Vigilante turned detective: the highly anticipated return of The Batman

After years of waiting, the latest incarnation of the caped crusader has arrived.

Hitting cinemas on March 4, The Batman sees Robert Pattinson fill shoes previously worn (somewhat mediocrely) by Ben Affleck in the likes of Justice League, and by Christian Bale prior to that in the fan-favourite Dark Knight trilogy.

Being the hero’s first solo outing in a decade, it is safe to say there were high hopes for The Batman, but the film has a sly way of subverting any expectations rather than explicitly meeting them.

Feeling more like a crime-thriller from the mind of David Fincher (think Se7en and Zodiac) than anything else, The Batman is tonally different from what DC Comics, or indeed any superhero film has set out to accomplish previously.

This is by far the most grounded in reality that the hero has ever felt, with the storyline easily feasible within our own universe were it not for the fictional setting of Gotham and the guy walking around in a bat suit. 

At certain points it actually feels quite surreal to have someone in such extravagant attire fulfilling a glorified detective role, but rest assured the intensity of the crime quickly necessitates his presence.

The extremities this film explores to reach the heights of the crime-thriller genre are quite astounding, with the sadistic treatment of victims by the main villain feeling reminiscent of horror movies like Saw at times.

Matching the film’s sinister tone is the consistently sombre lighting. Very few scenes are set in broad daylight and the weather consists only of pouring rain. This tense and gritty atmosphere is matched by the orange hue that engulfs much of the film.

Such a dark setting is understandable when considering the twisted personality of the enemy Batman is hunting down. Paul Dano makes a superb villain in his portrayal of The Riddler, being genuinely creepy and intriguing, yet scarily realistic in his use of social media to build a following, and his motivations of social justice.

Not quite so interesting is Colin Farrell’s The Penguin, who forms a less integral part of the plot, but is played amusingly by Farrell nonetheless.

The same cannot be said for Zoe Kravitz, who completely steals the show as Catwoman. Whilst Pattinson’s Batman can feel solemn and hard to read at times, Kravitz’s charismatic and feline portrayal feels like a breath of fresh air in comparison.

Zoe Kravitz
Zoe Kravitz at The Batman premiere. Photo: John Angelillo/UPI/Shutterstock

Batman’s detachment cannot be seen as a flaw in acting performance so much as a humanisation of the character by way of an intense personal journey. Bruce Wayne’s struggles hold just as much importance in this film as his heroic alter-ego, perhaps signalling a move towards a more sober superhero genre on the horizon.

Adding to this notion is the lack of airtime given to the Batmobile, once a staple feature of any flamboyant caped crusader outing.

Bat Mobile
The latest Batmobile. Photo: Evan Agostini/Invision/AP/Shutterstock

Despite this, there is of course a healthy dose of action pumped into the film, something you would hope to find in its almighty three-hour runtime, and certainly necessary to break up the tension of the twists and turns that come with chasing The Riddler.

There are perhaps too many big budget stunts saved until the film’s final act, seeming a bit excessive in comparison to the initial slow start, although pacing issues are bound to arise within such a lengthy film.

For all its duration, Batman’s self-titled flick does not portray him as heroically as you may expect, as for the most part he only really succeeds in saving himself.

Though the hero has never had ‘superpowers’ as such, this film really highlights what a saving grace technology is for him. After all, I think we’d all seem talented if we had a set of contact lenses recording and identifying everyone we came into contact with.

It is safe to say then that if you want an impressive and endearingly predictable superhero film, you should stick to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and come back to The Batman when you are prepared for something a bit edgier.

It was unlikely The Batman was ever going to beat the extravagant glory of The Dark Knight, which continues to hold the gold standard of comic-book films, but it is certainly the most interesting thing DC has done since then, and a step in the right direction.

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