The Batman

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The Dark Knight Rises, the last of Christopher Nolan and Christian Bale’s Batman trilogy, was the second film I reviewed on this website when I started it nine years ago. Since then we’ve had six more films with this character*, half of them featuring Ben Affleck and half with a little Lego man playing the legendary superhero. These, it has to be noted, were far from being his second and third incarnations. Nope, there have been more Batmen than Bonds, more Dark Knights than Doctor Whos and markedly, more Caped Crusaders than Clark Kents. The is certainly not his first time hitting the streets of Gotham.

*seven if you count the young Bruce Wayne in Joker

The challenge for writer/director Matt Reeves then is to do something original with the character. One refreshing aspect of this first in a new trilogy/series/wider connected cinematic universe (let’s see where they go), is that this is indeed not his first time hitting the streets of Gotham. This Batman, like Tom Holland’s Spider-Man, arrives almost fully formed some time into his one man mission which is a bit of a relief. Thank god we didn’t have to watch his mother’s bloodied pearls fall to the floor again. Outside of this though it could be seen as business as usual; with Jim Gordon, the Bat Signal, the Bat Mobile, Penguin, Riddler, Catwoman, Alfred, Arkham Asylum etc etc etc.

Still though, this one manages not to feel quite like any other Batman film. First off the Bruce Wayne persona is totally different, there is no billionaire playboy here. This guy is leading a secret life but he’s not really leading a double one. There is a line about the mask being his true face but that doesn’t mean much when he is fundamentally the same person with his mask off or on. Most other interpretations of this hero, on screen at least, have been gone to great pains to show the contrasting sides of the man, but this one does not. Maybe this will come later but it is currently missing something because there are ways of keeping this in but still playing with it.

The Batman also works hard not to feel like a superhero film, having another genre more in its sites. If Joker was Taxi Driver pushed through the lens of the comic book story, then this does the same with LA Confidential or Zodiac. It is a million times more successful in this than Joker though as it gets the balance right and doesn’t insult its audience by asking them to examine real world issues alongside cartoon ones. This film is certainly gritty but it is still consciously depicting a fictional world. Also, in what I’d like to think is a deliberate challenge to Todd Phillips and Joaquin Phoenix’s movie, The Batman distinctly condemns incel culture, rather than giving it a poster boy.

In fact, The Batman is so successful as a dark crime thriller that I wonder if it would have been better without the Batman. The character and the mythology are so intertwined in the narrative that it is hard to separate them but there is a story here without the famous story. Similarly none of the great iconography in the film is actually connected to this. There is some fantastic imagery with cars and machine guns and explosions but none of it is around capes and cowls.

So it is that conversations about how Robert Pattinson compares to Bale, Keaton or Conroy are kind of redundant (there’s no conversation to have at all around any of the other actors). Pattinson is great but is still perhaps being more one note than he is capable of (see previous comments). It isn’t all on him though because around him is an excellent group of performers who work more as an ensemble than a supporting cast. Zoë Kravitz is a good Catwoman and again doesn’t play on the history of this like Anne Hathaway or Michelle Pfieffer did. Andy Serkis, rejoining Matt Reeves after the last two Planet of the Apes films, does what he needs to with Alfred and an unrecognisable Colin Farrell does a superb take on the Penguin. (Seriously, I looked and I looked but I could not see Colin Farrell in there at all.) Jeffery Wright is always effortlessly brilliant but his Jim Gordon might be the most standard interpretation of any of these characters. Best though, is Paul Dano as the Riddler, closing the book on a Batman villain as definitively as Heath Ledger did before him.

The question going into this was always going to whether or not we needed another Batman movie. The answer to that probably remains no but if you ask if we needed a new, epic cop drama with intrigue and action and that manages to keep you tightly engaged for its huge three hour running time, then it’s a yes.

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The Ripley Factor:

You may have noticed when I was running through the cast earlier, that there was only one woman. To be fair I didn’t mention Jayme Lawson as mayoral candidate Bella Real but then I didn’t talk about John Tuturro, Peter Sarsgaard or Rupert Pendry-Jones either. This is undeniably a man heavy film but Kravitz is still a key part within it.

She is also key to the marketing which is no doubt about appealing to a wider audience but anyone that comes to it this way won’t be disappointed. Kravitz’s Catwoman is driven, capable and smart and they downplay the traditional sexiness of character, or at least they play it differently. When portrayed by Michelle Pfeiffer in 1992, Selina Kyle was a victim fighting back against a bullying patriarch whereas with Anne Hathaway in 2012 she was in command from her first moments. Here she is midway between these two things but it doesn’t feel like anything has gone backwards.

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