Robert Pattinson and Zoë Kravitz in The Batman (Warner Bros.)
It might be too much to call The Batman a reinvention of the superhero tale that has been done and redone over the past several decades, but the latest take on the Caped Crusader does what it can to find a different perspective on a group of characters with which audiences are very familiar. Tim Burton envisioned Gotham City almost literally as a Goth fairytale, while Joel Schumacher emphasized the cartoonish elements, to lesser effect. Christopher Nolan made the definitive version of the Batman story, culminating in The Dark Knight, the pinnacle of superhero heroes brought his technological wizardry to what he fashioned into a crime saga. Whatever followed that was bound to be a disappointment, but nearly anything could have been better than Zack Snyder’s version that teamed Batman with the rest of the Justice League.
The Batman series has always played with cinematic conventions in the way that other superhero movies haven’t, in part because Bruce Wayne is tethered to the real world in the way that an alien from the planet Krypton is not (as the Affleck version admits, his superpower is that he’s rich). A Batman movie can be a crime drama, a film noir, or as this version is, a serial killer thriller. Instead of choosing to follow in the path of Christopher Nolan, Matt Reeves made The Batman into a David Fincher movie, taking obvious inspiration from Seven and Zodiac. And instead of portraying Bruce Wayne as a wealthy playboy by day, this version starring Robert Pattinson makes him into a sulking Emo kid who definitely listened to My Chemical Romance as a teenager and even wears guyliner as a billionaire adult.
Any Batman movie is less about the plot than the villains and antiheroes who drive it, and The Batman is the same. Zoe Kravitz appears as Catwoman, this time more an uneasy ally than adversary. She’s good in the role, but not as wonderful as she was in the superbly effective Steven Soderbergh film Kimi on HBO Max. Colin Farrell dons a fat suit and prosthetics and is unrecognizable as The Penguin. It’s a transformation much like Jared Leto in House of Gucci, albeit less cartoonish. And taking over the role of The Riddler is an actor just about as far from Jim Carrey as one could imagine: independent film mainstay Paul Dano. The overarching plot of The Batman has Bruce Wayne investigating the deaths of Gotham politicians at the hand of The Riddler, who leaves clues and puzzles to indicate his next moves.
The Batman adds some interesting tweaks to the typical Batman story. The character is usually hyper-competent as a vigilante, but in the Reeves version, Bruce Wayne hasn’t quite mastered his craft as a hero. This isn’t an origin story, but Pattinson’s version of the character hasn’t quite figured everything out yet in the way that Christian Bale’s did so effortlessly. This adds a bit of frailty to the character that fits with Pattinson’s haunted, almost gaunt appearance. Pattinson has shown himself to be a talented, fearless actor since the end of the Twilight franchise, and that fearlessness often leads him into Nicolas Cage-style depths of weirdness. Pattinson dials that back just enough to make the character mainstream-accessible yet distinct. Reeves further tweaks the Batman persona to integrate him into Gotham City in a way that previous versions have not. Batman works side-by-side with the Gotham police (with Jeffrey Wright as Jim Gordon). It’s Bruce Wayne who is the recluse this time, appearing only once outside of Wayne Manor.
The film, which at three hours is drastically longer than it should be, has a less polished feel than the Nolan blockbusters, which stacked its cast with legendary actors and the biggest stars of its era. The Batman goes for an odder selection of actors chosen seemingly for their idiosyncratic personalities. A Robert Pattinson Batman was never meant to go against a Jack Nicholson; a Paul Dano is more appropriate for the mood here. The result is a movie that doesn’t reinvent the Batman franchise altogether, but still finds enough of a different perspective to revitalize it.
In theaters March 4th
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