At a time when superhero films are becoming synonymous with stereotypical origin stories, visual effects and set pieces, one of my favourite scenes from The Batman is rather slow-paced and has our titular hero (played by Robert Pattinson) and James Gordon (Jeffrey Wright) investigating a crime scene. A horrific murder has taken place, and as you can imagine in a DC film, it’s all darkly lit, the mood is tense, and the words, sparse. “Ecchymosis,” deduces the bat, looking at the dead body.
Google tells me that it means discolouration of the skin resulting from bleeding underneath, typically caused by bruising. As one of the first scenes in the film, it felt like a nod to our hero himself, someone bruised in the inside. Unlike the previous Batman films, this one refreshingly focusses more on the Sherlockian abilities of our hero.
In previous Batman origins films, we have already seen the Bruce Wayne’s parents get murdered; we have seen Bruce taking upon the mantle of keeping the city clean. Reeves gets that we have seen it all before and avoids repetition. Instead, we get a young Bat who is a couple of years into the crime-fighting business. The film focusses on the series of high-profile deaths that bring an already ramshackle Gotham to its knees. At a runtime of almost three hours, The Batman is packed to the brim with content that might seem like exposition to the average movie-goer but is a treasure chest for fans of the caped crusader. This is both a boon and pardon the pun, bane.
The Batman breaks ground with a lot of what it has in store both on and off the screen. For starters, Wright is the first actor of colour to portray Gordon. It’s also the first time we get a bisexual Catwoman. Interestingly, both Catwoman and Batman do a lot in their regular identity than they do in their alter egos. Selina has her own quest of finding her roommate who goes missing and when that case comes under our Batman’s jurisdiction, they form an unlikely duo we have loved for years. On the other hand, Bruce from The Batman is rather unlike the dapper-looking prodigal heir. Here, he’s reclusive, and in place of a party-loving playboy, we get a man riddled with self-doubt and suffering an existential crisis who, in the course of time, learns that hope is not what can be sought from the outside but nurtured from the inside.
Reeves is a visual storyteller and The Batman is no different. The film’s noir approach pays off and what we get is a visually stunning drama. The rootedness of the film is its biggest blessing. If Joker (2019) felt pragmatic, The Batman builds on that. However, the film does have its share of references and callbacks. We see Batman jump off a gargoyle, throw himself out of a skyscraper and glide through the sky, shoot his grappling gun, and even put his utility belt to use. Speaking about references, the scenes involving the Riddler/Edward Nashton (Paul Dano), is sure to remind you of films like Se7en and Zodiac. Nashton who is a brainiac puts Bruce on an edge, and as the cat and mouse game progresses, both characters figure out the true purpose of their existence. Dano’s Nashton will definitely go down as one of the best villains that our caped crusader has faced on the big screen.
There can’t be a Batman film without impressive action and this film doesn’t fail to quench that thirst though it’s not as much as you would expect. Apart from a stunning car chase sequence, the hand-to-hand combat scenes are a treat to watch. Greig Fraser’s cinematography and Michael Giacchino’s score elevate the mood. On the flip side, it’s hard for any three-hour-long film to hold our attention and The Batman is no different. A few sequences do feel, for lack of a better word, stretched.
The Batman takes yet another long step in showing how the character has evolved from carrying a shark repellent in his utility belt to becoming an antihero fuelled with rage and out to handover vengeance. Reeves manages to give a superhero film that is different from its previous versions and yet ticks all the boxes that make the character who he is. The Batman is a brilliant reboot that captures the essence of the titular hero while putting him on a new canvas that we have rarely seen, making it the start of something huge. It’s the start of something fresh, something dark... And it’s understandable because clean slates, after all, do look dark.
Director: Matt Reeves
Cast: Robert Pattinson, Zoë Kravitz, Paul Dano, Jeffrey Wright, Andy Serkis, Colin Farrell