To bring a new angle to a well-worn story is a difficult task, and one which many shy away from. The principles of Batman are so established that setting up another iteration may feel pointless at best and exploitative at worst, yet there is always the possibility that something great might come from it. The trailers and marketing for this new version of the caped crusader have, after all, been refreshing and exciting, presenting its central hero as a dark and brooding character consumed by guilt. It looks dark, dangerous, and perhaps difficult to watch, but is it even worth seeing?
Fortunately, The Batman is outstanding. By setting the story in Bruce Wayne’s second year as Batman, director Matt Reeves has set up an entirely different way of presenting a familiar tale. Also, by ignoring the usual family-friendly aspect of superhero fare and leaning as far into the darkness of Batman lore as possible, Reeves has also crafted an adults-first piece of proper cinema. It stands up as strong as Burton’s two Batman films and Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, in the upper league of great comic adaptions.
Robert Pattinson dons the cowl this time around, and as with every other Batman ever cast there was a heavy backlash to his name appearing, yet as usual he exceeded expectations. He is a strong actor with a commanding presence and here he shines, diving into grief with reckless abandon. It is a very physical performance, but one well-executed and with surprising depth. This is not a Batman of morality, nor one of righteousness, but rather a violent force seeking vengeance. It is refreshing and compelling to watch.
The villain of the piece is a Zodiac-inspired Riddler played with panache by Paul Dano. A lot of the delivery is in the voice and Dano does this delightfully, though when he is given the opportunity to show his face he truly shines. He is an inspired casting choice, as although he has played similar roles before he is more unhinged than I have ever seen him.
In a more enigmatic role, Zoë Kravitz reprises her role as Catwoman from The Lego Batman Movie, and she does a fine job of being the control amongst the chaos. She is calm and focused, and her delivery is sublime, with this being perhaps her best performance to date. Her character is complex and flawed and given so much more than a love interest or antagonist.
The surprise here, however, is Colin Farrell as the Penguin. Dressed up in prosthetics to the point where he is barely recognisable—only his eyes give him away—he gets to shout and pout and say the best lines of the film. He is subordinate to John Turturro’s crime boss, and his layered villain is excellent. Turturro is also very strong, but that is to be expected from such a respected old hand. He gives as good as he gets and pulls the film together.
In fact, there is not one weak performance in this film. Jeffrey Wright simmers with quiet rage as Gordon and Andy Serkis fills Alfred with humanity, whilst Peter Sarsgaard squirms as the District Attorney. All in all, the acting and writing are consistently great. The biggest moment for me was not a human being, though, but rather an inanimate object, as what is a Batman film without the Batmobile? Reeves teases it before we see it in full, and then the actual introduction of the car is the best I have witnessed. It whines and growls and roars in the darkness as if it is some giant beast ready to pounce, and I sat grinning like a ten-year-old soaking up this monster. What a car.
If you like Batman, or superhero films, or not, this is one to watch. I think everyone should see this film. It’s long, yes, and dark, and moody, but it is a fascinating character study and most of all it is surprising. The Batman is brilliant, and I will be back to watch it again and again and again.