The Batman Review: Robert Pattinson Is The Darkest Knight We've Ever Seen
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Featured Image Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures
Hidden in the chaos of the DCEU, The Batman is the bloody, down-to-earth element waiting to strike. Fear the cowl, feel the hype; this is the dawn of the darkest knight.
There’s Michael Keaton, who dared us to get nuts in a steampunk metropolis. There’s Christian Bale, the hero the people of Gotham deserved, but not the one they always needed. Then there’s Ben Affleck, a hulking hero among gods and monsters.
Our newest caped crusader seeks a new breed of justice; he’s a man who’s locked his guilt and madness away, and stepped through the door into rage, pounding hapless goons into damp, grimy streets. Riddle me this, riddle me that, you’re not ready for Robert Pattinson’s Bat.
We open on the peering, raspy point-of-view of The Riddler (Paul Dano), eyeing up Gotham’s mayor from afar to the unsettling melancholy of Ave Maria. It’s not a brief gambit; the frame hangs inside the binoculars until it gets under your skin.
His first appearance flashes through the darkness into a scream, his eyes static but inescapable like that of a portrait, sporting a roughshod mask and green mask à la Dead Man’s Shoes, and carrying out his frenzied deeds with an unnerving squeal. A soprano choir emerges in the horror – amazingly, one of the biggest mainstream movies of the year is reminiscent of Kill List.
Meanwhile, on October 31, Bruce Wayne (Pattinson) creeps and blends through the rainfall upon Gotham’s bustling residents, living as a ‘nocturnal animal’ and choosing his crimes to halt. ‘I can’t be everywhere,’ he says, acknowledging the limits of a mere human in a cape, but warns, ‘We have a signal for when I’m needed… fear is a tool.’ Little does he know, this Halloween is about to become the longest of his life.
Batman’s origins must rank among the tritest in pop fiction. Mercifully, Matt Reeves (who directs and writes, with Peter Craig co-penning the script) doesn’t subject us to the alleyway massacre and tumbling pearls. This ‘Year Two’ Gotham, vigilante and its miscreants are fully-formed: Selina Kyle (Zoë Kravitz) moonlights as a cat burglar; Carmine Falcone (John Turturro) has the city in a vice grip; and Oswald Cobblepot’s (Colin Farrell) descent into The Penguin is only starting to take course, though not quite as literally as Danny Devito. Alfred (Andy Serkis) resents Bruce’s angst and self-destruction, and wishes him to preserve the Wayne legacy behind closed doors, not in the gutters of scrappy superherodom.
The story sprawls beyond its comfort and grip at times, particularly given the beefy near-three-hour runtime; it feels long, there’s no doubt, but not too long. The inevitable dive into the city’s infectious corruption feels a bit tedious and tired – we’ve seen similar in The Dark Knight and Joker – compared to The Riddler’s raw, vicious prowl through Gotham’s elite, leaving Zodiac-y notes and videos with that breathy, screaming drawl. He brings a Jigsawish flair, and Reeves sustains the neck-vice tension; remember the Joker’s torture tape in The Dark Knight? It’s that vibe for the whole movie.
Joaquin Phoenix aside, Dano’s performance makes the best Bat villain since Heath Ledger’s Clown Prince – and who knows what else might be in the pipeline? Kravitz is a beguiling, dynamic presence, and I truly hope we see more of the Bat and the Cat together, especially after Anne Hathaway’s one-and-done turn left us with an itch we’d never scratch again. Seriously, how good was she in The Dark Knight Rises?
Michael Giacchino’s score rips hard with its triumphant, toe-tapping motif, twinkling into something more hopeful with Catwoman, creaking with the Riddler’s puzzles, and enhancing all of Batman’s knuckle-breaking tussles into giddy euphoria. One moment with the new Batmobile (a muscle supercar that would get the nod from Dom Toretto) literally had me bouncing in my seat; the engine crackling like thunder, its lightning ignition stunning me into a state of awe, with the composer turning the ‘BRAM… BRAM-BRAM, BRAM, BRAM’ up to 11. It’s the exact feeling I wish more action blockbusters conjured, like it was lifted straight out of my childhood imagination.
Grieg Fraser is evidently a force to be reckoned with: Killing Them Softly was the first real illustration of his cinematography talents; Dune will likely bag him his first Oscar; and his work here is spectacular, extra impressive taking into account the film’s almost-constant state of darkness. He engages with shadows so they transcend murk, capturing sparks of gunfire like fireworks, but retains the overall atmosphere of a horror-thriller; think Se7en, but overall more gothic.
It’s only occasionally undone by wonky blurts of CGI, particularly jarring when the action is so grounded; one bizarre creative choice with Batman’s flying really rubbed me the wrong way, and made me long for the epic elegance of Bale’s gliding crusader. This is Reeves’ playground, and he directs it with all his vigour. Strangely, he’s somewhat underrated, despite releasing banger after banger with Cloverfield and the rebooted Apes trilogy. Bar the aforementioned flying, it’s a clear moment-to-moment illustration of a filmmaker’s vision, and with so many predecessors, it somehow manages to feel fresh and entice us for our next trip to Gotham.
That feat also rests upon Pattinson, defying the daft naysayers with a Batman destined for screen legend (much like every other Batman, in fairness). This is the scariest the hero’s ever been, more resilient, adept and ruthless in fights than we’ve ever seen. If anything, the movie needed to reign in the corruption stuff and explore his Byronic psyche deeper, so his performance could hit us beyond the anger, beyond the fury – no matter how cool that is on its own.
It’s easy to root for him, but his permanent glumness could be better understood; this lack of emotional richness starves his scenes with Alfred of anything substantial in the heart, and his narration is an overly obvious echo of Watchmen’s Rorschach – thankfully, in this world, Batman doesn’t need to step into the shadows with complaints or regret. He is the shadows.
From grin to wince, The Batman is the big-screen light only the dark knight can provide. Reeves and Pattinson deliver the caped crusader’s most brutal movie yet; like a Bat out of hell.
The Batman hits cinemas on March 4.
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