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The Batman

****
2022

‘This isn’t quite like any previous version of Batman, and that’s a good thing; Reeves and Pattinson have fashioned a grim, desperate super-hero that’s largely in line with today’s hardscrabble times….’

The Caped Crusader returns, but Gotham City ain’t what it used to be; Matt Reeves’ film shakes off the ennui of The Dark Knight Rises and reboots Batman as a three-hour hardboiled detective noir. The results may not sell many toys, but should appeal to an adult audience who yearn for a less kid-friendly superhero franchise than the MCU offers. From the campy 60’s Adam West version to the Gothic, poppy Tim Burton incarnation, the lamentable Joel Schumacher travesties and the dour, muscular Chris Nolan films, Batman movies have reflected the times; Reeves has realised the darkest vision yet, very much in line with DC’s on-going ‘deranged criminals with masks’ vibe. The experiment is largely successful in recasting Batman as a more vulnerable, more mortal agent of good against evil; everything from the Batcycle to the Batmobile is scaled down into something cool but realistic, and for once, the human drama is played up to good effect.

‘Is Bruce Wayne making an appearance?’ asks butler Alfred, and it’s a good question; there’s actually much more Batman than Bruce Wayne here, although Robert Pattinson is terrific in both roles. The usual tired formula, in which Batman is the sparingly-used special effect that catches the baddies for Wayne, is mercifully forsaken; Pattinson is front and centre in an artfully designed Batsuit that never drowns out the performer. Without too much ado, Batman works in alliance with Commissioner Gordon (Jeffrey Wright) to figure out what secret The Riddler (Paul Dano) is leading him to; Gotham City corruption is at the centre of the mystery. There’s encounters with Catwoman (Zoe Kravitz), the Penguin (Colin Farrell, unrecognisable) and a few other familiar faces, but like Batman’s tech toys, radical underplaying is the key. These don’t feel like guest stars in funny-costume cameos, but well-integrated characters in a complex crime story that also features such reliable performers as John Turturro and Peter Sarsgaard. In short, this is a deep noir Batman, short of crowd-pleasing circus action for families, long on glowering looks and tortured backstories.

A few aspects go astray; Andy Serkis feels like a downgrade as Batman’s batman Alfred, some of the backstory is way too convoluted, and the crucial blockbuster element of humour is largely posted missing. But Pattinson excels as the protagonist, full of pent-up, nervy energy, while some of the set-pieces, notable a fiery, explosive motorway chase in pursuit of the Penguin, are pumped-up bursts of adrenaline that elevate this genre piece to real heights. And keeping our spoilers vague, the villain’s torn-from-the-headlines plan, to raise an army of losers to disrupt the free and fair elections of Gotham city, marks The Batman as the first super-hero movie to draw parallels with the January 6th insurrection, even though it was originally written long before.

With some magnificently moody shots of Glasgow’s Necropolis for the final scenes, Matt Reeves’ The Batman is probably the most coherent Batman movie to date; yes, there’s countdowns and last-minute rescues, but not presented in the silly way we’ve seen before, and the results feel dark and more dangerous than the PG-13 certificate would suggest. There’s a key line with relation to the Bat-symbol; it’s usually just a means of communication between Gordon and Batman, but here it’s also a deliberately oppressive warning to all manner of assorted low-lives that their days of freedom are numbered. So, this isn’t quite like any previous version of Batman, and that’s a good thing; Reeves and Pattinson have fashioned a grim, desperate super-hero that’s largely in line with today’s hardscrabble times. Usually, the heart sinks at the thought of further spin-off movies or tv shows, but The Batman’s Runyonesque world of gritty crime and visceral punishment certainly has room for some expansion.

The Batman is on general release from March 4th 2022 in US and UK cinemas.

Thanks to Warner Bros UK for advance big-screen access.

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  1. Terrific. Was it three hours? I never noticed. I followed it with The Godfather Part II and that certainly dragged in places though the pairing would be a double-billers double bill though probably not as good as The Seventh Seal/Orgy of the Dead. Was very taken with Pattinson. I had never been a fan until Tenet and then realised how good he was. Did anyone mention the music – superb. And some of the riddles – is Batman a secret Wordler? All in all very satisfying, brilliantly directed, with a more down-to-earth conflicted hero although we could have probably cut to the chase quicker and I didn’t quite understand the renewal fund. Catwoman a gas. Penguin had more make-up than Jared Leto. Bring on the sequel.

  2. Yes, the “human drama” you mention is the movie’s greatest strength – less pecs, testosterone, and more gumshoe with Nirvana to boot! I liked it! And, I’m not really a fan of the onslaught of these superhero recycles.

    • Same here; and yes, as a super-hero recycle, it works, with a fresh, engrossing view of an ancient IP that brings it back to brass tacks.

  3. Hmm….before reading your review I had my comment already written in my head – that I liked Batman, but between Michael Keaton, George Clooney, Bale, (I missed Affleck) I had seen all the versions of Batman I needed…..but maybe not.

    Also…..Ending Mrs. Maisel at Season 2 is the correct answer.

    Maisel Season 1 = Classic Gilmore Girls
    Maisel Season 2-3 = Year In the Life
    Maisel Season 4 after 4 episodes = Someone yank the microphone!

    • I’m not sure that Affleck’s version ever actually had his own movie, just cameos in spin-offs. Just to set the cat amongst the pigeons, Pattison’s torn face and moody look really make something fresh out of it…

      Thanks! You just saved me about 30 hours of my life! Did I mention that I don’t see Year in the Life as canon? Not seen it…It’s a hot take!

      • I do like Pattinson, and the Twilight series is one of my guilty pleasures.

        The Year In the Life is just…. ugh. Honestly, I watched it twice, trying to force myself to like it. I actually don’t consider Season 7 cannon either, as ASP was not involved. In my mind, I like to end the story (and any rewatches) when Rory and Lorelei reunite in season 6. In my mind, Luke and Lorelei got married and Rory became a professor. April does not exist!

        • These are wise words indeed. I think you’re right about season 7, it’s a headless chicken that doesn’t know it’s dead yet.

          Pattinson has totally proved himself as an actor, as has Stewart. So no shame in digging Twilight, but my anti-establishment subversive take is that New Moon is the best movie in the series…

  4. No, not interested in this film – or wasn’t… hey, hardboiled detective noir may just motivate me to waste away three hours. Might even get me excited for the next reboot! More superhero films in line with Joker and – sigh – The Batman is surely only a good thing.

  5. I was also very excited for this movie until you mentioned that it includes references to the dread date of Jnury 6th. Because that’s what I want in my picture-book-escapism movie: current day politics. Right.
    Tell me it’s a good movie anyway, overall?

  6. I’m very excited by your review. Unfortunately Japan has to wait (AGAIN!) an extra week to see this. [Insert applicable curse word here.] Retweeted this on my (small) Twitter page. Love the sound of this: “hardboiled detective noir.” Batman being a detective, YES!

    • Thanks for the retweet! I wondered before I saw this what a Batman detective movie would look like. But I’d forgotten that having the Riddler as a baddie really opens up opportunities. Do get ready for Batman actually solving things rather than just smashing them or using a fancy gadget. Hope you enjoy it!

        • I was pleased to see our sodium lights, since I guess Gotham city can look anyway they want. Nice shots in and around the Necropolis, big Gothic graveyard. Very cool.

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