“I’m vengeance” – The Batman
I always get nervous whenever there’s a new Batman film. This odd behaviour goes back several decades, all the way to 1989 when I was apprehensively looking forward to Tim Burton’s take. I had been looking forward to a more serious version of onscreen Batman since I was old enough to realise that the Adam West version was played for laughs – not something that was easily apparent to six old me when I saw the ’66 film in the cinema. Burton’s Batman seemed to have a lot going wrong for it, I mean I had only seen Michael Keaton in comedy films previously and he seemed short. Prince supplying songs for the soundtrack? But of course – I was wrong on every conceivable level and Keaton became (for me, at any rate) the definitive screen Batman.
Embracing Burton’s vision, I remember the crushing disappointment of Batman Forever when Joel Schumacher took the reins six years later and it was a gaudy comedic mess that missed the wit of the sixties version, and to this day I can’t fathom an excuse for amplifying every mistake made in Forever and spewing it out as Batman and Robin. I haven’t forgiven that one.
While I’m on the subject, I like Nolan’s version – as a trilogy, it makes for an epic story. But they don’t work as well as standalone films (Pretty much like Daniel Craig’s Bond films – you’ve got to watch them together because they’re episodic in nature) Zach Snyder’s take in Dawn of Justice and Justice League, with Ben Affleck under the cowl was a version I enjoyed very much. An older, battle-hardened Batman worked well for me. Maybe because I’m older.
When Robert Pattinson was announced as putting on the cape for Matt Reeves’ film – I was straight back to 1989 pre-seeing the movie mode. I only really knew Pattinson for the Twilight films, which I abhor with a vengeance. (In essence, I see them as a weak and tepid remake of a vampire love story handled much better a few years earlier in Buffy The Vampire Slayer) and once again, I was uneasy. Until some set photos were released and I began to see it could work. The press mentioning that he was playing Bruce Wayne as an emo didn’t help though. As usual, they were wrong as I saw in the film. More on that later.
Apprehensive or not, opening day, first screening, tickets in hand, popcorn in lap, Pepsi Max in hand I was as ready as I was ever going to be, muttering to Steve that the highest possible compliment I could ever give this film was that it was the best Batman movie since 1989. Then the film started and everything changed.
One of the things that warmed me to the film initially was the title – “THE” Batman. It’s only a small point, but that “the” is important. Back in 1939 when the character debuted, he was billed as The Batman. It was dropped in the forties, and brought back in the late sixties by the team of Neal Adams and Dennis O’Neil when they took the reins of the character. It denotes and emphasises the character as solitary, unique and gives a sense of urban myth.
I’m going to keep this spoiler free, so there’s no need for a Spoiler Zone this time. So read away and you won’t get anything here you won’t already have seen in a trailer. But of course, as ever these views are mine, and they’ve probably been skewed and biased by 56 years of being a Batman fan, reading the comics, watching the movies and TV shows and owning more merchandise than any sane person would ever need.
Robert Pattinson – no, he’s not too young. This is Bruce Wayne in his second year of being Batman. Is he played “goth” or “emo” – hell no. It might seem that way from photos, with the dark eye makeup – but it’s not the case. He’s sometimes seen with heavy makeup around the eyes because he blackens around them to blend in with the mask and when he takes the mask off, it’s still there, obviously. He’s pale and tired looking as Wayne because he’s barely sleeping through being out all night as Batman. It’s a realistic portrayal – especially the amount of scar tissue he’s got under the costume from all the damage he’s taken over the previous couple of years. He’s sullen and withdrawn – obsessed with his mission to the exclusion of everything else, including his public image. This is before he learned that presenting himself as a playboy millionaire with very little responsibility is as important as being a grim figure of the night. In fact, Batman IS Wayne’s real persona. The playboy will become the disguise.
At this stage, he has few allies – Alfred is there, played by Andy Serkis – who convinced me instantly that he was an older version of the same version of the character as played by Sean Pertwee in Gotham. And there’s Jeffrey Wright who is pitch perfect as Lieutenant James Gordon (in his early days before he became Commissioner) Gordon has to play mediator between Batman and the police, who see him as a lawless vigilante.
The villainy is provided by The Riddler (Paul Dano) who is light years away from the over the top performance by Jim Carrey in Batman Forever. I have a soft spot for The Riddler. This goes back to the ’66 series, when Frank Gorshin’s manic psycho Riddler stole the show as Batman’s most threatening villain. The Riddler is scheming to kill several prominent Gothamites for reasons that seem good to him, and true to form, leaves clues for Batman to follow as a compulsion. This brings us to the film’s strongest point – it’s a detective story. Something that’s been absent too long in the films. We’ve had the supervillains and the spectacle – but this is Batman at his purest, as the world’s greatest detective in a story that’s loosely based on The Long Halloween story arc which ran in the comic books several years ago.
For over half a century, I’ve said (to anyone who’ll listen) that Julie Newmar was, is and always will be the definitive screen Catwoman. I didn’t really care for Michelle Pfeiffer if I’m honest. (As for Halle Berry, I mean WTF, right?) Anne Hathaway was pretty good – but she took her cues from Newmar. Zoe Kravitz is right up there with Julie Newmar for her portrayal of Selina Kyle/Catwoman. And that’s something I never thought I’d say. Perfect casting choice, as is Colin Farrell as Oswald Cobblepot/Penguin – a second tier gangster clawing his way up, completely unrecognisable under make-up, and adopting an accent that makes him sound exactly like Danny DeVito.
Gotham City – this is the best realised Gotham we’ve seen to date. It’s an amalgam of the worst aspects of the worst parts of every major city, which in the light, from the rooftops looks glorious, but at street level is as dirty and corrupt as its officials. No wonder they need a Batman!
The batmobile (a new batmobile is always a highlight for me) is the sportiest looking model we’ve ever seen on screen – but it looks home-made, can take a battering and its very sight in a rear-view mirror would put the fear of God into any getaway driver.
Other plus points are the bat suit isn’t an impractical rubber and spandex thing – it’s heavy Kevlar armour, tactical gear with a cape for distraction and a detachable batarang on the chest and a grapple gun hanging off the belt. It simply WORKS. All of it.
My pet peeve with superhero films tends to be the fine detail when the film makers tend to change established details, like naming the Joker Jack Napier in 1989 when he has NEVER been named in the comics, and there are a couple of liberties taken here – and I’m not going to reveal them, but within the story – they make perfect sense and I’m completely at ease with them.
The story is well realised with some amazing cinematography. Its three-hour runtime never drags, there isn’t any waste or padding here. We don’t have to wait for the action to start. It’s never overly dark, gritty or angsty just for the sake of style and we’re not burdened by yet another retelling of the origin. It’s assumed that if you’re sitting there, like me, with your popcorn and your Pepsi, you already know who The Batman is. And that’s a relief – as he’s been in continuous publication for 83 years.
This is easily the equal of Batman ’89 in being the definitive superhero film of its time. I think it may even nudge ahead of that. It may be the best superhero film I’ve seen to date. (I’ll need to see it a few more times before committing to that.) And as I said at the beginning – words I never seriously thought I’d be typing. And we still have the return of Michael Keaton as Batman to look forward to in November.
Truly, this is the year of the Bat.
Rob Rating - 10
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