roberts), who was killed in the middle of his own mayoral campaign decades earlier.
Riddler in this film is depicted as an unhinged killer bent on exposing the hypocrisy of Gotham City, while enacting his revenge on it through acts of violence. He communicates to Batman and the police mostly through sick jokes and cyphers, donning a green leather mask with a voice changer and binding his victims in duct tape — he feels like an amalgamation of a few different real-life serial killers rather than the traditional comic depiction of him that often sees him don a green leotard and suite with a bowler hat and question mark cane.
Oswald Cobblepot/The Penguin (Colin Farrell) also serves as a secondary villain in this film. He’s not quite the top crime boss of the city, but he’s in its inner crime ring, and it is through his nightclub that Batman meets Selena Kyle/Catwoman (Zoe Kravitz), who works there when she’s not committing burglary. Penguin has a few key scenes, and Farrell is great as him despite being caked under layers of makeup, but he is mostly used as a vehicle for Batman to get closer to the truth behind the film’s mystery. Catwoman, on the other hand, serves as a partner to Batman, and Kravitz and Pattinson have some great on-screen chemistry that will hopefully deepen as the trilogy moves forward.
Crime boss Carmine Falcone (John Turturro) also serves as a major minor character essential to the film’s mystery as to what the Riddler wants, and how deep the corruption in Gotham City is. Falcone is soft-spoken mafia boss who doesn’t want you to know how important he is, who prefers to operate in the shadows. While he only has a handful of brief scenes — not enough for a proper arc — he’s a great background character who serves his purpose in the narrative well.
Pattinson gives a very strong performance as Batman, and I think there is a compelling case to be made that he is the best live action Batman. There’s a lot of time dedicated to him doing tedious detective work, which is appreciated, which flesh out his take on the Dark Knight as someone who is intuitive, resourceful and quick-thinking. However, while in combat, we see him have this inner rage that drives him to beat criminals on the street with his bare hands. He’s clearly more emotionally-vulnerable and more unsure of himself than previous live action interpretations of the character, which work in the context of a Batman still in his early years.
However, the criticisms that have been made about his portrayal of Bruce Wayne being weak are valid, because we rarely see his version of the billionaire/playboy/philanthropist, but the film does justify it. This version of Bruce has lived a very sheltered existence, being raised by his butler, Alfred Pennyworth (Andy Serkis), and had to be in a very emotionally-unstable position to become Batman, whom he’s been long enough not to make embarrassing rookie mistakes, but isn’t experienced enough not to let villains like Riddler, Penguin and Falcone manipulate him. He’s a billionaire by default, but hasn’t learned the benefits of maintaining a lively public persona, and he seems completely removed from the daily operations of Wayne Enterprises.
A notable point of the film is also about how he’s disconnected from the plights of the poor and how he hasn’t been involved with philanthropy. A big reason why he’s slow to catch on to Riddler’s agenda is because he grew up in a mansion, far from the poverty that’s overtaken the city, and it’s a main source of his character growth.
Director Matt Reeves brings to life one of the best versions of Gotham City we’ve seen so far, with it feeling absolutely gritty and disgusting, while maintaining a fantastic level of personality. The criminal underworld he focuses on is also rich with corruption and malice, and this is a very good-looking film full of color and deep contrasts.
The film’s action scenes work, but the quality of its fights are really hit-or-miss. Watching this film, you get a sense that Reeves is really great at directing actors, but he isn’t good at directing action. Most fight scenes work because they’re in service of a good story, but the fights themselves are clunky, unfocused, and occasionally really bad, with many devolving into Batman just punching people in the face repeatedly. It’s a big step down from Affleck’s graceful Batman fight sequences, which unfortunately will be forgotten because of the overall quality of the films they were in. They don’t break the film by any means, but they do lead to a few awkward moments that might garner a chuckle, and they are definitely a major area in which the film’s sequel will need to improve upon.
Overall “The Batman” is a fantastic film that far surpasses “Batman Begins”, but falls short of “The Dark Knight.” Pattinson has started his trilogy on a very strong note, and I look forward to seeing more of his version of the world’s greatest detective.
“The Batman” gets an 8.5/10