If I had a rupee for every time Robert Pattinson played a dangerous (but beautiful) bat, I would have two rupees. It’s not much, but it’s cool that it has happened twice in the man’s career.
I went into The Batman with equal parts exhaustion with the superhero genre and mild curiosity to see Pattinson play a dangerous bat again. The former came from the sheer amount of superhero-themed content we were exposed to in the past few months, with TV series and movies coming one after the other. It seemed to me that there was nothing new left to explore in the genre. But Matt Reeves’ The Batman quickly disproved me of the notion.
The Batman (Robert Pattinson) has been slowly trying to get rid of all that is evil in his Gotham City. His nightly routine of stalking thugs in shady alleys, and instilling fear of The Bat in them, is thwarted by the gruesome murder of the town’s mayor. Turns out, the killer left a letter addressed to Batman, with a cipher and a riddle that hinted at the reason why the victim got murdered. The killer starts targeting some of the most powerful men in the city, leaving a clue especially for the Batman with each body. As the caped crusader starts to unravel the mystery behind the gruesome murders, he is forced to confront his own demons from the past and befriend new allies, most notably in the form of a sleek and clever Catwoman (Zoe Kravitz). Will he manage to catch the killer in time? Will we ever not covet Zoe Kravitz’ exquisite bone structure? These are just questions you’ll have to see the movie to find out. (Spoiler alert: we will ALWAYS covet Zoe Kravitz’ flawless bone structure)
The decision to cast Pattinson as Gotham’s masked vigilante was immediately polarising at the time of its announcement. I believe the same reaction would be had by the comic book hero’s most ardent fans after they watch the movie. Reeves doesn’t treat The Batman as a superhero movie. While there’s no lack of expertly choreographed combat sequences and a high-on-adrenaline car chase sequence on the new and upgraded Batmobile, there is a refreshing lack of ‘spectacle’ that we’ve become so used to with movies of the genre. There is a grim undertone throughout the movie that grounds it to reality, despite it ultimately being about a super-rich dude who wants to do good in the world (pushing the boundaries of fiction, if you ask me).
In a pivotal scene in the movie, a character turns to Batman and says “You’re not as smart as I thought you were” which completely encapsulates Pattinson’s iteration of the hero. This Batman is smart and super strong, no doubt about that, but he is never one step ahead of the bad guy. He is awkward and unsure about his place in this world, especially with the self-imposed baggage of his father’s legacy as the ‘protector of the city’. Pattinson plays this role of a haunted man, with baggage rivalling the size of his pecs in the Bat uniform, to perfection (if my sort of biased, still low-key Team Edward self can claim). Out of the Batsuit, he looks like a man who never got out of his emo-goth teen phase, with his slumped posture, straight, long hair, and pale complexion. The dark eye make-up in his Bat avatar doesn’t help his case.
The reclusive billionaire banters with his family’s long-term butler Alfred (Andy Serkis) and avoids adulting like the plague. He walks slowly, with his back full of scars from his nightly misadventures, and you can feel like he is in pain (both physical and mental). There is nothing superhero-like about this caped hero, but that’s exactly the way Reeves, who has co-written the screenplay with Peter Craig, wants you to perceive him. This is a story that would make you (and Batman himself) believe, over the unexpectedly long runtime of 176 minutes, that this Batman deserves to be considered a hero.
You couldn’t have a nuanced hero like this Batman without a competent adversary and Reeves delivers again in the form of The Riddler (Paul Dano). Dano plays the villain with absolute abandon. Despite being in a silly mask and coke bottle glasses for a large part of the movie, he makes you shudder with fear every time he appears on-screen. The thing about superhero villains in recent times is that there’s a very, very fine line that separates them from the good guys. The Riddler’s reasons for targeting the rich and powerful of Gotham are not very different from what Batman had set out to do. It all comes down to whether you would be willing to let rats eat a man’s face to reach your goal of saving the city or not. Which brings me to a very important part of the movie, and ultimately its appeal for me, that is its willingness to go there.
Ever since Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy (another fantastic exploration of the superhero genre), the movies stopped becoming fun, for the lack of a better term. While inserting 20 quips-a-minute is Marvel’s territory, the lack of joy and wonder from the DC series quickly started wearing thin on even the most ardent of fans. With The Batman, Reeves expertly shows that you can be grim and dark without creating a dull and generic superhero flick. The mystery keeps you at the edge of the seat and the climax leaves you stunned, and not just because of the top-grade CGI and action sequences but the culmination of Batman’s arc in the movie. Kravitz seems tailor-made for the role of Catwoman with her innate grace and wide, expressive features that convey the vulnerability that grounds her character despite the other-worldly moves she pulls off to fight the bad guys. Colin Farrell is unrecognisable as the Penguin and manages to make his mark as a possible future villain in the series. Jeffrey Wright as the upstanding cop James Gordon is solid as well.
The cinematography by Greig Fraser (Dune, Zero Dark Thirty, and Vice) sets the tone perfectly right from the get-go, with Michael Giacchino’s (Spider-Man: No Way Home, Spider-Man: Homecoming, and Up) score making you feel everything you’re supposed to feel in the moment.
This is not to say that The Batman is a perfect movie. It’s an hour too long and the ultimate confrontation between the two forces will leave you wanting for more. But it’s a refreshing departure from the tired and done-to-death superhero tropes and that in itself deserves merit.
Should you spend a big chunk of your weekend watching the movie? Yes. Will you fall in love with Robert Pattinson all over again and wish you were a teenager again? Yes again. Do what you will with that information.
TL;DR: The Batman is a pretty solid murder mystery that has high-octane action sequences peppered in here and there and you should definitely give it a go even if you’re not a Batman fan.