The Batman Movie Review: A brilliant ode to the great detective
Reeves manages to give a superhero film that is different from its previous versions and yet ticks all the boxes that make the character who he is.
At a time when superhero films are becoming synonymous with stereotypical origin stories, visual effects and set pieces, one of my favourite scenes from Matt Reeves' The Batman is rather slow-paced and has our titular hero (played by Robert Pattinson) and James Gordon (Jeffrey Wright) investigating a crime scene. A horrific murder has taken place, and as you can imagine in a DC film, it’s all darkly lit, the mood is tense, and the words, sparse. "Ecchymosis," deduces the bat, looking at the dead body.
Cast: Robert Pattinson, Zoë Kravitz, Paul Dano, Jeffrey Wright, Andy Serkis, Colin Farrell
Director: Matt Reeves
Google tells me that it means discolouration of the skin resulting from bleeding underneath, typically caused by bruising. As one of the first scenes in the film, it felt like a nod to our hero himself, someone bruised on the inside. Unlike the previous Batman films, this one refreshingly focuses more on the Sherlockian abilities of our hero, an aspect that makes this Batman stand apart not just from previous Batman films but also from the superhero genre in general.
In previous Batman origins films, we have already seen Bruce Wayne’s parents get murdered; we have seen Bruce taking upon the mantle of keeping the city clean. Reeves gets that we have seen it all before and avoids repetition. Instead, we get a young Bat who is a couple of years into the crime-fighting business. Similarly, Gordon is not yet a commissioner; he’s a lieutenant. Selina Kyle a.k.a Catwoman (Zoë Kravitz) is a small-time cat burglar moonlighting as a waitress, and Oswald 'Penguin' Cobblepot (Colin Farrell) isn't a crime kingpin yet, but a mobster hungry for more. The film focuses on the series of high-profile deaths that bring an already ramshackle Gotham to its knees. At a runtime of almost three hours, The Batman is packed to the brim with content that might seem like exposition to the average movie-goer but is a treasure chest for fans of the caped crusader. This is both a boon and pardon the pun, bane.
The Batman breaks ground with a lot of what it has in store both on and off the screen. For starters, Wright is the first actor of colour to portray Gordon. It's also the first time we get a bisexual Catwoman. Interestingly, both Catwoman and Batman, apart from the common daddy issues, do a lot in their regular identity than they do in their alter egos. Selina has her own quest of finding her roommate who goes missing and when that case comes under our Batman's jurisdiction, they form an unlikely duo we have loved for years. On the other hand, Bruce from The Batman is rather unlike the dapper-looking prodigal heir. Here, he’s reclusive, and in place of a party-loving playboy, we get a man riddled with self-doubt and suffering an existential crisis who, in the course of time, learns that hope is not what can be sought from the outside but nurtured from the inside. Pattinson often comes through as a rockstar from an emo band and aces the role of a young man who has to balance both grief and responsibility. We don't see much of Wayne Enterprises; we only get his trusted butler Alfred (Andy Serkis) handling the correspondence. We don't get a military-grade Batmobile; we get a sleek-looking muscle car with a bat-shaped engine. Even the Batarangs aren't weapons to be thrown at henchmen; they are tools to cut through tapes.
Reeves, evident from his brilliant found-footage monster film, Cloverfield, and the criminally underrated Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and War for the Planet of the Apes, is a visual storyteller and The Batman is no different. The film's noir approach pays off and what we get is a visually stunning drama accentuated with a colour scheme that's loaded with hues of black and red. Wallpaper hunters really have their work cut out for them given how many frame-worthy shots make up this film. The rootedness of the film is its biggest blessing. If Joker (2019) felt pragmatic, The Batman builds on that. However, the film does have its share of references and callbacks. We see Batman jump off a gargoyle, throw himself out of a skyscraper and glide through the sky, shoot his grappling gun, and even put his utility belt to use. The one that truly made the fan in me go berserk was when Oswald gets tied up by Batman causing him to walk like... a penguin. Given how this film is intended to launch a Batman-shared universe, with two sequels planned, it wouldn't be far-fetched to say that we have already seen our future Robin. Speaking about references, the scenes involving the Riddler/Edward Nashton (a fantastic Paul Dano), is sure to remind you of films like Se7en and Zodiac. Dano's Nashton who is a brainiac puts Bruce on an edge, and as the cat and mouse game progresses, both characters figure out the true purpose of their existence. This version of Riddler is a far cry from the explosive one from Batman Forever (1995) that was played by Jim Carrey, and the exasperating one from the Gotham series where the role was portrayed by Cory Michael Smith. Dano's Nashton will definitely go down as one of the best villains that our caped crusader has faced on the big screen.
There can't be a Batman film without impressive action and this film doesn't fail to quench that thirst though it’s not as much as you would expect. Apart from a stunning car chase sequence that the trailer ruined for us, the hand-to-hand combat scenes are a treat to watch. The thuds and blows, along with the picturisation, reminded me of the Batman Arkham games. Greig Fraser’s cinematography and Michael Giacchino’s score elevate the mood. On the flip side, it's hard for any three-hour-long film to hold our attention and The Batman is no different. A few sequences do feel, for lack of a better word, stretched. While Batman's banter with Gordon provides for the lighter moments of the film, it leaves you wanting for more, and while we are at it, Serkis' Alfred absolutely deserved more screen time than what he got, and so did Farrell's Penguin.
For those who grew up reading the comics and watching the TV series reruns in the late 90s and early 2000s, and later watching all the reiterations of the caped crusader, The Batman takes yet another long step in showing how the character has evolved from carrying a shark repellent in his utility belt to becoming an antihero fuelled with rage and out to handover vengeance. Reeves manages to give a superhero film that is different from its previous versions and yet ticks all the boxes that make the character who he is: a beacon of hope. The Batman is a brilliant reboot that captures the essence of the titular hero while putting him on a new canvas that the film-going audience has rarely seen, making it the start of something huge. It's the start of something fresh, something dark... And it's understandable because clean slates, after all, do look dark.