In Matt Reeves’ dark vision, The Batman, Gotham City is a cesspool of evil and corruption.
For two years Bruce Wayne – a.k.a. The Batman (Robert Pattinson) – has been trying to clean it up, but to no avail. The situated has deteriorated further. Promises of renewal and change have not materialised. Now a madman is on the loose. The Riddler (Paul Dano) has begun wreaking havoc, killing those who purported to be decent and fair, but were anything but. The first victim is the Mayor. More will follow. Top city officials are disposed of in nefarious ways.
Early on, The Batman comes face to face with a dexterous young woman who has her own agenda. Catwoman (Zoe Kravitz), like The Batman, has a distressing back story. But Catwoman is looking for vengeance in a way The Batman is not, a path that would see her cross over to the dark side. Mind you, The Batman too has his moments.
The Riddler’s reign of terror starts on Halloween and his cryptic clues lead The Batman on an ugly trail of death and destruction. On his side is a senior policeman, Lt James Gordon (Jeffrey Wright). Among those standing in their way is nightclub owner The Penguin (an unrecognisable Colin Farrell). Another criminal mastermind with connections to Catwoman is Carmine Falcone (John Tuturro). He knew and also had an association with Bruce Wayne’s father, Thomas. Andy Serkis portrays The Batman’s dutiful “protector” and confidante Alfred, who worked for Thomas Wayne.
Dark, cold and humourless, The Batman has a hard edge. This isn’t the first time we’ve seen this approach to the character. Several actors, including Adam West, Michael Keaton, Val Kilmer, George Clooney, Christian Bale, Ben Affleck and now Robert Pattinson have donned the cape on the big screen. Likewise, Zoe Kravitz follows in the footsteps of Anne Hathaway, Halle Berry, Michelle Pfeiffer and Lee Meriwether.
The lack of emotion – other than anger – displayed by Pattinson may be his trademark in The Batman, but that started to wear thin after a while. Kravitz has a feistiness that suits the role. Farrell brings a pompousness to his representation of The Penguin. Dano gives The Riddler an appropriately deranged quality.
In Gotham City, as envisioned by writer-director Reeves (War for the Planet of the Apes) and co-writer (Peter Craig – The Town), fear is a tool. I found the story reasonably compelling for the first two-thirds. But I felt the film lost its way and became ridiculous and unnecessarily inflated. I don’t think it needed a nearly three-hour running time. I simply wish they had tried a less-is-more approach.
Among the highlights are a car chase involving The Batman and The Penguin; and the appearance of another motor vehicle at a significant public event. The production values are strong. Grunge and the seething underbelly of the city are well captured.
The Batman has several impressive moments of high tension and drama. But it’s also overindulgent and bogged down by platitudes and excessive exposition.
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Alex First is a Melbourne based journalist and communications specialist. He contributes to The Blurb on film and theatre.