Within the first twenty minutes of “The Batman”, the acoustic guitar-driven “Something In The Way” by Nirvana plays as Bruce Wayne (Robert Pattinson) cruises back to the Batcave in the early hours of the morning. He has just finished a night in the streets as Batman defending Gotham city against its regular crime waves. The downbeat song acts as the sonic backdrop for the hopeless town that is described as “eating itself” in a voice-over from the protagonist. The track also embodies the melancholic nature of the titular character.
In this take, Bruce Wayne is not the same charismatic billionaire that is in the Nolan trilogy. Pattinson plays the character as dark, introverted and visibly troubled. It is an interesting choice that matches the tone of the film. Wayne is still reeling from the loss of his parents roughly twenty years later and refers to himself as “vengeance” when dressed up as Batman. For the most part, he only comes out at night and in one hilarious instance is so visibly irritated by the morning sunlight that he puts on sunglasses while indoors.
Wayne is in year two of fighting crime and is not equipped with many gadgets beyond contact lenses with cameras on them. His batmobile takes a while to start and feels like it’s mere seconds away from breaking down. Everything about this batman is rough around the edges and unrefined. Given that he has no powers and a limited supply of advanced technology at his disposal, the film is grounded in reality and keeps it from feeling like a typical superhero movie. At its core, this is a detective film with Batman and Detective Jim Gordon (Jeffery Wright) trying to unravel clues left by The Riddler, an unhinged killer portrayed by a brilliant Paul Dano (“There Will Be Blood”, “Prisoners”).
The Riddler targets the corrupt higher ups in the city, many of which are politicians that have contributed to the unsavory circumstances in Gotham. They hang out at the Iceberg Lounge, the electric nightclub that is an essential location to the story. Other important characters include the slimy mob boss Carmine Falcone (John Turturro), an equally troubled Selina Kyle (Zoe Kravitz) and the Penguin (Colin Farrell). Each character presents a different challenge for Batman on the road to catching the Riddler.
One of the strongest things going for “The Batman” is its strong nocturnal atmosphere and detailed world building. With the exception of a small handful of scenes, almost the entirety of the nearly three-hour film takes place at night and it is frequently raining. It is far more visually interesting than a typical blockbuster. One of the reasons for this is its cinematographer Greig Fraser. He has also worked on “Rogue One”, and “Dune”, the latter of which he recently won an Academy Award for his work. There are some great shots in this that translate to instantly iconic and memorable moments for the hero.
One of the major talking points before the movie was released was its lengthy run time. At almost three hours, “The Batman” covers a lot of ground with several subplots that include a wide array of characters. The time commitment isn’t completely earned. The middle of the film gets extremely dense with minutes of brutal exposition about a character (Salvator Maroni) that doesn’t appear on screen beyond a brief cameo in a news package. It is far too easy to get lost if you aren’t laser-focused and already familiar with the characters from other Batman stories. The second act drags at points because of this and the film loses momentum.
However, the final hour is when the film is most focused and at its best. The action and stakes get cranked up to the max as Batman has to try to save the city from The Riddler. The end result is a good film and a strong debut as the hero for Robert Pattinson, who brings a stoic yet vulnerable nature to the billionaire. Cobain’s hushed vocals take center stage as “Something In The Way” plays again in the final minutes. Wayne’s voiceover starts again as he reflects on how far he has come, and if he is truly making a difference in Gotham.