Robert Pattinson’s grunge prince vows to wash the scum off Gotham’s streets in Matt Reeves’ noirish detective thriller.
It’s the two-letter word on the lips of every high-powered executive in Hollywood. The first thing Kevin Feige thinks about in the morning and the last thing Kathleen Kennedy thinks about at night. I’m talking, of course, about IP. In an era of seemingly endless reboots, remakes, prequels, requels, shequels and spin-offs, IP has become the movie industry’s north star – the shining beacon every big studio guides itself by. As a result, and due in no small part to the highly lucrative, precision-tooled homogeneity of the Marvel Cinematic Industrial Complex, diverse, original storytelling is increasingly hard to come by at the multiplex.
Critics and filmmakers who perhaps think themselves more discerning than Johnny Popcorn™ frequently give films based on existing intellectual property a bad rap; driven by a purer artistic calling and a genuine concern for the future of the medium. But IP is not, as some would have it, a terminal blight on film culture. Or rather, it doesn’t have to be. Because just as Bruce Wayne uses his trust fund billions to finance a secret life of vigilantism, so too can catering specifically to a built-in fanbase be a worthy endeavour. IP in and of itself is not the problem. It’s what you do with it that counts. Which brings us to Matt Reeves’ The Batman.
The latest DC-Warner Bros co-production may trade on 80 plus years of sweet, sweet brand recognition, but it makes a concerted effort to recalibrate Bob Kane and Bill Finger’s creation for a new audience, distancing itself from other cinematic iterations both tonally and thematically. It draws more from the character’s comic book roots and recent video game exploits than any previous Batman film, owing little to Tim Burton, Christopher Nolan or Zack Snyder. Crucially, it explores the Dark Knight’s chequered past from a standalone perspective, largely unencumbered by the rigid franchise mechanics to which so many contemporary blockbusters are bound.
Several years after the biggest drugs bust in Gotham’s history, the city is still a cesspit of sleaze and corruption. At the end of a long Halloween, a prominent politician turns up dead, leading Robert Pattinson’s grunge prince to a series of ciphers which he must decode in order to apprehend the man responsible, an enigmatic edgelord who calls himself The Riddler (Paul Dano). These cryptic clues also lead to a nest of lies that will implicate some of Gotham’s most senior public officials, as well as a Penguin (Colin Farrell), a Falcone (John Turturro), various vultures and stool pigeons (the place is a regular aviary, but alas, not a Robin in sight).
Putting the proverbial cat amongst them is, well, Catwoman (Zoë Kravitz), who agrees to help Batman provided he doesn’t interfere with her own pursuit of vengeance. Selina Kyle, it turns out, has serious daddy issues – and she’s not the only one who’s forced to reckon with traumatic events from their childhood.