Another rare trip to the multiplex in the times we live in, but again, after Nolan’s Tenet and Villeneuve’s Dune, a movie I felt could not be missed on the biggest of screens. Any Batman movie will struggle with the inordinate expectations set by probably the definitive superhero trilogy of the modern age, Nolan’s Dark Knight movies and there is a lot of skepticism around whether we really needed another reboot of the Batman legend when that seminal one played by Christian Bale and the lesser heralded recent one by Ben Affleck is still fresh in the mind. My personal favorites of the earlier movies were the second and third ones of the Nolan/Bale version, especially the middle entry, The Dark Knight; a movie which I consider to be one of the best ever. But this film lays to rest all the reservations one may have had on the new Batman played by Robert Pattinson. It’s a gripping, gritty and entirely worthwhile addition to the oeuvre and Pattinson brings an intensely moody spin to the character, perhaps even more than the one played by Bale.
The Batman backstory is done away with in this film. It places us bang into the life of the caped crusader, two years after he took on the mantle of Gotham’s vigilante warrior. He is an incessantly brooding figure, aware that despite his best efforts, the city he is meant to protect is as bad as ever, if not worse. The filth and the grime still fester, though the symbol of the Batman does help at times to ward off potential miscreants. Lt. Gordon (Jeffrey Wright) is still his biggest ally and gets him the in on crime scenes. One particularly gruesome one has left them horrified. The mayor, running for re-election, has been brutally killed and the killer, a sadistic masked man called the Riddler, has left a mysterious missive to the Batman. Soon other killings of prominent members of the Gotham community follow with further riddles left for him. The trail of clues leads to an underground nightclub frequented by the mob and in particular two major figures of the Gotham underworld, the Penguin (a heavily made up Colin Farrell) and Carmine Falcone (John Turturro, charismatic and menacing in equal measure). He also runs into the wily and strong Selina Kyle (a radiant Zoë Kravitz), who has her own axe to grind and her own mysteries to solve, as well as a curiously cat-filled apartment. The sparks fly, but this version of the Batman is anything but a romantic playboy. Apart from a few moments of tenderness, the action mostly focusses on the crime story at the heart of the film. The Batman also has his trusted butler who is almost a surrogate parent to him, and here the role played in Nolan’s Batman by the incomparable Michael Caine is taken over by Andy Serkis, another effective piece of casting.
The Riddler’s story and raison d’etre, though, takes our hero back to his origins and his ill-fated father’s own run for the mayor a couple of decades ago. Apart from an inherent guilt at what he perceives as a failure to protect his parents, Bruce Wayne now also has to face up to the possibility that perhaps his father was not the paragon of virtue he had made him out to be. But to what effect will the sins of the father be visited upon the son and can he stop the consequences while saving the city he has sworn to protect?
So, is it as good as the Nolan Bat-verse? Perhaps not, but it does run them close. The Dark Knight had a tightness of script and a vision which was innovative at the time which will be tough to ever replicate again, but this film is still a must watch in its own way. If you thought Bale’s take on the superhero was dark, this would be an eye-opener. Pattinson gives off an air of a perpetually pained and reluctant hero who is grappling with enemies within himself as much as outside of him. It’s an impressive performance and should finally help him get rid of the Twilight tag he has been unfortunate to be saddled with no matter how serious his movie choices after that have been. He’s on screen for almost the whole running time of close to three hours here and he carries it off with poise. Zoe Kravitz is an excellent choice for Catwoman, and is perhaps less playful and more emotional than I expected the character to be; she has an emotional core at the heart of her mission here. I wouldn’t mind seeing them both back together in the next inevitable iteration. The director, Matt Reeves, has an interesting filmography, including the initial Cloverfield movie and a couple of the recent Planet of the Apes films. Surprisingly (or perhaps not), he also has an extremely underrated and quirky rom-com from the 90’s (which I loved) to his credit, The Pallbearer; the movie debut of Friends star, David Schwimmer and also starring an unassumingly charming Gwyneth Paltrow.
I’ve always loved a well-made Marvel superhero movie, especially the last two Avengers movies and the later Captain America films, but a well done gritty thriller is always at the top of my movie watching list (which is why The Dark Knight will always be my favourite superhero film). And this movie may be in the guise of a superhero flick, but at its heart it is a gritty, uncompromising crime story with a tortured lead performance at the heart of it. In other words, it’s one worth a trip to the multiplex any day.