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Movies & TV

28th Feb 2022

The Batman is better than The Dark Knight

Rory Cashin

It is also in with a shout of being the greatest comic book movie adaptation of all time.

The more comic book movies we get, the more new entries there are in the debate over which of them is the undisputed best.

1978’s Superman held the title for a long, long time, but in the decades since – and especially in the last five years or so – we’ve had multiple pretenders to the throne, including Blade, X-Men 2, Spider-Man 2, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Logan and Avengers: Infinity War and/or Endgame.

Arguably towering above them all is 2008’s The Dark Knight, Christopher Nolan’s centrepiece epic that leaned hard into the influences of Michael Mann’s monumental crime saga Heat, elevated by Heath Ledger’s screen-searing performance. In fact, Ledger left such an impression that the rest of the movie feels a little lesser during every minute he isn’t on the screen.

Jump to 2022, and all eyes are on The Batman, and probably the biggest question of them all:

Is it better than The Dark Knight?

And we can say that yes, yes it is.

Director and co-writer Matt Reeves (Cloverfield, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes) has created something deliciously twisted here, taking a mega-budgeted comic book movie and projecting it through the blood-stained prism of some of the most famous serial killer movies in cinematic history.

But don’t forget – Batman comics haven’t exactly been shy about veering into some seriously adult territory, so this isn’t a case of a comic book movie deciding to suddenly be a bit grown-up, but rather paying respectful attention to its own history that isn’t exclusive tied to super-villains.

Throughout the gargantuan running time (176 minutes, complete with a somewhat pointless post-credits bit), film fans can fill out a bingo card of nods and references in their minds, but mostly you’ll be distracted by the near-relentless sense of tension and nail-biting pressure that the movie’s plot is exerting upon the people – both heroes and villains – that occupy Gotham.

And unlike The Dark Knight, the movie’s primary antagonist The Riddler (Paul Dano, practically guaranteed Oscar attention next year), manages to evoke a sense of city-wide dread and fear even more while off-screen, again bringing to life the terror that is usually reserved for the boogeymen who haunt the dark in horror movies.

The plot boils down to The Riddler bringing his perceived-to-be-righteous anger down upon the heads of the corrupt officials who have helped run Gotham into the ground. Reclusive billionaire Bruce Wayne (Robert Pattinson) is currently in his second year of moonlighting as nocturnal vigilante The Batman, and while trying to solve the riddle behind the why of The Riddler’s actions, he discovers he may be directly related to the city-wide corruption.

Pattinson successfully brings an intimidating physicality to the role, always willing to use five punches when one would’ve sufficed. While we’re spared yet another re-enactment of how young Bruce Wayne became an orphan, he is initially stuck in a moodier, less-fun version of the character, narrating entire sections like Harrison Ford in Blade Runner.

Thankfully, as he interacts with more and more of Gotham’s seedy underbelly – including Penguin (Colin Farrell), Catwoman (Zoe Kravitz) and Carmine Falcone (John Turturro), all of whom are having an absolute blast in their roles – it brings out a less dour side of Batman/Bruce Wayne, too.

He’s ably supported by some good guys, too, with Jeffrey Wright arguably the best incarnation of James Gordon to date, while Andy Serkis’ take on Alfred Pennyworth signals to someone who might end up in the thick of the action in a future sequel.

Matt Reeves has created a version of Gotham that absolutely feels like a city that people under a certain income level might be desperate to escape from, the constant rain evoking the memory of Se7en – and that is before the maniac serial killer with bigger plans of annihilation in mind arrives.

How they’ve tied it all together – the seemingly disparate plot elements told in between some incredible action sequences and a series of properly harrowing attacks by The Riddler – is mostly fantastic, save perhaps for the final revelation, which feels more obvious than surprising. Even then though, that revelation is paired with the movie’s biggest set-piece, so while the IQ may plateau slightly towards the end, the BPM rises higher than ever.

It all ends with a final interaction that will have fans absolutely drooling over what Reeves and his crew will do with the next instalment.

Now that they’ve brilliantly built this world, we can’t wait to see how much fun they’ll have with it.

The Batman arrives in Irish cinemas on Friday, 4 March.

Clips via Warner Bros UK & Ireland

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