Robert Pattinson is the Batman for the 21st century

By Camilo Fonseca and Frankie Rowley

Less than a year has passed since the world last saw Batman on the silver screen. With Hollywood’s latest take on the caped crusader, though, the world might just forget they ever saw another.

The Batman’s Batman is a far cry from the one in Zack Snyder’s Justice League last March—and indeed, might just stand apart from any that moviegoing audiences have experienced. It’s too early to call Robert Pattinson’s performance “definitive” but it is also clear that this Bruce Wayne is grittier, smarter, and angrier than ever before—and he knows it.

Batman has always been a mythos, looming over his city as a dark angel of justice. Whereas past adaptations have toyed with this idea, this Batman embraces it. Pattinson revels in the terror he brings to the criminals of Gotham City, ruthlessly inflicting his own sense of “vengeance” on any lawbreaker that should cross his path.

In charting a course for Bruce Wayne, director Matt Reeves maintains the essential aspects of the character’s backstory—his allies, his rogues gallery, and of course his orphaned backstory. Yet Pattinson’s Bruce Wayne possesses neither the suaveness of Christian Bale nor the maturity of Ben Affleck. He is moody, inexperienced, and vengeful—almost to the point of obsession.

“Rob, as Batman, is never really in control,” Reeves said to The New York Times. “He’s just barely making it.”

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It’s a refreshing take on Bruce Wayne and Batman: less Tony Stark, more Kurt Cobain (as evidenced by Nirvana’s “Something In The Way”). Rather than the playboy version we’ve seen, Reeves leans into another vision of the character—one who has “gone through a great tragedy and become a recluse.”

The ultimate result is a tantalizingly elusive man whose trauma and anger have overtaken him to the point of hibernation and salvation through vengeance. He’s an outcast, more than ever before, feared by the Gotham underworld and distrusted by the Gotham elite—including his usual police partner Jim Gordon, played by the relentless Jeffrey Wright. 

Like his character in Robert Eggers’ The Lighthouse—Pattinson turns Batman into an enigmatic Byron: a deeper voice, pale complexion, flowing black locks, and a 90’s grunge aesthetic that makes us ask, what have we been watching? 

As Batman, Pattinson delivers a perfect balance of rage, tragedy, and sophistication. The trials of his life match the character more, as the emotional depth of this Batman is one we’ve been craving to see. The lack of a playboy nature and supplemental disturbed bad boy is an interesting twist  that is long overdue. After the failure that was Affleck’s portrayal of the Batman, Pattinson’s take is a refreshing sigh of relief despite the actor’s concern over his performance. 

Pattinson’s tour-de-force performance does not overshadow the rest of the cast. Zoë Kravitz embraces her inner femme fatale for Catwoman. Colin Farrell is unrecognizable in his Penguin prosthetics, though his uproarious Robert De Niro impression manages to toe the line between cartoon and menace. And John Turturro quietly steals the show as a slimy mob boss that ends up being much more important than the audience initially suspects.

It would be a disservice, though, to reduce the film to the sum of its performances. The score by Michael Giacchino, award-winning composer of “Spider-Man: No Way Home” and the Planet of the Apes series (where he also collaborated with Reeves), is the perfect accompaniment to the dismal mood of the picture. The choir vocalizations and echoing instrumentals build alongside a tip-toeing bass—especially in a central track in the film, “A Flood of Terrors.” And “Something in the Way,” slow and yearning, is the perfect song to be dubbed as “The Batman’s Song.”

Greig Fraser’s cinematography oozes with neon hues of orange and blue, with an apocalyptic grain that the filmmakers achieved by running the digital image through film and scanning it again. The color scheme and grading makes the tragic and vengeful reality of the city all-encompassing. The audience is forced to experience the characters enough to glue them  in their seats for three hours. 

The film, more than any other, transforms Gotham City into a truly lived-in character. Previous adaptations ranged from Christopher Nolan’s no-frills Chicago and Tim Burton’s Gothic extravaganza, this Gotham seamlessly blends the decaying monuments of New York, Glasgow, and Liverpool into a single gruesome and fantastical city. 

Leaping from the Gotham Police headquarters— Liverpool’s famed Royal Liver Building—an immaculate shot follows the caped crusader soaring across the city in his wingsuit. For someone from Liverpool, it became almost a running joke to see the Liver Building serving as GCPD or St. George’s Hall serving as Gotham City Hall—the best cinematic display of Liverpool ever put to screen (perhaps better if Anfield Stadium had been in it, but beggars can’t be choosers). 

Reeves’ Batman actively grapples with the notions of class, inequality, and corruption—all tied, implicitly and explicitly, to the paradoxical concept of a billionaire fighting on behalf of the poor and marginalized. Bruce Wayne relies on his parents’ optimistic vision of Gotham as justification for his own brand of vigilante justice, not realizing the negative effects of his campaign of terror.

Central to the film is the realization that Batman’s corrupt world is too much for him to change alone—despite all the flowery notions of “progress” and “renewal,” the rot in Gotham goes to the city’s very core. And though this Batman works closer with the police than ever before—literally invited onto murder scenes as a consultant—it is clear that this film is anything but the “copaganda” that other popular movies fall into. In the course of the film, Batman realizes that he is surrounded by a horrible system rife with abuse, crafted by his heroes just as much as his enemies.

The movie, of course, is not perfect. Paul Dano’s talent as the Riddler is criminally underutilized and Catwoman’s story arc becomes unnecessarily convoluted, with a significant twist falling short due to the surface level representations of her relationships. And the third act, in general, is short on set-up and long on runtime.

That said, the film is the freshest take on Batman we have seen in years. Reeves’ vision for Gotham is generational, and it can only get better from here.