The Batman only dark at the surface

(Warner Bros)

In defiance of expectations, I am pleased to say that the latest reboot of a long-standing DC Comics franchise is actually a pretty enjoyable watch. This is in no small measure thanks to the decision to make The Batman less of a rock’em sock’em superhero adventure than a slow burning mystery noir.

Featuring one-time teenage heart-throb Robert Pattison in the titular role, the film kicks off with the untimely demise of Gotham’s mayor and the the city’s resident vigilante crime fighter called in to take an interest in the case.

The body comes pinned with a riddle, which signals this episode’s principal nemesis – Cat Woman (Zoe Kravitz) and the Penguin (Colin Farrell) will also put in appearances.  

The early scenes also happen to bring with them a fresh sense of style.

One nice thing about this film, for example, is its manifest effort to bend away from pure fantasy a little more towards something approaching realism.

This is seen in the approximation of actual physics that seem to govern the world. A bat-shaped blade works just like a knife rather than a boomerang, and when he uses grappling hooks, the Batman does not pseudo-fly but repels.

The Batmobile is not simply an implausibility machine souped up in the image of a schoolboy‘s daydream, but resembles a modified 1970s muscle car whose inner workings and replacement parts are strewn around a Batcave resembling an upscale mechanic shop.

This Batman’s suit is less sleek and rubberized than blocky and utilitarian. Indeed, compared to his predecessors in office, he is decidedly low tech, even diesel punk. And it suits him.

Strictly in terms of its colour palette, it’s a very dark film.

There is a meme going around the internet that juxtaposes screenshots from the various Batman titles going back to the 1960s. Starting with the noonday brightness of the earliest shows, each film recedes a little further into shadow, until this latest one, facetiously, gets succeeded by a square of total black.

It’s an exaggeration, but not by much.

Thankfully, though, the darkness that meets the eye is not, for the most part, echoed by a darkness of soul. For a story about murder, sadistic psychopathy, and revenge, that is, the tone and content of the film depict depravity but do not rub our faces in it.

At the same time there are certainly some disturbing elements. The aesthetics of the Riddler’s ciphers, for instance, and the little glimmers we get into his darknet community of would-be terrorists tiptoe a little too close to the line for my liking to the shadowlands of real evil.

Overall, though, the moral atmosphere of the film shows us evil and darkness while allowing us to believe they are really distinct from light and goodness. The principle is reaffirmed, however elusive the latter happen to find themselves in the circumstances.

To its credit, the film rides this difficult line of neither shrinking from evil nor encouraging it.

Look, says The Batman, there really is a dark side. There really are the March-Februaries of this world, long stretches when it is always raining.

But this does not do away with the sun, however obscured, nor the eventuality of the dawn.