Stately Wayne Manor is no more. Neither is stately Bruce Wayne.
In the latest iteration of the saga of the orphaned zillionaire turned caped crusader, Bruce Wayne, director Matt Reeves imagines a world in which David Fincher has taken over Gotham City.
“The Batman” is a darker knight than ever before. Reeves’ movie, wholly entertaining and full of surprises, features “Twilight” star Robert Pattinson as the youngest Bruce Wayne ever. He’s not that many years past his parents being killed, but the echoes of Thomas and Martha Wayne are everywhere. Wayne Manor looks more like The Limelight nightclub. All Bruce has left is loyal butler Alfred (Andy Serkis) who busier fixing complex electronics than dusting the china.
All of Batman’s enemies are introduced in this chapter: Catwoman (Zoe Kravitz), The Penguin (a totally unrecognizable Colin Farrell), the Riddler (Paul Dano) and yet a new Joker (Barry Keoghan). Of this quad, Catwoman and Penguin are given the most screen time. Riddler is depicted as unseen serial killer, very Hannibal Lecter, who doesn’t emerge until the last 45 minutes (of three hours). The whole Joker plot is more obtuse. There’s one more villain, too: John Turturro’s mobster, Carmine Falcone, for who the Jake Mottola-like Penguin — known here as Oswald Cobblepot — works.
Suffice to say, it’s Kravitz’s Catwoman who gets the most interaction with Batman as they flirt and even kiss as she tries to persuade him they are alike. But Batman has bigger issues. The Batman comics we all knew in the old days were billed not under his name but as “Detective Comics.” So here, based on recent comic books. Batman takes the lead as a detective and vigilante, someone who the public thinks of as a masked freak. (He is not yet Gotham’s beloved hero.) His Robin, so to speak, is police captain James Gordon (Jeffrey Wright) who not only believes in him but is an able assistant when necessary.
Pattinson is 36 and trying to get away from his hit vampire movies of a decade ago. He actually makes for a lively, engaged Batman who seems, when he puts on the cape and cowl, more sophisticated than young Bruce, who looks like a deer in headlights a lot of the time. Putting on that Batman suit, in this movie, does more for Bruce than it has in the past. And he needs it: Reeves imagines Bruce as a disaffected Kurt Cobain with dark circles under his eyes and nary a comb in sight.
Reeves plays part of the film like it’s “Seven” and some of it like “Silence of the Lambs.” Peter Craig’s screenplay advances the idea that the Waynes’ murder was not a random robbery but a planned hit based on Thomas’s run for mayor on the platform of Renewal. That at least gives the story a new direction and something more for Bruce to chew on as he avenges their memory. Reeves also brings out the best in the villains: Kravitz, tiny in real life, slinks around and seems a lot taller as a modern vixen. (She also has a woke moment, describing Gotham society as “rich, privileged white people.” ) Dano absolutely glows as the completely insane, murderous Riddler.
The three hour run time is no problem, the movie zips by without a moment of lag. It could have stopped at two hours-fifteen — there’s a beat where you see it. But that last 45 minutes is worth the wait even if there’s a bit of a watery shark jump. Still, I’d be up for parts 2 and 3 of this trilogy, and I think audiences will go back and see this one at least one more time.
PS Kudos to the Michael Giacchino score. It’s melodic, very Beethoven-esque and runs counter to the somber mood of impending doom. Keep it in mind next awards season.