The Batman Review: Dark, Gritty, Violent But Still Compelling


Rating: 3.5/5

Early on, in Matt Reeves’ The Batman, there’s a sequence where small-time crooks can be seen scuttling away at the sight of the bat signal. There is a pervasive sense of an unsettling threat. Every shadow in the city seems to conceal the Batman (Robert Pattinson). When he steps out, after a long-drawn out tense stillness, his intimidating presence lays heavy on the scene.

When he finally punches a low life thug, you feel the blood curdling, ferocious intensity hammering your own soul with every single hit. You feel his pulsing rage. It’s not just about justice anymore.

This Batman is the darkest Batman ever.

Director Matt Reeves and co-writer Peter Craig have created the most psychologically intense and engaging Batman narrative, complete with all the impressive action sequences and the cool gadgets. In the hands of lesser capable writers, it would have become another run-of-the-mill superhero movie. But Reeves and Craig were smart enough to introduce their own refreshing twist.

Batman here is still in his formative years. In fact, you can see the rough edges to his skills. He gets punched in the head. He feels the crushing fear before he leaps off a high building. He crashes into a bus when his parachute opening fails terribly. In addition to this, the character is emotionally and mentally tormented. Reeves and Craig have ignored the origin story for this time but the character still remains under the grip of his past.

There’s no debonair flare from the Val Kilmer-Michael Keaton-George Clooney era. He is certainly far removed from the campy antics of the Adam West version. And his dour seriousness seems to hang much heavier than Christopher Nolan’s Batman, a version that established the renowned dark and brooding persona of the Caped Crusader on the silver screen.

This Batman is grim and pursues an excessively demented brand of vigilantism.

But who can blame him? After all, he is in Gotham city, which has sunk too deep into the mirth and crime.

Here, the regular citizens live disturbed, the powerful and corrupt government officials party in nightclubs and the top mob leaders control everything, while sitting at the centre of their spider web. The sun never shows up in this city and a constant downpour seems to worsen an already bad mood.

Production designer James Chindlunde has lent a Gothic texture to this city, greatly amplifying its tenebrous atmosphere. It has a glimmer of New York and Chicago (maybe even London) but Gotham maintains its own distinctive alluring appeal. Furthermore, under the visually striking cinematography of Greg Faiser (from Dune), Gotham city feels like a place constantly under the threat of being swallowed by the enveloping shadows, both literal and figurative.

It is in this depressing city that Riddler (Paul Dano) murders the mayor, the police commissioner and the district attorney, all of them sharing an undiscovered common connection. This forces Batman and Lt. Jim Gordon (Jeffery Wright) to play the Riddler’s game and figure out the outrageous truths about the system that the Riddler himself discovered before them. In an interesting twist, Thomas Wayne, Bruce Wayne’s father, is also discovered to have a connection in this.

Batman and James Gordon investigate the murders as composer Michael Giacchino’s score (filling the void left by Hans Zimmer) enhances the dreadful essence of these scenes.

As the investigation carries on, both Batman and Gordon encounter a host of interesting characters. There’s the tempting and damaged Selina Kyle (Zoe Kravitz). Her character could have been another badass female who simply exists to push the main hero towards his goal but here, there’s a nuanced layering to her. She is a survivor and a vigilante in her own right. Furthermore, Kravitz’s agile performance enhances the character even more.

Zoe Kravitz’s Catwoman and Robert Pattinson’s Batman in The Batman. (Credit: Warner Bros/DC)

Then there’s Colin Farrell’s Penguin. The actor seems unrecognisable under those heavy layers of prosthetics but there’s no denying that he seems to be having the most fun with his character in the movie.

John Turturro’s Carmine Falcone presents a suave appeal that skilfully borders on being sinister. Paul Dano’s Riddler embodies a terrifying cult leader of an incel group from the corners of dark web. Surprisingly, Dano seems more daunting without his mask. His smile is enough to make you squirm in your seat.

But amongst all these fascinating characters, it’s Robert Pattinson’s Batman that somewhat seems bland. Don’t get me wrong. Pattinson is a great actor and he seems extremely adept at exhibiting the deranged as well as melancholic manner of the Batman. His eyes seem to communicate a lot, be it the understanding gaze when he sees the young boy whose father died or the flicker of recognition when he is quietly stalking Kravitz’s Selina.

However, that’s all Pattinson can offer even for Bruce Wayne, a persona that somewhat requires him to be more outgoing and charismatic than his stoic personality. After all, Bruce Wayne is the costume. He is the distraction. Batman is the real identity. But there seems to be no noticeable difference in Pattinson under the cowl or out of it.

While the story is essentially a superhero narrative, it seems equally focussed towards building an enticing neo-noir murder mystery, reminiscent of David Fincher’s Seven and Zodiac. It is intricately plotted. However, the first act promises of a grand conspiracy underlying all the murders, seem to reach a weak conclusion in the final act.

But all things considered, the biggest achievement of The Batman lies in presenting a meaningful thematic arc for the main character himself. Throughout the movie, the Caped Crusader had been barrelling ahead with violent rage, all for the sake of vengeance. But towards the end, he shifts his focus towards taking a more compassionate approach. Whether or not that still counts as justice, the legacy of the Batman is now open for a unique trajectory. Something the future movies can explore.

Pattinson’s Batman is here to punch and leave his mark.

Watch The Batman trailer here.

The Batman is now playing in theatres near you.


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