By: John M Jerva
It seems that every time a new actor is announced to play Batman, fanboys go into a tailspin because they feel that the powers that be have made a colossal mistake in casting. I remember when Michael Keaton was announced back in the 80’s, everyone pretty much couldn’t see the actor as the Dark Knight. Then we had Val Kilmer and most infamously George Clooney and yes sometimes that backlash is warranted. Then there was Ben Affleck. I feel that his announcement was the worst of all in terms of fan reaction as society pretty much threw their arms up in disbelief that the actor who made Gigli was going to don the cowl. Then something funny happened. People actually saw Affleck as Batman and to this day, he is one of the favorites amongst fans all over the world. There’s even a movement going on now to get Warner Bros. to make Afflick’s standalone Batman film. Funny how things turn out.
Now we have Robert Pattinson stepping into the outfit and playing the world’s greatest detective. Yes, the actor from Twilight. Unfortunately, Pattinson will forever be stereotyped as the emo vampire from that blockbuster franchise, and it doesn’t even matter that since then, the versatile actor has turned in many great performances in mostly indie fair. Pattinson is one of this generation’s finest actors and it’s a shame that some people can only see him as Edward.
Now before I go any further, I want to go on record in saying that Batfleck is still my favorite interpretation of the DC superhero, and I was devastated when it was revealed that he was stepping down from making his film which would have seen him clash with Joe Manganiello’s Deathstroke. To say that this version would have been epic is a major understatement and a severe missed opportunity. I’m holding out hope that maybe one day, we will see this movie get made whether it be in theaters or on HBOMAX but I’m not holding my breath.
Director Matt Reeves has stepped into the role of helmer to this latest incarnation of Batman and while it’s not the awesome sounding Batfleck effort, Reeves has still crafted a brooding and bruising neo-noir style crime thriller with a horror tinge that stars one of the world’s most popular anti-heroes in a whole new light…or a whole new darkness if you want to be completely accurate. This film won’t sit well with some die hards but as a lifelong fan of all things Batman, I’m here to say that in my eyes this is one of the best Dark Knight films ever made.
To be frank, I went into this movie thinking that it wouldn’t do anything new for the character or this universe as we’ve had so many iterations over the years. We’ve had six, count them six, actors play the role in films alone so this newer attempt could have just gone the safe route and deliver nothing new to the formula. Going in, I truly thought that Reeves’ vision would be on scale with Nolan’s trilogy as it seems those films are the staple to which any further attempts at the character would be measured up to. That is so not the case here.
This entry has Gotham City basically coming apart at the seams with rampant crime and poverty and to be honest, it looked like New York City in the 70’s. The whole intro is like something out of Death Wish as Pattinson does an eerie voiceover, and we are thrust into this world of unease with criminals ready to strike at any moment. The whole movie is essentially shot at night with a constant deluge of rain coming down giving the aesthetic a rather unpleasant appeal and it’s definitely not a place you would want to visit.
There is something lurking in the shadows however and it strikes fear into the hearts of all evil doers. There’s a lone vigilante prowling the streets and he is summoned by a shining light in the sky in the form of a bat. This lone symbol puts shivers down criminals’ spines and even though there are some that disregard it, most cower at its very sight.
A new threat however has emerged and it’s in the form a relentless serial killer who is preying on Gotham’s political elite. This new scourge calls himself The Riddler and he is set on exposing all who he believes has lied to the city. Why is this madman preying on the city? Well, that’s a question to be answered by seeing the movie as this will be spoiler free.
The Batman takes place during year two of Bruce Wayne’s campaign as “The Bat” and I found it enormously refreshing that Reeves doesn’t give us yet another origin story. Here, the director drops you right in the middle of it all as Wayne has already been doing his thing for a few years now, but he has already struck up an uneasy alliance with Gotham’s police Lieutenant James Gordon, played with severe gravitas by Jeffrey Wright, who is solid in all of his scenes. Wright portrays this well-known character with a sense of honor and justice, but you can tell that he’s jaded by the years he’s been on the force. He works with The Batman but even he is still unsure of the elusive crimefighter but at this point, he’s willing to try anything to get the job done. The rest of the force is clearly uneasy with the “freak” in a costume as he simply walks onto crime scenes trying to help and solve crimes. This film really does show Batman using his detective skills as he navigates an almost CSI style investigation into the murders.
