Stars: Robert Pattinson, Zoë Kravitz, Paul Dano, Colin Farrell, Jeffrey Wright, Andy Serkis
Few would have expected this, the Dark Knight’s first standalone picture in ten years, to revisit the spooky whimsy of the Tim Burton era, or the camp maximalist onslaught of Joel Schumacher’s run, but this latest incarnation so is so relentlessly grim and modishly nihilistic over its three-hour running time, it occasionally veers into self-parody.
Like the contentious but broadly-praised ‘Joker’ which relocated the ‘The King of Comedy’ to Gotham City, this picture also looks to a Scorsese film for inspiration, via an early ‘Taxi Driver’-style voiceover in which Bruce Wayne/Batman (Pattinson) gruffly outlines his solitary existence and his disgust with the denizens of Gotham’s urban jungle.
In charting the crime fighter’s early career (he’s only a year into crime-fighting here), the script leans more into the early ‘Detective Comics’ depiction, with Batman, teaming up with Gotham’s seemingly one good cop, Lieutenant James Gordon (a reliably sturdy Wright) on the trail of serial killer Edward Nashton aka The Riddler, played by Paul Dano as a cartoonish incel replete with bottle top glasses. The character doesn’t really develop much from there. Also in the mix is Wayne’s faithful cockney Butler, Alfred (Serkis), menacing gang boss Carmine Falcone (Turturro) and the vengeful but compassionate Selina Kyle (Kravitz) who works as a waitress in a bar frequented by gangsters and lowlifes.
While the investigation is elegantly spelled-out, the script has been so insistent from the off that everyone is guilty or implicated, that when the revelations about how some or other character is compromised do emerge, they don’t really lands dramatically. The plot also adheres to that annoying small-world trend of recent franchise pictures in inventing connections and shared histories between disparate characters.
This feels like a bit of a backward step for Pattinson. Post-‘Twilight’ he has made some commendably challenging and imaginative choices, but his Bruce Wayne, with his eldritch appearance and staggered line delivery inspires unhappy memories of his turn as soulful vamp Edward Cullen, the baleful glares and lank emo haircut just as likely to raise guffaws as chills. Batman though is strikingly hulking and imposing. Zoë Kravitz fares better, locating a recognizable and relatable humanity in Serena, a blue-collar young woman struggling to stay one step ahead, while searching for her missing flatmate.
Technically the picture shines with the oppressively brown and phlegm-hued hues redolent of 90s horror flicks, David Fincher’s ‘Se7en’ in particular, while the rendering of Gotham, using real Chicago and Glasgow locations is grandly (ahem) gothic and sepulchral. Michael Giacchino’s score is commendably eclectic from eerie strings to choral voices to tribal pounding.
Director Reeves, who impressed with his entries in the ‘Planet of the Apes’ trilogies, stages some spectacularly punchy set pieces, including a police station dust-up between Bats and a legion of coppers, and a crunchy car chase on the rain-soaked Gotham freeway with Batman in pursuit of Oswald ‘Oz’ Cobblepot (Farrell). Farrell’s excessive latex makeup has been criticised, but the actor manages to transcend it while bringing a much-needed degree of levity to the proceedings.
Thankfully, the makers permit a chink of sunlight in at the slightly overblown conclusion suggesting that the next outing may not be so endlessly angst-ridden.
The Batman is released 4rd March
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