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‘The Batman’ is a refreshing adaptation, but ‘handcuffed’ by its PG-13 rating, critics say

Robert Pattinson stars in “The Batman.”
Warner Bros.

Batman has taken on many forms on the big screen, from goofy and campy to suave and gritty. Matt Reeves’ “The Batman” introduces audiences to a new iteration of the Dark Knight — emo.

The film, which arrives in theaters on Friday, has elicited mixed reactions from critics. Some have praised the nearly three hour-long feature as a deconstruction of the superhero genre, others found it to be a dark slog.

Warner Bros.’ “The Batman” skips past the death of Bruce Wayne’s parents, the spark that inevitably leads the young billionaire down a path towards becoming Batman. Set during the character’s second year as the masked crime fighter, the film follows the vigilante as he tries to capture a serial killer who is targeting corrupt officials in Gotham.

The standalone feature does not connect back to other films in the DC Extended Universe.

Robert Pattinson dons the cowl with Zoe Kravitz taking on the role of Selina Kyle, aka Catwoman, and Paul Dano terrorizes as the Riddler. Other members of the cast include Jeffrey Wright as James Gordon, Andy Serkis as Alfred Pennyworth and Colin Farrell as Oswald Cobblepot, aka the Penguin.

“The Batman” currently holds an 86% “Fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes from 217 reviews. Here’s what critics thought of the film ahead of its Friday theatrical debut:

Bilge Ebiri, Vulture

Unlike previous iterations of the comic book character, there’s little differentiation between Bruce Wayne and his alter ego Batman in Reeves’ film, Bilge Ebiri wrote in his review for Vulture.

The film doesn’t spend much time on Bruce’s struggle with leading a double life. Here, the billionaire is a brooding recluse who rarely makes public appearances, unlike other adaptions which have portrayed him as a playboy or gregarious businessman.

“Robert Pattinson’s Batman walks so gingerly, so quietly into most of his scenes in Matt Reeves’s ’The Batman’ that at times you wonder if he’s meant to be more ghost than superhero,” Ebiri wrote. “…Pattinson is a tall, handsome, strapping fellow, but he plays Bruce Wayne with such broken, mournful despair that his body is practically concave when it’s not in a batsuit.”

The film also reframes the typical superhero trope of subtle similarities between the good guy and the bad guy. Here it’s overt, Ebiri wrote.

“Reeves shoots Batman’s pursuit of his targets with the same psychotic, heavy-breathing, point-of-view aesthetic with which he shoots the Riddler’s,” he said. “Now, we have to try and figure out how the hero differs from the villain — and so too does Batman.”

Read the full review from Vulture.

Robert Pattinson stars as Bruce Wayne in Warner Bros.’ “The Batman.”
Warner Bros.

Eli Glasner, CBC News

For many critics, “The Batman” seems to be a cross between “Saw,” “Seven” and “Zodiac.” It is a film that dabbles in several genres: horror, thriller, noir, but feels constrained by its PG-13 rating.

The Riddler has been terrorizing Gotham’s rich and powerful with murderous traps, joyfully relishing in his work by leaving cryptic clues behind for the city’s masked vigilante.

However, “so much of this is about shock value rather than anything actually scary,” Eli Glasner wrote in his review for CBC news. “‘The Batman’ is handcuffed by its family-friendly PG rating, the result being something like a ’Saw’ movie made for Disney+.”

Read the full review from CBC News.

Kristy Puchko, Mashable

“It’s time Batman got a proper R-rated movie,” Kristy Puchko wrote in her review of “The Batman” for Mashable.

“With ’The Batman,’ writer/director Matt Reeves teams with Robert Pattinson to take another spin on the iconic superhero,” she wrote. “But without the freedom an R-rating allows, this movie — full of menace and murder — feels toothless.”

For Puchko one of the biggest misses for the film was how it utilized Kravitz as Catwoman.

“Zoe Kravitz’s natural charisma is suffocated in a role that asks her chiefly to sneer and hip swivel while wearing leather,” she wrote.

Puchko noted that the chemistry between Catwoman and Batman lacked “spice,” paling in comparison to the sexual tension between Michael Keaton and Michelle Pfeiffer in 1992’s “Batman Returns.”

“Their forbidden romance feels more required than earned or authentically lusty,” she wrote.

Read the full review from Mashable.

Still from Warner Bros.’ “The Batman.”
Warner Bros.

Katie Walsh, Tribune News Service 

“On paper, ‘The Batman’ is a standard Batman story: he’s fighting crime in Gotham, facing off with the Riddler and Penguin and tangling with Catwoman,” wrote Katie Walsh in her review of the film for Tribune News Service. “In practice, it’s Batman by way of ‘The Godfather’ and ‘Zodiac,’ a serial killer mystery mashed up with a mobster movie. The genre-play is a welcome refresher, while the detective work is an evolution from merely banging up the clownish petty criminals of Gotham.”

With cinematographer Greig Fraser (“Dune”), Reeves’ “The Batman” has a unique aesthetic — a rain-soaked black and red palate with pops of neon. Walsh called the film “thrillingly composed and lit,” noting that its style works with the story, not against it.

Batman, too, has a new aesthetic in Reeves’ film.

“We’ve had plenty of Batmen, from the suave (Michael Keaton) to the campy (George Clooney), the goofy (Adam West) to the gritty (Christian Bale), from the glam (Val Kilmer) to the grouchy (Ben Affleck),” Walsh explained. “But this Batman … is our goth Bruce Wayne, more disaffected youth than playboy billionaire, and that allows Reeves, as a director, to play with all kinds of grimy imagery, and as a writer, to grapple with the real function of Batman.”

“It’s a necessary questioning that offers a revealing spin on this familiar character,” she said.

Read the full review from Tribune News Service.

Disclosure: Comcast is the parent company of NBCUniversal and CNBC. NBCUniversal owns Rotten Tomatoes.

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