It chucks it down in The Batman. Like, constantly. So much you wonder if we’re about to witness the first Dark Knight to whip out a Batbrella and start singin’ in the rain.
If ‘dark, rain-soaked superhero reboot’ sounds done to death, the latest Batman may not be for you. Director Matt Reeves brings the apocalyptic doominess that hallmarked his Planet of the Apes franchise and a lot of the brooding DC house style that has lingered since the Christopher Nolan days – as well as the unmistakable influence of David Fincher’s Seven and Zodiac. A more unsmiling, clenched Batman you couldn’t imagine. Did Prince really soundtrack this guy? Where did that funky Bruce Wayne go?
The brooding R-Batz is forced to turn gumshoe
The plot has Robert Pattinson’s Dark Knight on the hunt for a serial killer who has been offing Gotham’s political classes, leaving riddles in his wake. The Riddler (Paul Dano, somewhere beneath the latex) skulks the city in fetishwear, using livestreams and the media to lay bare the city’s corruption and build a following among the type of people who use the phrase ‘deep state’ in conversation. He’s basically Bane with Reddit, and The Dark Knight Rises parallels grow as the movie settles into its not-lean runtime.
There’s actually a lot of potential in the idea of a superhero and crime thriller genre mash-up. Here, the brooding R-Batz is forced to turn gumshoe, leaving him to holster his core skill set (kicking, punching, swooping) in favour of cerebral puzzle-solving that traps him in the one place he most hates being: his own mind. He’s forever struggling to catch up, following a trail of breadcrumbs left by someone smarter and more in control than he is.
It’s a fresh dynamic for the character on screen – one that borrows from several DC comic-book runs, including Frank Miller’s ‘Year One’ – and so is his ever-evolving relationship with the cops. If Commissioner Gordon (Jeffrey Wright) has his back, many of his superiors want to stick a knife in it. Back home at Wayne Mansion, now a skyscraper in the middle of the city, Andy Serkis is a soothing if peripheral presence as Alfred.
Out there, too, is a nocturnal rival in Zoë Kravitz’s cat burglar Selina Kyle. Kravitz draws a second note from Pattinson’s otherwise flavourless Batman and offers some slinky moves of her own. She’s central to the film’s best scene: an undercover prowl through a villain-filled Gotham nightclub using a kind of Bat-contact lens.
The Batman’s commitment to avoiding jokes is almost total
The Batman’s commitment to avoiding jokes is almost total, although I enjoyed Colin Farrell’s rubber-faced Penguin, who gets the film’s biggest (only) laugh with one wittily staged waddle. Reimagined as a sleazy club owner, he’s the highpoint in a Dick Tracy-alike rummage through the Gotham underworld that also throws in a juicy slab of John Turturro as mob boss Carmine Falcone.
But all this also sidelines Riddler, draining momentum and piling on story beats that the pacing can’t sustain. A cool car chase involving the new, souped-up Batmobile are sugar to help the inevitable, and reliably turgid, Thomas-and-Martha Wayne back story go down.
And Pattinson? He’s solid enough, but the role seems to neutralise his greatest strengths, stifling his edgy, eccentric charisma under a morose, dutiful shell. He’s just another ever-searching crusader in a shadowy world. Hopefully next time he’ll be able to find the fun.
The Batman is out in Australia, Hong Kong and Singapore Mar 3, and in the US and UK Mar 4.