This wasn’t going to be a full review, but has ended up longer than planned!
In summary, it’s flawed, but I liked all of it to varying degrees, and some parts I actively loved.
Mostly it’s the kind of grim, psychological, relatively hard-hitting Batman movie I’ve wanted to see for years. Bale is a superb casting choice for the lead role, and the all-star guest cast doesn’t overbalance the film because they’re actually playing characters instead of showboating. That’s the movie’s approach in a nutshell: to play everything as sincerely and as emotionally grounded as possible, whilst also giving full reign to the more OTT aspects of the character.
It’s a tough balancing act to pull off, and to be honest the film doesn’t entirely manage it. The early scenes, cutting between Bruce Wayne’s pilgrimage and flashbacks to his childhood, are slow paced to a fault, but almost entirely successful. It’s when the film has to make the transition from that mythic but very “real” film to a man in a rubber batsuit that there’s a slightly uncomfortable shifting of gears. Nonetheless, the film still plays Batman as far more of a threatening figure than we’re accustomed to: a largely unseen and menacing pursuer with a truly intimidating snarl of a voice.
My main problem with the film is this odd juxtaposition of the gritty and the larger than life. If anything, the film goes slightly too far towards explaining the motives and means of Bruce Wayne, at the expense of some of the wish-fulfilment ‘cool’ of Batman being Batman. In an odd way, superheroes are more convincing when they’re not overly rationalised, but simply *are*. As a result the early parts of the film sometimes seem at odds with the occasional summer blockbuster moments later on – as if a really low-key Batman movie had been awkwardly spliced with parts of Spider-man 2. And I still think the chunky rubber bat-suit just doesn’t work.
However, overall the film is admirably dark, subtle and evocative. There are a handful of moments when the film sublimely transcends anything you’d expect to see in a superhero film; for example Bruce Wayne in the batcave surrounded by a cloud of bats, or his genuine emotional bond with his father and with Alfred. Indeed, it’s the first time in any medium that I’ve actually cared enough about his parents to mourn their passing.
Ultimately it’s not a patch on the sombre graphic novel Batman: Year One, from which it borrows heavily in places, but it’s still far and away the best translation of Batman to the big screen. It’s all the more impressive when you consider that the previous movie, Batman and Robin, was so unbearably smug, cheesy and camp that it was actually unwatchable. I’ve still only seen the first ten minutes.