Film and drama Opinion

As our world grows darker, along comes The Batman

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A vigilante determined to wipe out crime from his city's streets becomes tangled in the web of a serial killer's plot. Digital editor Dan Jensen shares his thoughts on The Batman.

THERE WILL LIKELY BE many wondering why the world needs a new Batman already. It’s only been ten years since Christopher Nolan concluded his Dark Knight trilogy and since then, Ben Affleck has been the man behind the cowl in the DC Extended Universe series of films.

The Batman is an entirely separate entity and a fresh take on the caped crusader. Directed by Matt Reeves, we now have Robert Pattinson as Bruce Wayne/Batman in a story that is so dark and gritty, it’s been compared to films such as Se7en and Zodiac. And in terms of doing something different, this film achieves its goal remarkably.

Gotham City is a cesspool of corruption and violence, with a new serial killer in town calling himself The Riddler (Paul Dano) targeting some of the most amoral political and legal figures, leaving clues for a vigilante known as The Batman. Aiding the police investigation with his superior detective skills, Batman soon discovers that his alter ego, Bruce Wayne, has more to do with The Riddler’s endgame than he could have imagined, learning some dark secrets about his family’s history.

In the meantime, Batman meets a woman named Selina Kyle (Zoë Kravitz), an expert thief who is linked to the city’s crime syndicate including villainous figures such as Oswald “The Penguin” Cobblepot (Colin Farrell) and Carmine Falcone (John Turturro), and the two work together to bring Gotham’s criminal element down.

Fans of film noir crime thrillers such as Taxi Driver and Chinatown will find a lot to love in The Batman. Nearly the entire story takes place at night and the film’s colour palette is mostly set in shades of brown. Gotham City looks suitably decaying and is the perfect setting for such dark subject matter. Bruce Wayne is relatively new to his vigilante lifestyle (in year two of his “Gotham Project”) and despite being frowned upon by most of the police force, has an ally in Lieutenant James Gordon (Jeffrey Wright).

This is one area where the film shines — the detective angle. Since the character’s creation in 1939, Batman has become known as the “world’s greatest detective”, a key skill that has only been hinted at in previous films. In Matt Reeves’ world, this is one of Batman's most essential characteristics, especially in the pursuit of a serial killer.

And this is another thing that sets The Batman apart from all films prior — gone is The Riddler’s green spandex costume and cackling laugh, this Riddler is downright chilling. A human monster that feels terrifyingly familiar, the drastic change in the character we thought we knew works brilliantly well and provides moments of genuine unease in the film.

But the standout character in all this is Selina Kyle (who is never once referred to as Catwoman). Selina is the product of a world that has never been kind to her. She’s fierce, determined and highly capable. And Zoë Kravitz plays her to perfection, giving her much authenticity and earning the audience’s sympathy.

Robert Pattinson does a fine job filling the boots of the Dark Knight and proves himself to be the accomplished actor who earned acclaim from performances in films such as The Lighthouse and Tenet. His Bruce is a dark and brooding figure, steering away from the duality of Bruce/Batman where one is the light and the other darkness. This time, he embodies darkness 24/7. But in the context of The Batman, it works.

This film assumes its audience is already familiar with the Batman origin story and avoids telling it again, which comes with pros and cons. While it means we can get stuck into the plot quicker, it also means that this version of Bruce feels underdeveloped. There’s zero chemistry between him and his butler, Alfred (Andy Serkis), and it leaves Batman feeling like one of the least interesting characters in the film.

But the biggest problem with the film is that while the first two acts are riveting and feature some of the best scenes out of any Batman film to date, everything becomes unravelled in the final act and, quite frankly, it’s a mess. The audience finally discovers what The Riddler’s endgame is, but it feels so sudden and with no prior lead-up that it feels confusing.

Had there been a build-up as to what the villain’s ultimate motivation was, it might have felt more cohesive. But since we don’t find out until the very end, it removes a lot of the dramatic tension and stakes for Batman to overcome. Things just suddenly happen and it feels like the writers weren’t sure how to end the film, so they just ramped things up and introduced whole new plot points at the last minute.

Aside from that, the film is just under three hours long and doesn’t need to be. There are many scenes that drag, with lengthy (and unnecessary) pauses between lines of dialogue or lingering moments that could have been trimmed to quicken the pace. There will be some people who are going to feel the run time of this movie.

Overall, had it not been let down by a clunky final act, The Batman could have achieved greatness. There is still a lot to love in the film and it’s most definitely worth seeing on a big screen. The score is incredible, the performances stellar and the tone is superb. It also goes deeper into Batman's core theme than previous films — that in a world of corruption and darkness, we as individuals can make a difference. Unfortunately, it just falls short of being worth repeat viewings or earning its place among the best of the Batman stories.

★★★☆☆

The Batman is now showing in cinemas across the country.

You can follow digital editor Dan Jensen on Twitter @danjensenmovies or check out his YouTube channel, Movie Talk with Dan Jensen.

Follow Independent Australia on Twitter @independentaus and on Facebook HERE.

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