Robert Pattinson makes a grim and magnificent Dark Knight in "The Batman"
Starring Robert Pattinson, Zoë Kravitz, Paul Dano, Jeffrey Wright, Colin Farrell, John Turturro, Andy Serkis, Peter Sarsgaard, Barry Keoghan and Jayme Lawson. Written by Matt Reeves and Peter Craig. Directed by Matt Reeves. Now playing at GTA theatres. 176 minutes. PG
There’s nothing funny about “The Batman,” Matt Reeves’ spellbinding reboot of the Dark Knight saga, which leaps past its comic book origins to unleash malevolent screen energy.
Robert Pattinson’s magnificent Batman is as grim as a ghost and every bit as haunted. Barely speaking above a whisper, when he chooses to speak at all, the Caped Crusader describes himself as the absence of light: “I am the shadows.”
Pattinson digs deeper and goes darker into the psychological sickness of vigilante justice than Christian Bale did in Christopher’s Nolan’s Batman trilogy, which is really saying something.
The man behind the mask, billionaire Bruce Wayne, is equally damaged, living like a hermit and brooding about the still-unsolved murder 20 years earlier of his father, philanthropist Thomas Wayne.
Shot with minimal illumination and colour by Greig Fraser, the Oscar-nominated cinematographer behind “Dune,” rain-soaked Gotham City is even more of a cesspool than it was in “Joker.”
Talk of civic renewal is a bad joke. A sign on a crumbling building promises a “brighter tomorrow” that we know won’t soon be arriving. There’s a City Renewal Fund, a billion-dollar endeavour, that’s more like a slush fund for gangsters and their corrupt police and political enablers.
Pattinson’s first appearance as Batman, thankfully skipping the usual origin story exertions, is like the opening of a crypt — his “Twilight” vampire stint served him well.
He stalks the night streets to the tune of Nirvana’s grunge anthem “Something in the Way,” looking for trouble and invariably finding it.
A serious new challenge arrives on Halloween night, in the person of evil accountant Edward Nashton (Paul Dano), a serial killer with a perverted sense of holding politicians accountable and a yen for puzzling greeting cards. He’ll soon be known as the Riddler.
Dressed in masked military attire inspired by the real-life Zodiac Killer, he first appears as a Peeping Tom to the operatic strains of “Ave Maria,” another of the film’s sonic motifs, along with Michael Giacchino’s menacing score.
The Riddler brutally sneaks up on Gotham Mayor Don Mitchell Jr. (Rupert Penry-Jones) and leaves a note with his intentions: “No More Lies.”
This is not the colourful and clowning Riddler of Batman incarnations past, neither the Jim Carrey nor Frank Gorshin kind.
There’s likewise scant levity in Zoë Kravitz’s spiky Selina Kyle, the nascent Catwoman, who is every bit as vengeful, obsessive and fetish-suited as her male antagonists as she drop-kicks and claws her way into danger, pursuing her own agenda.
Additional villainy comes courtesy of puffy gangster Oswald Cobblepot, Oz for short, who allegedly is Colin Farrell under all that latex. Later to be named the Penguin, he hangs out in the Iceberg Lounge, a sleazy nightclub with a VIP section called 44 Below. The joint is owned by crime lord Carmine Falcone (John Turturro), the most conventional of all the crooks in “The Batman.” He’s just into getting money and status, and making people offers they can’t refuse.
Writer/director Reeves, who successfully revived the “Planet of the Apes” franchise, and co-writer Peter Craig (the upcoming “Top Gun: Maverick”), have created a new Batman franchise that’s crafted for these diseased and violent days we live in.
They find a noir touchstone in the 1939 Detective Comics roots of the Batman saga, even though this movie is set in current times.
If it weren’t for the occasional iPhone or the surveillance camera contact lenses worn by a couple of key characters, you’d almost swear that “The Batman” is happening in the early 1940s.
The cops and Batman carry with them 8-by-10 photos of suspects. Rotary dial phones are used. The Batmobile looks and sounds like a muscle car with a homemade jet engine strapped onto it. The Batcycle is just a black motorcycle with bat adornments, handy for zipping through graveyards.
A scene set in a diner, with the Riddler hunched over a coffee as he waits for cops who think they’re sneaking up on him, is straight out of Edward Hopper’s “Nighthawks,” a 1942 painting of loneliness and alienation.
“The Batman” is so downbeat, even two of the saga’s most virtuous characters come across as conflicted individuals: Jeffrey Wright’s police lieutenant James Gordon (soon to be known as Commissioner Gordon), is loyal to Batman but also vexed by him; and Andy Serkis’s Alfred Pennyworth, butler to Bruce Wayne, has a history and secrets not known by his boss.
The nearly three-hour running time of “The Batman” unspools without the urge to check a clock, but the film isn’t perfect. The otherwise taut script has a few genre clichés that should have been edited out — “I’ll see you in hell” being the worst of them — and the sexual intrigue between Batman and Catwoman is so understated it’s like watching Benjamin Braddock timidly approach Mrs. Robinson in “The Graduate.”
But this is only the beginning of a run of new Batman tales. The best thing is, it makes us want to see what happens next in this dark and angry place. 🌓
(This review originally ran in the Toronto Star.)