Released: 3rd March
Seen: 10th March
When it comes to DC, they really seem to have a problem when it comes to this whole cinematic universe thing. Actors don’t want to stick around (in some cases, understandably considering how they’re treated), stories don’t line up and their big attempt to do “Marvel, but edgy” blew up so badly that it’s going to necessitate The Flash movie to effectively wipe the slate clean so they can try again.
Of course, that movie’s been delayed several times but they have decided to make a thing out of letting auteur directors do darker one-off stories with some of their characters. They did this previously with Joker, now they’re doing it with The Batman and of the two I have to say, this Batman does a lot better than his clown prince counterpart did.
The Batman begins with a murder, specifically the murder of Gotham City mayor Don Mitchell Jr.. His murder is so strange and shocking that Lieutenant James Gordon (Jeffrey Wright) has to call on The Batman (Robert Pattinson) to help investigate. Soon they realise that this murderer goes by the pseudonym The Riddler (Paul Dano) and he is going to kill all the corrupt crooked members of Gotham’s law enforcement until people start to do something about it.
In order to find The Riddler before he kills too many high powered people, The Batman must do some investigations which will have him cross paths with a cat burglar named Selina Kyle (Zoë Kravitz) and even a disgusting low-level criminal called Oz Cobblepot AKA The Penguin (Colin Farrell). Hopefully, The Batman can work through this rogues’ gallery of assorted bad guys and save Gotham… though doing so might uncover some dark secrets from the house of Wayne.
The best way to describe this movie is by evoking Joker again and pulling out one of my main complaints about that film. Joker was simply The King of Comedy but with funny face paint (you might read my review and see I gave it a 4/5… yeah, that score would be about one and a half stars lower if I did it today) but The Batman is a movie made by someone who saw Seven and Zodiac a few times and decided to use that as a springboard for a Batman story, which ends up making for a much more unique and interesting film.
The scenes of detective work that lead to finding something horrifying really work quite well, the mystery is interesting and when something unnerving is discovered it can really make your teeth set on edge. There’s a lot of genuinely great tension in this film, moments like the opening murder scene or a funeral sequence have more than a few great little touches of suspense that honestly wouldn’t feel out of place in a classic horror film. It helps that The Riddler in this film is genuinely terrifying whenever he’s on-screen in full costume.
I’ll admit when I first saw photos of the design that I rolled my eyes because it felt like it was trying so hard to be so serious but the film manages to make it work, actually justifying the toned down decision. It turns him into a figure of dread, someone who, like Batman, could be hiding in any room at any time and you would only notice if the light happened to catch his glasses…. But that also leads to a problem.
One of the things that makes Batman such a fascinating character is his relationship with his villains and how he interacts with them. There’s a reason they keep bringing The Joker back for Batman stories, because that relationship is undeniably compelling as long as you get the two characters in a room together at some point.
This version of Riddler really only has a one-sided relationship with Batman, namely that he seems to be completely focused on everything that the Wayne family has ever done but Batman barely interacts with him. We don’t get anything close to, for example, the iconic Joker/Batman interrogation scene from Dark Knight or anything as potentially fun as “Riddle me this, riddle me that, who’s afraid of the big black bat” from Batman Forever… it’s just kind of an average detective story but with some outlandish wardrobe choices.
That’s not to say there are no great character interaction moments, every scene with Batman and Catwoman is nothing short of perfection. They bicker, they fight but there’s palpable chemistry in every single moment (Seriously, Zoë and Robert could teach a masterclass in how to pull off this kind of chemistry) and it never gets dull. Speaking of, Zoë Kravitz might be one of the best people to don the Catwoman costume in a while, she basically steals the movie… which is extra awesome when you remember that some idiots thought she shouldn’t play the role (they thought that Catwoman shouldn’t be black… and they claim to be fans of this franchise… I know, I know)
Batman and Gordon are also a lot of fun together, especially in a big escape sequence where they try to figure out how to get Batman away from a bad situation. There are moments where Batman bounces off someone and becomes more interesting as a result… there’s just not enough of those moments with The Riddler, which is the main focus of the film.
It’s a shame because Riddler in this version is a fairly interesting twist on the character, namely turning him into one of those YouTuber assholes who makes videos about how everything is ruining his childhood and everyone should rise up… so the fact this hasn’t pissed off a ton of fanboys is stunning to me, but oh boy does the film not like idiots online who take things far too seriously. It’s a fascinating modern take on the villain that I would’ve liked to spend more time with instead of just sitting with the aftermath of his actions but what we get is interesting.
Speaking of ‘what we get is interesting’, Colin Farrell’s take on The Penguin really feels like it’s a starting point for something a lot bigger. It’s one of those performances that you can tell is going to really go somewhere when they inevitably bring this character back (That upcoming HBO series they just ordered with this character is going to be insane!) but in this film, he’s definitely not fully formed, and definitely not my favourite Penguin (I’m a sucker for De Vito, what can I say) but there’s something about him that’s impossible to look away from.
That kind of sums up The Batman in general, it’s certainly not my favourite of this franchise but there’s something about it that you can’t look away from. Sure it has a few problems, largely pacing issues (it’s 3 hours long but I swear it felt like 4) and a couple of missed opportunities for character interactions but it’s still a really good film that provides an interesting new take on the classic character, enough that they’ll probably at least get me mildly excited about a sequel when that finally happens. It might not be the best Batman, but it’s really good Batman and that feels like something we’ve been missing for a while.