In Cinemas

The Batman review – mostly compelling Robert Pattinson reboot plays it safe

Matt Reeves' very serious take on Gotham's iconic hero grips in the moment, but is neither fun or dark enough to fully define itself

Remember when Batman used to be fun? It's been a while since that was the case, but the Caped Crusader is undeniably qualified to entertain his audience while saving them, too. We’re well aware of what comes with great power, but even Spider-Man seems more excited by his responsibility than this edgy and – as with most things made to be “edgy” – somewhat vapid take on the iconic superhero. In The Batman, director Matt Reeves gets caught between not being fun enough and refusing to lean fully into the darkness offered by his premise, creating something that's undeniably watchable but also very serious and safe.

If The Batman had fully committed to its dark identity, the final version might have felt bolder. But something’s amiss, and Reeves tiptoes around everything that could have resulted in a more extreme, exciting new spin on a story we know inside out. The plot’s relatively straightforward: Commissioner Gordon (an unconvincing Jeffrey Wright, who seems to have watched Gary Oldman play this part and decided that his moustache would do the acting for him) enlists Batman (Robert Pattinson) to help him solve a string of murders in which the killer, introducing himself as the Riddler (Paul Dano, and does anyone play mind games quite like Paul Dano?), wants to lure Gotham’s vigilante into his trap.

The Riddler’s murders grow increasingly gruesome – or at least, it sounds like they do, as Reeves suggests as much through muffled cries and the blunt thud of metal while censoring any bloody, scary visuals. The film is rated PG-13 (the director’s call, not a studio’s chokehold) and it’s frustrating to see in the narrative the promise of such darkness, of the anger and fear the residents of Gotham are plagued by in every waking moment, yet for viewers to be kept mostly at arm’s length. Dying your hair black, smudging your eyeliner and calling yourself “vengeance” do not a dangerous character make.

Still, there’s enough gripping material in The Batman, from Colin Farrell’s unbelievable prosthetic and psychological metamorphosis into The Penguin (his disgusting confidence is mesmerising) and Greig Fraser’s colourful yet sinister cinematography, which glides over destruction with great beauty. Michael Giacchino’s austere yet galvanising score is regal and buoyant, then aggressive and unpredictable, staunchly resisting breathy emo reworkings of many bruising alt-rock classics (although of course, a glum cover of Nirvana’s “Something in the Way” does remind us that Batman is, in case you didn't know, quite upset). And Pattinson is relatively compelling as Batman/Bruce Wayne, if sporadically – this moody, lonely millionaire forced out of the shadows to save the people he’s always resented, betrayed and abandoned time and time again.

The film’s main issue comes from the reasoning behind everyone’s resentment. We’ve always known that Wayne is grieving his parents and suffers with the responsibility he feels for the city’s people. But his conflict with the Riddler – actually more to do with the Riddler’s own issues with the rest of the world – is a little antiquated. Zoë Kravitz, giving a fine physical performance as the slippery Selina Kyle, unfortunately has a bizarre wool balaclava supposed to turn her into a hero, and as much chemistry with Pattinson as a house cat with a garden hose. Her Catwoman spits about “these white privilege psychos,” and you suddenly remember that this new story comes from Reeves and co-writer Peter Craig, two white and pretty privileged men themselves. It’s not exactly villainous, but it is irritating.

Conflict shifts towards the Riddler’s bitterness at being a mistreated orphan, and he rallies together a sea of mistreated men from the internet to punish the society that left them to rot. There’s an odd request from Reeves to his audience to suspend disbelief entirely, as we’re meant to believe this social media tyranny led by a faceless sea of incels is a new threat in a film released in 2022. The whole thing nods to Fight Club’s Project Mayhem, an army of angry boys dead set on destroying a society that’s never cared for them (a throwaway “rifles is good” comment on the Riddler’s social media livestream is more embarrassing than frightening). But as Batman tells us, vengeance never actually heals anyone. These boys will learn as much – all you can do is endure, and try to survive.

This Batman is surviving, by the skin of his teeth. The physically staggering Pattinson is committed enough to see this franchise through, while Dano’s Riddler (whose mania reaches incredible depths and unpredictable power) is clearly just getting started. Reeves certainly could have been more daring – he chooses to omit Batman’s backstory and the death of his parents, but is too polite to actually put any other part of this world at risk. But Gotham still isn’t fully safe. It isn't much of a playground, and doesn’t carry the danger of a truly sinister battleground, either. Still, there’s definitely something wicked coming this way. There’s always more for Batman to fight for.

The Batman is released in cinemas on 4 March.

Where to watch

More Reviews...

The Book of Solutions review – a showcase of unbridled inventiveness

Creativity and self-doubt collide in the new meta-movie from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind director Michel Gondry

La Chimera review – Alice Rohrwacher’s curious excavation of death and memory

Josh O'Connor stars in the acclaimed Italian director's gentle drama about an Englishman treasure hunter, set in 80s Tuscany

The Old Man Movie: Lactopalypse! review – berserk stop-motion comedy is a laugh riot

This absurdist Estonian animation from Mikk Mägi and Oskar Lehemaa makes for a maddeningly immature and hilarious ride

Killers of the Flower Moon review – Scorsese’s American epic compels but never quite blossoms

This hugely ambitious take on David Grann's non-fiction book is engaging and well-made, but it's lacking the director's usual spark


Dmytro Sukholytkyy-Sobchuk on Pamfir: “When Russia invaded, my film became historical”

Adam Solomons talks to the Ukrainian director about his Cannes hit and how even a non-political film can be bastardised by war

Repertory Rundown: What to Watch in London This Week, From Raimi to Rio Bravo

From classics to cult favourites, our team highlight some of the best one-off screenings and re-releases showing this week in the capital

Repertory Rundown: What to Watch in London This Week, From Monkey Business to Miami Vice

From classics to cult favourites, our team highlight some of the best one-off screenings and re-releases showing this week in the capital

Repertory Rundown: What to Watch in London This Week, From Billy Liar to Beau Travail

From classics to cult favourites, our team highlight some of the best one-off screenings and re-releases showing this week in the capital