The Batman is a transcendent character study that defies genre conventions

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The Dark Knight is back in a gritty reboot that offers the darkest, bleakest and grungiest vision of Gotham City and its inhabitants ever put to screen.

The Batman is directed by Matt Reeves and stars Robert Pattinson as the titular vigilante as he matches wits with a deranged serial killer played by Paul Dano. Rounding out the all star cast is Jeffrey Wright as James Gordon, Batman’s singular ally in the corrupt Gotham police department, Zoë Kravitz as Selina Kyle and Andy Serkis as the ever reliable Alfred Pennyworth.

Matt Reeves forgoes another origin story in favour of a story that takes place early in the caped crusader’s career as he wrestles against rising crime levels in Gotham and his own self doubt regarding his methods. The Batman further sets itself apart from other iterations of the character through Reeve’s meticulous direction, its grim dark tone, and fully embracing Batman’s moniker as ‘The world’s greatest detective’.

The Batman is far from a conventional comic book movie. Instead Reeves presents the audience with a neo-noir psychological crime thriller in the same vein as Se7en and Zodiac.  A lot of the film focuses on Batman investigating crime scenes, analysing clues, interrogating suspects and sneakily infiltrating night clubs.

Throughout the film Batman investigates the violent murders of Gotham’s elite which may be tied to the city’s seedy underworld. The film expertly juggles the many plot lines in it’s mammoth three hour run time and while the central mystery might not have the most rewarding payoff, it’s still incredibly satisfying to see Batman portrayed this way.

Is Pattinson right for the Batman?

Robert Pattinson is perfectly cast as this world’s Batman and will quickly prove any naysayers wrong in the opening minutes of the film which features the best introduction to the character out of any adaptation so far.

The duality of Bruce Wayne and Batman is a subject that has been previously explored in film. Here, we meet a Bruce Wayne who hasn’t quite figured it out. Rather than the billionaire playboy that audiences will be familiar with, we’re met with a gloomy recluse inspired by rockstars like Kurt Cobain. Pattinson gives a riveting and convincing performance of a man defined by trauma and perfectly captures the character’s vulnerability.

Over the course of the three hours we spend far more time with Pattinson as Batman than we do Bruce Wayne. Pattinson’s Batman is brutal, visceral and less refined. Much of the film serves as a character study as Batman learns the type of hero he needs to be in order to truly make a difference in Gotham.

Interestingly Pattinson’s Batman has quite a lot of dialogue and the actor adjusts his tone and voice depending on which character he’s interacting with. It’s a unique approach to the ‘Batman voice’ that previous actors introduced.

Who else stars in it?

The supporting cast really shine throughout this film. Jeffrey Wright gives a phenomenal performance as James Gordon and his Holmes and Watson relationship with Batman is arguably the film’s strongest dynamic.

Gordon and Batman’s partnership has been clearly established in the past but it’s a joy to see the duo actively working together and solving a case.

Alfred Pennyworth also has a bit more to do this time around and actively takes part in the investigation while dealing with a more adversarial relationship with Bruce Wayne. Zoë Kravitz’s portrayal of Selina Kyle is ripped straight from the comic books, her arc and relationship with Pattinson’s Batman are a driving force in the narrative.

As for villains, who better than to test Batman mentally than The Riddler? This version of the character couldn’t be further from the flamboyant and comical portrayal by Jim Carrey in Batman Forever. Here we meet a twisted sociopath who sets out to rid Gotham of it’s corrupt elite leaving complex riddles for Batman to solve along the way. This version of the character fits perfectly in the film’s aesthetic and takes clear influence from the real life Zodiac killer in both appearance and the clues he leaves behind.

This is really the only approach to take with The Riddler in a modern Batman film; unfortunately he doesn’t have that much screen-time. The Riddler’s presence looms over the film but the actual character is slightly underwhelming and has weak motivations. Paul Dano sells the character’s insanity but there are times where he comes dangerously close to being over the top.

Colin Farrell steals the show whenever he’s on screen as Oz Cobblepot, the man who will later become The Penguin. It truly is a transformative performance from Farrell who is unrecognisable in appearance but also how the actor has been able to change his voice so convincingly. John Turturro is also suitably slimy in a supporting role as Carmine Falcone, Gotham’s crime lord.

A visual masterpiece?

Action in The Batman is scarce but the film maintains an intensity throughout its run time and features one of the best car chase sequences in a long time. Fight scenes are well choreographed and showcase the ferocity and brutality of this younger Batman’s fighting style.

Greig Fraser’s cinematography elevates the film to new heights with striking imagery that you won’t soon forget, Gotham City has never looked better on film.

The sound design is top tier and adds new layers to the film whether it’s the heavy thuds of Batman’s footsteps or the powerful roar of the jet-powered Batmobile.

Michael Giacchino cements his status as one of the greats with a score that captures the darkness, tragedy and ultimately the heroism Batman is known for. Giacchino’s score has it’s own identity but also pays homage to what’s come before while using Nirvana’s ‘Something In The Way’ to haunting effect.

It’s hard to escape the feeling that The Batman could have trimmed 10-15 minutes of its run time but can you ever really have too much of a good thing?  Despite its bleak tone this new interpretation of the Batman mythos has a modern edge and radiates with youthful energy.

The film ends on a hopeful note and sets up more stories to come which is exciting in and of itself but the promise of seeing more of Pattinson’s Batman is tantalising.

The Batman has set a new standard for comic book movies and has heaps of potential for further installments.

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