The latest cinematic excursion into the Batman franchise is a rather overlong dip into the past, featuring a youthful Bruce Wayne in his second year as the caped crusader. It ignores all previous Batman films and sets up a new, and welcome, Batman universe.
His primary adversary in this rather convoluted film is a new version of an old villain, The Riddler (Paul Dano.) Forget the old versions of the character in the lime green onesie with all the question marks on it from television, comics, and the goofy Jim Carrey version in the1995 movie Batman Forever. In fact, forget Batman Forever completely.
The Batman features a tortured Riddler intent on challenging Batman to examine his past and the stains on the good name of the Wayne family.
Batman movies rise and fall on two things: the believability of Batman himself and the appeal of the bad guys. To that end, Robert Pattinson makes a very convincing Dark Knight. He has the gravitas necessary to make Batman believable and to make Bruce Wayne a serious human being, as opposed to the goof seen in other films. Dano makes the most interesting Riddler ever seen in comics, television, and film.
In The Batman, the Riddler is targeting the city’s elite with brutal murders and leaves cryptic clues behind as the murders get closer and closer to people in Bruce Wayne’s orbit.
Director Matt Reeves is a bit heavy on his moody vision of Gotham City, where it apparently always rains and is always night, but the atmosphere fits the melancholy feel of the film.
The bad side of Reeves’ film is that the movie is way too long. Clocking in at 176 minutes, the movie runs about 45 minutes longer than it should. Around hour two, I thought it was about over and felt satisfied, only to learn that there was another whole seat-squirming subplot to sit through.
That being said, the film is a must-see for any Batman fan. It treats the character with a deadly seriousness, something missing from many of the earlier Batman films. Comic fans will grimace at the changes made in the comic canon, but they can be ignored for the sake of the plot. And considering how DC comics has been changing Batman’s history in the past few years, it’s hard to take Warner Brothers to task.
A lot of credit for the quality of the film goes to supporting characters like Selina (Catwoman) Kyle, played brilliantly by Zoe Kravitz, and Colin Farrell as the most chilling version of The Penguin ever seen. This Penguin loses the silly, six-inch pointy nose, disfigured hands and monocle. Instead, Farrell’s Penguin is a scarred, scary mobster.
John Turturro deserves special acclaim for his criminal gang leader, Carmine Falcone, who holds some secrets about the murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne.
And Alfred (Andy Serkis) and Lt. James Gordon (Jeffrey Wright) also play pivotal roles in the development of Batman’s character as well as moving the plot along.
There are some fascinating reveals, best left unsaid for now, that will hopefully lead to sequels. We wouldn’t want to spoil the fun.
The Batman is rated PG-13 and opens in theaters nationwide on March 4.