The Batman

Gotham, city of night, a towering monstrosity of spiralling stone and concrete lit by neon and built upon a web of steel girders, rusted by the perpetual rain which tracks down from above and the salt mist of the encroaching waters beyond the sea wall, shrouded in the shadows of the skyscrapers and industrial plants, the promise of renewal as empty as the burnt-out shell of the city orphanage.

On these dangerous streets where the sunlight never reaches two men stalk the night; one a masked vigilante, a nocturnal crusader who is shunned by the Gotham City Police Department with the sole exception of Lieutenant James Gordon, the other an enigma, unseen but felt, staging elaborate murders of prominent city officials and leaving behind cryptic clues addressed to his counterpart whom he calls “The Batman.”

The success of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy starring Christian Bale in the dual roles of Bruce Wayne and Batman having given way to the fumble of Ben Affleck in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, like Val Kilmer in Batman Forever and George Clooney in Batman & Robin the question will remain of what might have been had the potential of those opportunities not been squandered on substandard films, opening the door for the surprising casting of Twilight’s Robert Pattinson in The Batman, reinvented in a classic style.

Directed by War for the Planet of the Apes‘ Matt Reeves from a script co-written with The Hunger Games‘ Peter Craig, all context with the DC Extended Universe has been excised leaving The Batman entirely self-contained with nothing but the weight of expectation attached, yet Reeves moves confidently and unselfconsciously, whittling away the unnecessary accumulation of baggage of overblown theatrics and costumes with only Batman himself in an entirely functional representation of his customary suit, an ethic reflected in his overpowered vehicle which has no optional extras but which serves its primary purpose with unstoppable force.

Pattinson possibly the most impenetrable depiction of the character, he is a moody creature of the night driven by rage, monosyllabic and hot-tempered, focused entirely on his task with his whispered voice heard more in a voiceover recalling the narrative captions of his comic book origin than dialogue; his reclusive Bruce Wayne is barely seen yet lacks delineation when he emerges into the overcast daylight, as surly as his alter-ego and only differentiated by the lack of eye shadow and cape.

A departure from the oft-told origin story, The Batman presents both that character and an array of others half-formed, more than embryos but not yet quite complete, After Earth‘s Zoë Kravitz as Selina Kyle, efficient but lacking panache, Looper‘s Paul Dano as Edward Nashton, a disturbed, homicidal loner, and The Lobster‘s Colin Farrell as Oswald Cobblepot, encased in a layer of prosthetics which recall Al Pacino in Dick Tracy, yet the ghost of Thomas Wayne still lurks in the shadows and ornate corners of Wayne Manor.

Despite the three-hour running time The Batman maintains a consistent pace and tone which is never less than engaging though throughout it is entirely reactive, Batman and the GCPD always running behind events and cleaning up rather than intervening before the next killing, led by the nose by the Riddler and dancing to his tune, Michael Giacchino’s variations on Nirvana’s Something in the Way a dirge to a dying city.

The closest comparison being to David Fincher’s Seven rather than anything in the existing Batverse, the moments of humour are sparse but suit the bleak mood and Reeves is unequivocal on his parallels with the real world, the Batman never using a gun and those who can be persuaded to dress up and open fire with assault rifles on unarmed crowds in a public place shown to be pathetic monsters deserving no sympathy and the fullest condemnation of the forces of justice, Gotham a tough city in which to grow up but one which makes survivors who will make it through the darkest hour just before dawn.

The Batman is currently on general release and also screening in IMAX