Like I said, this one takes place early in the early days of Wayne’s campaign as Batman so here Pattinson plays him rough around the edges as he is still trying to find out who he is and what he’s doing. This Batman is more violent as he has little control over his brutal tendencies as he won’t kill anyone, but he sure will beat the living shit out of them. He does proclaim that he is vengeance which solidifies his blunt force reactionary tactics. Most interpretations of Batman on screen have given us a much older and wiser version but here Pattinson’s portrayal is one of a beginner carving his niche in the world.
Pattinson clearly won me over and even though he’s not number one in my heart, that still goes to Affleck, he’s certainly in my top three. I’ll let you to try and figure out who the third one is. Pattinson is a gifted actor who is much more than that blockbuster franchise that gave him fame and here he delivers a tortured performance as a Bruce Wayne who is not yet that billionaire playboy, we all know. This is melancholy Bruce Wayne who still has deep scars of his childhood.
The scene stealer here, however, is Paul Dano who plays, hands down, of the creepiest villains you’ll ever see in a comic book themed movie. His portrayal of The Riddler is something straight out of a David Fincher film and it is a cringe worthy (in a good way) representation that we’ve never seen and is a far cry from Jim Carrey’s over the top, comedic performance in Batman Forever. When he is in full on wardrobe, Dano looks like he belongs in a Saw movie and I’m pretty sure he’ll invade people’s nightmares after watching this. My personal favorite scene of his is when Batman finally comes face to face with this evil and Dano really punctuates the unhinged vibe that he’s going for.
Zoë Kravitz and an unrecognizable Colin Ferrall really pack a punch with their performances as well with Kravitz delivering a sympathetic, low-key performance with her Selina Kyle/Catwoman. She’s tough and ready but also shines a misunderstood tone to her scenes and she has almost flawless chemistry with Pattinson onscreen even though he’s always in batman mode when they talk. Ferrall is at his scene chewing best as The Penguin and he radiates a creepy aura to him with dark humor. His performance as the Penguin might turn some fans off as it deviates from the comics, but I felt it perfect for the type of movie this was.
Andy Serkis, who plays the next evolution of Alfred Pennyworth is more of an extended cameo as he is only in a hand full of scenes, but he still makes an impact and has an interesting relationship with this Bruce Wayne. Their relationship is more complex as I felt Bruce hasn’t fully gone into trust mode with Alfred and there is some tension between the two. This is the early years, so I believe this is them before they merge into what we all know. As Carmine Falcone, John Turturro, proves once again that he is severely underrated as he is one of cinema’s elite character actors. Tutturro brings a sliminess to his role as the criminal mastermind and factors into the plot as we see it unfold in the film’s second half.
The Batman really pushes its PG-13 rating and I did feel that it actually should have been rated R because of its tone and subject matter and there are several scenes that will scare children. This isn’t a Batman film you should bring the little ones to and even though there isn’t excessive violence and profanity, the look and feel compares it to a dark and formidable horror film. It definitely pays a little homage to Seven and really pushes the boundaries of the subject matter.
Now, of course, I’m going to talk about the action and with the running time at nearly three hours, I’m going to say that this movie isn’t loaded with action set pieces. It is essentially a dark crime thriller with beats of action peppered throughout and we get two major sequences which consists of the grand introduction to this Batman’s Batmobile and the rousing finale. The car chase is a definite highlight, and this Batmobile is a rad interpretation of the iconic vehicle and a long way away from Tim Burton’s version. This vehicle is just badass and on steroids and even though we see the money shot of it jumping through fire in the trailers, it’s still a crowd pleaser when you see it on the big screen.
A smaller, low scale action scene is actually my favorite and again this one was in the trailer also (don’t you hate it that trailers give the best things away?) but it is still a standout, and it consists of the Dark Knight making his way through a darkened hallway full of heavily armed criminals. The scene is dark and only punctuated by the light of the machine gun muzzle flashes and it simply looks beautiful and barbaric all at the same time as you only see Pattinson’s Batman take down the enemy by the light of the goon’s guns.
