Rebooting a superhero franchise is never the easiest, but writer and direct Matt Reeves takes the pressure in his stride with The Batman, a new take on the classic caped crusader. But far from the past Batman iterations, this telling of the story is a violent, psychological thriller more aligned to neo-noir styles than its comic book origins.
It also does its best to avoid taking the story down the rabbit hole of Bruce Wayne and Batman’s origin story, instead throwing us into the deep end of the story. We open with Batman (Robert Pattinson) still grieving, negative and focused on vengeance, working closely with detective Jim Gordon (Jeffrey Wright) to fight and combat crime in the area. There is a range of high profile murders from The Riddler (Paul Dano), each with a letter addressed to the Batman, and from there Wayne meets Selina Kyle/Catwoman (Zoe Kravitz) as they both learn more about the criminal underworld that envelopes them, including the infamous Penguin himself (Colin Farrell).
Pattinson is a star in the world, playing up the vulnerable side of Wayne in a way that we haven’t seen before. He is no longer the charismatic playboy that audiences have seen before, but rather a distressed and traumatised young man who turns to vigilance as a means to express himself. Kravitz is also excellent, moving out of Anne Hathaway’s shadow of The Dark Knight Rises, and puts up a layered portrayal of the character. She’s sexy and sneaky but also vulnerable. Her moments towards the end of the film really allow her to shine. Dano does well with his limited screentime, though The Riddler generally pervades the story throughout and makes for a memorable villain. Farrell looks unrecognizable and has a fair level of fun throughout.
The Batman draws strong parallels to other films such as Se7en and Saw, as a dark and creepy thriller with a strong character study at its core. It has a gritty realism that deviates from other renditions yet still feels like a spiritual sequel to 2019’s Joker, very much grounded in the perspective of Batman as the vigilante that disrupts the political and criminal world of Gotham.
Much of the problem with the film actually lies in its length. The first two-thirds of the film are electrifying and full of excellent action sequences, high stakes drama and character development. However, in the end, it opts for brawn over brains, with its political mystery thrown away for the sake of high-performance action. The grand plan from The Riddler falls flat and fails to add cohesion with his intent and prior actions. But save for this last hour, The Batman wins as a standalone tale and for what is no doubt likely to be a new trilogy in the years to come.