By Callum Webb
Matt Reeves makes a statement in this latest incarnation of the legendry Dark Knight to prove there is still plenty of life within the franchise.
As soon as the opening credits start, it is immediately clear that this is not like any other movie version of the Batman.
Instead of a hard-hitting score, we are treated to the haunting melody of Ava Maria by 19th centaury composer, Franz Schurbert. It becomes clear that the uncomfortable breathing noise is coming from the individual whose perspective we are looking through.
We zero in onto an apartment where a man who we learn to be Gotham City Mayor, Don Mitchell. He plays along with his young son who then goes with his mother to enjoy a night of trick or treating.
Unfortunately, it is the last time the family will see the man alive.
Our time with Mayor Mitchell is cut short as his head is caved in by the man we know as the Riddler (Paul Dano) in an almost animalistic rage. The heavy and laboured breathing through his mask as much a unique character trait as Heath Ledger’s Joker’s constant licking of the scared insides of his mouth, and this will not be the only time comparisons can be made with the character of the Joker.
The scene establishes the kind of antagonist The Riddler will be. Controlled, organised and scary in his dedication, but when the opportunity arrives, the psychotic madman underneath lashes out in a frenzy.
It is after this that we meet our Batman (Robert Pattinson) as he stalks and patrols the grimy streets of Gotham both as the Caped Crusader and as an undercover Bruce Wayne.
The scene and diary monologue are definitely reminiscent of Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, the contempt of society, the self-righteousness and the desire to unleash violence on whomever he deems worthy and deserving. Some of the dialogue from Pattinson might be considered occasionally on the cheesy or over the top form, “I don’t care what happens to me.” but as an actor, he plays it so seriously and for real that it works for this version of the character.
This Batman is not like the other versions. There is no playboy façade, only a young grieving man who has still yet to move on from the loss of his parents.
The movie does an excellent job in demonstrating that this Dark Knight is far from confident in his abilities and does not yet know when to stop. He fights with fury and often unneeded brutality. Fear is his greatest weapon rather than any gadget.
Whilst debatable, it can be argued that this Batman is also by far the most human as he often makes rookie mistakes and gets hit a lot, not to mention the many times he gets outsmarted.
Going with the more grim tone, even Batman’s dedication to his war on crime comes across less like a traditional heroic mission and more as a maladaptive addict, this is seen in his appearance. He is tired and on-edge, looking pale and sickly, a young man in his mid-20s who has aged prematurely. His nocturnal activities taking both a physical and mental toll that is beginning to effect his ability to run Wayne Enterprises: the very legacy his father left behind for him.
This was a clear change from the portrayals of Bruce Wayne by Christian Bale and Ben Affleck, who had an almost superhuman power to act as the goofy bachelors that make the cover work after staying up all night battling criminals.
Zoë Kravitz is sensational in her role as Selina Kyle, better known as Catwoman.
Acting as one of the Mob’s serving girls, she convincingly changes from tough as nails street fighter who does not hesitate to go one-on-one with Batman, to a seductress capable of charming the unsmiling and stoic Batman within a heartbeat. Kravitz and Pattinson’s chemistry works so well, their character’s personalities meshing into an engaging dynamic, and the arc of Selina forcing Bruce Wayne to get off his moral high horse and see that few are as lucky to be born into privilege like him, and most do not choose a life of criminality by choice. No doubt Catwoman’s blunt referral to some of the Riddler’s victims as “white privileged assholes” will irk plenty.
The trio of Batman, Catwoman and Riddler are helped by a strong supporting cast who are capable of standing on their own merit. Jeffrey Wright thrives in the role of Lieutenant Jim Gordan, yet to be Commissioner by that point.
Like Gary Oldman before him in Christopher Nolen’s Dark Knight trilogy, he actually pulls his weight and gets down to helping where it matters. Gordan being the John Watson to Batman’s Sherlock Holmes as they work to uncover the Riddler’s murderous endgame that could tear down Gotham with a conspiracy that goes all the way to the top of Gotham’s hierarchy. Many of the scenes with the two investigating are extremely influenced by David Fincher’s classic murder thriller, Se7en, often following the Riddler close behind but just out of reach as they realise this is not a normal serial killer.
Colin Farrell plays his part extremely well as the jovial Penguin who brings comic relief to a movie that truly needs it. Just seeing the prosthetics, which reportedly took him four hours per shoot is a testament to the dedicated and talented make-up department that worked on this film as it is to the actor himself, who looks and sounds like a totally different person. His highlight and moment to shine being able to outsmart Batman and Jim which caused the audience an audible chuckle.
Alfred Pennyworth played by Andy Serkis is the most radical big screen portrayal of the character, clearly in-keeping with the spirit of the Sean Pertwee version from the TV show, Gotham. A gruff and blunt cockney Londoner instead of the usual refined and elegant English gentleman.
While John Turreto is perfectly serviceable as gangster, Carmine Falcone, he often feels overshadowed by the many more interesting characters around him, and cannot break through the role of a generic Mafia boss despite the efforts to make him into an engaging threat.
While Alfred has some great scenes – the one at the hospital being an acting highlight for both Serkis and Pattinson – the character feels very much underused throughout the film, not getting to do much and even almost dying in Bruce’s place does not have the impact on the story as one would expect.
The movie takes heavily from the neo-noir of the 70s. the constantly fume and fog creating a suffocating environment that invokes feelings of slowly approaching claustrophobia and decline. Despite being three hours long, the movie’s great pacing never feels slow or bogged down.
The Riddler’s Zodiac Killeresque appearance is mixed with the Joker in the Dark Knight, the Riddler’s disturbing shaky camera pre-execution video of one of his victims to the media is highly reminiscent the Joker’s own murder video.
While some might accuse the Riddler of being a rip-off of the Joker, Paul Dano’s ability to truly portray a more subtle type of instability in seemingly normal looking people as in 2007’s There Will Be Blood allows him to work give a standout role that will likely define the Riddler character for some time to come.
Isolation is a key theme of this movie. Each of the characters are loners in their own ways. Bruce isolates himself away from society when not in his suit, and even from Alfred, the closest thing he has to family. Even his relationship with Gordan is more akin to a purely professional relationship than any sort of friendship. Selina fends for herself after the death of her close friend, aside from the occasional partnership with Batman.
Even Riddler is alone, aside from some fringe internet followers who only make a brief cameo. He entirely works by himself to see his plans through.
The ending will likely divide opinion. Personally I ended up rolling my eyes when I realised they are setting up yet another Joker. Not helped by an audible confusion as the reveal fell somewhat flat, as some audience members were not sure who this was meant to be.
Batman has such a great rogues gallery, it feels like Warner Bros is playing it safe to go back to the Joker, which feels like a waste as Matt Reeves shows what he can do with an underutilised characters like the Ridder.
For those of us who desire something different and intimate from the never-ending and increasingly confusing Marvel Cinematic Universe era of superhero movies. The Batman offers both new and familiar simultaneously. If your favourite things are angst, murder mystery and Nirvana, undoubtedly this will be an all-time favourite.
The Batman is now playing exclusively in theatres.