Review for The Batman
There have been more Doctors in Doctor Who than actors playing Batman on screen, but the former has the excuse of regeneration. It’s still been a ridiculous number of screen Batmen, Batmans, what is the plural of Batman anyway? Adam West, Michael Keaton, Val Kilmer, George Clooney, Christian Bale, Ben Affleck, David Jason... what’s one more? Yet when Robert Pattinson was announced as the next actor to don the cowl of the Caped Crusader, and some production photos emerged of Bruce Wayne with floppy hair and black eye make-up, my scepticism maxed out, and after dubbing him the emo-bat, I vowed to avoid the film. That vow lasted until the week that the Blu-ray was released, and my boredom peaked. Don’t believe any of my promises...
Incidentally, all of the film Batman actors wore black make-up around the eyes under their masks, but the make-up would always magically vanish when the masks came off. Leaving the make-up as a character device suggests a greater sense of realism this time around.
Gotham City is plagued by crime, despite years of investment and renewal projects by the city government. Standing against the crime is The Batman, a masked vigilante who approaches criminals with complete ruthlessness, identifying himself as vengeance incarnate. As for his alter ego, Bruce Wayne, he’s a total recluse, devoted only to fighting crime.
Things take a turn during the Mayoral election, with the advent of a masked serial killer, stalking and slaying high profile victims, filming their plight to post online, and leaving riddles to his crimes addressed directly to the Batman. This Riddler is on some sort of crusade for a twisted justice, and he wants The Batman to play his part, pointing to a high level conspiracy between government and organised crime, the police and the city administration. The first victim, the incumbent mayor portrayed himself as a faithful family man, and Riddler reveals the lie, the girl he’s cheating with. Batman tracks the girl down to an exclusive club run by a small time crime boss known as The Penguin. But the girl goes missing, causing concern for her roommate, cat burglar Selina Kyle. As the victims continue to pile up, more lies are uncovered, and things get personal for Bruce Wayne.
The Batman gets a 2.40:1 widescreen 1080p transfer on this disc, with the choice of Dolby Atmos English, DTS-HD MA 5.1 Surround Italian, and Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround English, Spanish, Hungarian, and English Audio Descriptive, with subtitles in these languages and Bulgarian, Cantonese, Chinese, Korean and Romanian. A recent film doesn’t offer much opportunity to nitpick, but I did notice some banding in a scene towards the end of the film. That’s it. The audio is epic and immersive, and the film’s composer has taken a page from John Williams. His Batman theme builds on a melody built on just two notes. The action is immersive and impactful while the dialogue is clear throughout. Gotham City at night is bathed in sodium lighting, and the film’s colour timing tends towards the yellow to capitalise on that. And it turns out that the only emo in the film comes with some of the songs used in the soundtrack.
You get two discs in a BD Amaray style case, with one disc held on a centrally hinged panel, all wrapped in an o-card slipcover. The discs boot to static menus, and Disc 1 has the movie only on it. The extras are all on disc 2, and are listed below.
Looking for Vengeance (4:57)
The Batman: Genesis (6:09)
Vengeance Meets Justice (8:04)
Becoming Catwoman (8:36)
The Batmobile (10:51)
Anatomy of the Car Chase (6:08)
Anatomy of the Wing Suit Jump (6:29)
Vengeance in the Making (53:41)
Unpacking the Icons (5:47)
A Transformation: The Penguin (7:59)
Deleted Scenes x2 (7:47)
Deleted Scenes with Commentary (7:47)
It’s a good thing I broke that vow. The Batman is the best Batman movie yet, and Robert Pattinson is perfect for this vision of the character. It’s three hours long as well, yet I didn’t notice the time at all, so immersed I was in the film. When Christian Bale debuted in Batman Begins when the franchise was rebooted following the Schumacher movies, I made noise about Christopher Nolan opting for realism over fantasy in his approach to the world of Batman. That lasted for most of the first movie, but began to drain away in the subsequent entries. The Dark Knight was made transcendent by Heath Ledger’s performance as the Joker, but the Dark Knight Rises was something of a disappointment. But even Batman Begins is a work of absurdist fantasy compared to the realism of The Batman.
For this version of the character, the creators looked back to the meaning of DC in DC Comics. The company was originally called Detective Comics, when superheroes were yet to become a thing. This Batman is an armoured vigilante to be sure, but he’s a detective first and foremost. He has the armoured suit, the cape and the mask, but he gets around town incognito on a motorbike, the batmobile is a heavily modded, armoured muscle car, and about the only fancy gadget the Batman uses are contact lenses with some seriously smart tech.
We meet The Batman at the start of his ‘career’, although thankfully we ditch the origin story which has been told time and again at this point. We meet a young Bruce Wayne, at the start of his obsession as a vigilante, with a singular, brutal purpose with the way that he deals with crime and criminals. Yet he has a line that he doesn’t cross, rules that he lives by, enough of an ethical code that the police tentatively accept him, although that’s mostly in the person of Jim Gordon, the police detective that he most works with.
Batman’s skill as a detective are sorely tested when The Riddler appears on the scene, starting off by killing the incumbent mayor during an election campaign, leaving a enigmatic message addressed directly to the Batman, something which doesn’t help the police trust him more. The Riddler has seen the corruption in the city, and he’s targeting those high status individuals that are the most corrupt, challenging Batman to discover the criminal underworld figure that they have conspired with. One of the daft things about the Riddler character was the fact that he advertised his crimes to the Batman, ultimately resulting in his downfall. But here, with Riddler believing that he seeks justice, and seeing the vigilante Bat as a kindred spirit, there is a character reason for the riddles that actually works.
The romantic aspect of the story engages as well, with Batman encountering Selina Kyle, roommate of a missing girl, who works at The Penguin’s club, and moonlights as a cat burglar who can more than take care of herself. When her friend goes missing, she’s motivated to find her, and given that intersects with the Mayor murder case, she and the Batman wind up working together, although she’s willing to cross lines that he won’t. It gives Bruce Wayne an example of a criminal who is sympathetic, which jars his obsessive adherence to his vengeance ethos. It doesn’t hurt that serious flirting occurs too.
Special mention must be made of Colin Farrell’s performance as The Penguin. Never has an actor been so unrecognisable in a role. In terms of characterisation, make-up and prosthetics, Colin Farrell literally disappears into the role of the small time criminal boss. And just when I think that I can’t be surprised by a car chase in a movie, along comes The Batman and gives me a car chase the likes of which I have never seen before.
The Batman is brilliant. It has a great story, wonderfully rounded characters, and an adherence to realism that makes it the version of Batman that could most exist, and work in our world. It’s got a film noir style to it that most suits the character, and its villain hero dynamic take a leaf from Se7en’s book, a superlative film to homage to say the least. Best of all, the Bruce Wayne/Batman character arc makes the most sense and is utterly engaging. Best. Batman. Yet!