There have been many caped crusaders on the big screen; even within the last twenty years we’ve had Christopher Nolan’s acclaimed trilogy, Will Arnett’s satirical LEGO version, and Ben Affleck’s dour turn within DC’s shakily constructed extended universe. Despite this cinematic saturation, anticipation has been rife for the latest adaptation, directed by Matt Reeves, best known for his stellar work on the Planet of the Apes reboots. The Batman sees Robert Pattinson don the cowl, playing vigilante as the deeply disturbed Riddler (Paul Dano) begins a killing spree, leaving clues to his crimes that leads to revelations of government cover-ups and corruption in Gotham City.
With an almost three-hour running time to play with, an intense slow-burn approach is used in establishing the story, an angst-heavy internal monologue setting the scene on the mean, rain-soaked streets. Leaning into the comic’s detective origins but with a grungy twist, the narrative unfolds like a noir mystery thriller as Batman solves the villain’s riddles to drive the story forward. However, the rather basic writing leaves a lot to be desired, with codes being cracked almost instantaneously every time, the investigation swiftly moving from A to B to C, stripping away the potential for intrigue and conjecture.
Action sequences are unremarkable and few and far between as the various subplots take shape, Zoe Kravitz’s Catwoman introduced with a decent, if a little clichéd, femme-fatale origins arc and a power struggle in the mob as they discover that a mole is in their midst. Where the script lacks in originality, the film makes up for in its sound and aesthetics. Cinematography from Greig Fraser is slick and foreboding, taking the dimly lit style to the muddied extreme in some moments but in-keeping with the moody tone of Reeves’ direction, complimented further by Michael Giacchino’s grandiose composition.
It’s impressive in and of itself how talent-packed the cast is, and every performer delivers no matter how much exposure they are given. Weak villains can sometimes be an issue over in the Marvel universe, but it’s an area that DC usually excels in; this time is no different. Hidden behind a mask of scarred prosthetics, Colin Farrell provides glimpses of comic relief in what is otherwise quite a humourless piece. Dano is the highlight though, channelling some of his previous work but crafting a genuinely chilling, deranged interpretation of the one of the franchise’s most enjoyable baddies.
At the dark heart of it all is, of course, Robert Pattinson, who consistently makes interesting choices in the parts he takes on. He’s perfect for Matt Reeves’ emotionally twisted, brooding incarnation of The Batman, or simply ‘vengeance’ as he identifies himself as to his hapless victims. If the writing improves for the chapters that will undoubtedly follow, it may well become his greatest role to date.