The climax is as advertised as well and even though I felt that the final battle was a little rushed, it still delivers the on edge feeling and taut, tense electricity in the air as our hero runs a gauntlet of Riddler lookalikes. The fight choreography in this scene and throughout the film as well is finely tuned and is shot magnificently with wide camera angles as it holds back so we can see all the action take place on the screen. One of the biggest complaints I had of Batman Begins was that the fights suffered from the choppy, shaky edits but here Reeves does his job to show us the beatdowns and exhilaration.
In terms of my favorite Batman action set piece of all time, that one will always go to the warehouse scene in Batman V Superman. That scene is just executed to near perfection and Affleck is spot on with stellar fight choreography that almost illuminates a Hong Kong flair to it. The fights in this one are more stripped down and punishing with a more savage Caped Crusader at the helm.
The Batman is a grand entry but not without its flaws as there was no reason why it had to be 2 hours and 56 minutes long. Some of the scenes do go on for far too long and it would have helped if they trilled 20 to 30 minutes off as there is some filler to be had. A movie doesn’t have to test your bladder to be epic and here it definitely warranted some trimming. I say this because I saw it in a theater, but I might change my mind once I watch it at home and can pause and come back to it. It might have been my neurological disorder talking but I did zone out a few times.
There is also a cameo from a certain villain at the end of the film that I felt was forced and cliche as he has been teased before for future adventures in the other films. Bring on some new villains in the Rogue’s Gallery and not the same, old same old. It might just be me but that’s how I felt on that subject.
Another case in point is this Batman must still be learning how to be the ninja that he is because we get scenes where he casually knocks on doors to get into places and just simply walks around. I thought he was supposed to be stealthier in his execution, but I digress as this is probably a Batman that is still learning on the job. Maybe in the next movie, he will swoop in from the skylights and make more of a grand entrance.
The score from Michael Giacchino is a true highlight of the movie and it helps that it’s memorable and risk taking for a comic book flick. The music ranges from eerie to beautiful to bombastic and I loved how the initial theme was switched up to go with the type of scene was on. The action is really enhanced from the score and that’s how you know that it’s a good one when you can remember what it sounded like
In terms of superhero main themes, my top three are John William’s original Superman followed by Hans Zimmer’s Man of Steel. The latter is especially a favorite of mine and gives me chills every time I hear it. It just screams superhero epic. It’s just a coincidence that they’re both Superman films but I throw in Danny Elfman’s iconic music from Tim Burton’s Batman featuring Michael Keaton as another go to one of mine. A close runner up to these picks would be the main title theme to The Avengers which would represent the Marvel Studios side of things. The more I listen to Giacchino’s haunting music, this one keeps rising on my charts.
All in all, The Batman is a beautifully grim and dark entry for the character and even though it goes on for a little too long, it still compels the audience with rich characters, exciting action set pieces and a brooding atmosphere that oozes a dirty and horrific texture to the proceedings. Robert Pattinson won me over with his take on it and even though he was a little too somber for my taste, he still was solid. I would like to see his character arc evolve for any future installments as it was at the ending here and switch it up a little as he goes through the years of operating as Batman. We’ve seen this before from him so evolving as Bruce Wayne is clearly the next step.
The cast is terrific, and everyone delivers a true love letter to this beloved character that is definitely different and daring and not for everyone. This version is a nice compliment to the DCEU and while they do their own thing over there, this potential franchise has the makings of being a classic. Let’s not forget to mention that we are getting two more Batmans this year as Keaton and Affleck are set to reprise their creations in The Flash. It really is a great time to be a Batman fan.
In terms of where this ranks in with the rest of the movies, I’m not sure yet. I’ll have to see it more to fully appreciate and make a decision like that. I will say that Keaton’s two films will always hold a place in my heart as they were my first foray to this character on the big screen, but Reeves’ vision is a top three for sure.
To end this review, I will say that The Batman is a bold and brave new take on a character that’s been around for generations and Pattinson has taken it and made it his own. This one is more of an acquired taste but if you open your mind to what it’s saying then you will surely enjoy the ride even though it’s a grim one but it’s a grand film with epic scope that will, without a doubt, become a classic in the genre.