From the get-go, Matt Reeves’ The Batman looks grittier and gloomier than its predecessors – which is saying a lot.
Set in the early days of the Caped Crusader’s exploits, it features a more raw, more angry – dare I say more outwardly depressed – Bruce Wayne/Batman, played by the magnetic sulk master Robert Pattinson, and a Gotham that seems to sport extra layers of grime and malice.
“I knew I wanted to take this iteration of a younger Batman who was early in his arc, who has room for growth, room for an awakening, and put him at the center of this mystery that would put us into the path of all of these characters,” said director Reeves in a press conference on February 18.
And the film’s picks from Batman’s endless Rogue’s Gallery are just as ill-tempered. Zoe Kravitz as Catwoman is all sex and seething; and a genuinely unrecognizable Colin Farrell transforms Penguin into a grouchy mob sycophant.
Most notably, however, Paul Dano’s take on Riddler is like nothing we’ve ever seen. He is the complete 180 of Jim Carrey’s cloyingly campy Edward Nygma from the Schumacher films. Instead, Dano’s version is a troublemaker of our times: in his drab army green jacket and leather/duct tape hood/mask, his video messages shaky and garbled, he is a Batman villain for the QAnon generation. Far less flamboyance, far more incel-type angst. A nerdy, Dark Web-dwelling psychopath. A Proud Boy with more brain cells.
“I think the contact with reality in this character, and to come from as emotional and psychological a place as possible, is also what potentially makes it really scary,” Dano shared in the same interview.
But, unfortunately, while Dano was able to create such a novel version of Riddler (clearly an attempt at reimagining Riddler the way Heath Ledger did Joker), his puzzles, and the way Batman and his peers solved them, were not very satisfying to watch. One would expect, in a film running three solid hours, and with a director whose goal was to immerse the audience meticulously in the Bat universe, that you’d be obsessing over Riddler’s brain teasers alongside Bats – and that Riddler’s overall evil scheme would be such a mindfuck that viewers would be talking about it on Reddit threads long after the film was out of cinemas.
But, alas, the riddles are kind of mundane and solved far too easily. There was, for example, a messily handwritten code that needed deciphering – a nod to the Zodiac Killer – and it was just, well, deciphered without much fanfare. Maybe this was a way of underlining that conspiracy obsessives such as Riddler aren’t as smart as they think they are, but that’s kind of a stretch. (In hindsight, a Nolan Riddler would have been awesome, but it’s too late now. Shoulda woulda coulda.)
The bigger villain in the story, then, ends up being Gotham crime boss Carmine Falcone, played by the forever watchable John Turturro. And while Turturro is great, it honestly feels strange, because when I think of Batman, I think of his more cartoonish foes and not the believable ones who stand in for real-life criminals.
The film’s strength lies, instead, in how it leans into certain Bat tropes. For one, you could cut the sexual tension between Batman and Catwoman with a chainsaw. It helps that this is a younger Bats and Cats at play – you could still sense a heady young romance underneath all that leather and scowling.
And speaking of scowling, how Pattinson conveyed Bruce Wayne/Batman’s self-indulgent torment was solidly done.
“Batman has always been infallible – he’s just a man in an armored suit – but this [film] really, really embraces that,” Pattison shared in the same interview.
And indeed, Pattinson placed his character convincingly at rock bottom, mired him in so much grief, that you can sense how he’ll grow in succeeding films (and yes, there clearly will be), when Bruce Wayne/Batman starts to really embrace his pain, sharpen his focus, and be a true hero.
I look forward to seeing how this new era plays out. The Batman may not have realized one villain as profoundly as it could have, but when it comes to restarting the franchise, this first installment has introduced a riveting new Batman and an authentic new Gotham, and hints at more menace to come. – Rappler.com
The Batman will open in Philippine cinemas on Wednesday, March 2.