The Batman: “Hardboiled detective noir disguised as a superhero film”
Batman is arguably cinema’s most treasured superhero. And yes, The Batman is a superhero film – but it is also so much more. With its roots in neo-noir, Matt Reeves’ new take on the caped crusader is a detective film at its core, grappling with questions of both the police procedural and the existential sort. Attempting to make a Batman film, post-Christopher Nolan, is a seriously brave undertaking, and anyone who does so should be commended – especially if they’ve done as well as this.
We enter a Gotham racked with murder, drug abuse and corruption. The authorities are in cahoots with the mafia under Carmine Falcone (John Turturro). Amid all this, a serial killer called The Riddler (Paul Dano) starts his spree, killing all those he views as morally depraved.
The Riddler posts his crimes on social media and as his name suggests, uses riddles as clues to taunt Batman. He is similar to what we know as an ‘incel’ and his character serves as commentary on the hate and polarisation we see on social media today. Ultimately, it is up to Batman and Lieutenant James Gordon (Jeffrey Wright) to stop The Riddler, who eventually gives himself up in a style reminiscent of Kevin Spacey in David Fincher’s Seven.
Like Seven, we watch the story unfold amidst a remarkably dark aesthetic: Gotham is nearly always raining, gloomy and paranoiac. Figures are shadowy and look as if they’re from Rembrandt paintings. It seems to nearly always be night-time, as if we see the world through Batman’s eyes: “Two years of nights have turned me into a nocturnal animal,” he says.
The film has been beautifully shot by Greig Fraser (Vice, Zero Dark Thirty) who is quickly earning himself the reputation as one of the most capable cinematographers in Hollywood, winning a BAFTA in 2022 for his work on Dune. We also see some superb performances from a star-studded cast, which includes Zoë Kravitz (as a dazzling Catwoman), Colin Farrell (who is literally unrecognisable as The Penguin) and Andy Serkis (who does a good job, but no one can beat Michael Caine, right?).
The Batman’s MVP however is Robert Pattinson. He has put in one hell of a performance: you can see hints of both his roles in Good Time and The Twilight Series. Pattinson’s Batman is not noble and neither is he a hero: he is quietly furious and hellbent on vengeance. He has questionable morals: he doesn’t kill anyone, but he injures them beyond repair. He is obsessed with being Batman, to the point of seriously damaging his life as Bruce Wayne.
It is Pattinson’s depiction of Wayne that is stronger though. Here, he is more an out-of-date grunge artist than a slick, playboy philanthropist. Completely isolated, gothy in appearance, and constantly miserable, this new Bruce Wayne resembles Travis Bickle from Taxi Driver: the cinematic epitome of an existential crisis.
Much has been made of the film’s long run time. Clocking in at nearly three hours is a tad excessive, but each scene was well crafted and necessary to the plot. Some of today’s audiences, with their depleted attention spans, may struggle slightly, but if you’re happy to binge watch ten hours of a new Netflix series, then three hours should be easily doable.
Reeves has followed on from the darkness first explored by Tim Burton and firmly established by Christopher Nolan, to whom the comparisons are simply inevitable. Reeves’ interpretation though is different in every way. The Batman is hardboiled detective noir disguised as a superhero film and is a brilliant start to this new chapter for Batman.