Strap in, everyone, blockbuster season has officially begun. It’s the first opportunity for Hollywood to return to some kind of normal release schedule since 2019, and who better to bring back the crowds than The Dark Knight himself?
Robert Pattinson’s debut as The Batman is the 8th Batman-related film in the last decade. It won’t even be the only one this year – Michael Keaton returns to the cowl for The Flash and Batgirl, while an animated Bruce Wayne will appear in DC League of Super-pets (no, really). Why so much Bat-content? There are few singular characters as popular, with even the maligned Ben Affleck films (Batman V Superman, Suicide Squad, and Justice League) making $2.2 billion between them. But what can the former Twilight star bring to the role?
Directed by Matt Reeves (Cloverfield, Dawn of The Planet of The Apes), The Batman is the story of the beginnings of Bruce Wayne/Batman (Pattinson). In year two of his crusade for justice, the billionaire orphan questions whether he is making a difference as Gotham’s crime epidemic worsens. He must put those doubts aside, however, when a new serial killer named The Riddler (Paul Dano) starts targeting corrupt members of Gotham’s political elite. With the help of Selina Kyle (Zoe Kravitz), Batman investigates the link between the killings, finding some shocking revelations along the way.
Fear not, Bat-fans. There’s a refreshing absence of CGI monsters and people screaming for Martha. This is a grittier world with more in common with the Nolan films than the wackier follow ups. It is, in essence, a detective story, with elements of David Fincher’s Se7en as well as the Arkham video games. There’s no magic powers or super serums, this is an analogue world with heroes and villains who work within the realms of reality. Reeves’ Gotham is gloomy and narrow, with gangsters and crooked cops rather than mutated supervillains. Like his Apes sequels, there’s a grounding of truth mixed with fantastical elements.
While we’re spared an origin story (do we really need to see the Waynes being shot again?), it’s refreshing to see a Batman who is still learning. He botches escapes, misses details, and his tech is a bit more industrial than the sleek gadgets we’re used to seeing. Pattinson’s Bruce Wayne is different, as well. There’s no suave playboy persona, he’s a recluse with long hair and twitchy mannerisms. There’s no desire to present a front, or even maintain his business interests. This Bruce is obsessional, like a detective who can’t let go of a case. While not as muscular or intense as previous versions, Pattinson’s Dark Knight feels right for the world Reeves has created. This is a hero with the potential to grow over several films.
Rather than your basic hero vs villain battle, the plot is pieced together with Batman and Jim Gordon (an excellent Jeffrey Wright) visiting different corners of the underworld. Kravitz’s Selina Kyle is their help on the inside, a streetwise thief with a personal link to the criminals involved. The simmering chemistry between Pattinson and Kravitz is interesting, because the former is more vulnerable than his predecessors. The Cat is able to get under his skin.
There are moments of absolute majesty, especially when coupled with Michael Giaccino’s epic theme. Moments like the Batmobile whirring into life, or the climactic rooftop battle, make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. That said, if there is a fault it’s that this is a world that’s been visited a lot over the past few years. Various elements bring to mind films from the past and invite comparison, not least Dano’s over-the-top Riddler, which feels like a muted take on Heath Ledger’s Joker. Equally, Andy Serkis is memorable as Alfred, but seems to flit between the softer sentimentality of Michael Caine and something edgier. These don’t make The Batman a bad film, just one that has its work cut out trying to forge something new.
With a surprise coda that will leave fans gasping for more, The Batman is all the fun you’ve been hoping for. Choosing to be gritty and real just as Marvel zooms off into the Multiverse was a smart choice, and provides a crowd-pleasing first chapter to a new franchise.