THE BATMAN (15)
Ten years after the conclusion of Christopher Nolan’s Oscar-winning Dark Knight trilogy, writer-director Matt Reeves and co-writer Peter Craig revive the tormented DC Comics character with aplomb.
They engineer a dark, brooding serial killer thriller that sows the seeds of a new trilogy, including a tantalising first glimpse of Dublin-born actor Barry Keoghan as one of the cowled crusader’s eye-catching adversaries. Every generation has its big screen incarnation of Bruce Wayne. In 1966, Adam West donned gloriously camp attire in a Kapow!-tastic extension of a popular TV series.
In the late 1980s, Tim Burton introduced Michael Keaton as Batman and the rictus grin of Jack Nicholson’s Joker in a marvellously menacing take on comic book mythology that earned the first newly-minted 12 certificate from British censors. Director Joel Schumacher tarnished the legacy with the garish double whammy of Batman Returns and Batman & Robin before Nolan resuscitated the franchise with the bombastic Batman Begins.
Reeves confidently takes up the mantle, delving into the tortured psyche of a self-destructive and almost uncontrollably violent Bruce Wayne, who exorcises personal demons with brute force on rain-lashed streets of Gotham.
Robert Pattinson strips away charm from his reclusive billionaire, exposing deep fissures in a nihilistic soul, suffocated by a squalid metropolis that is, by his grim assessment, “eating itself”.
The three-hour running time is excessive but permits other characters to breathe rancid air, including Zoe Kravitz’s spirited embodiment of Catwoman - “Got a thing about strays,” she purrs alluringly - and Paul Dano’s wickedly unhinged Riddler, who goads police with ciphers like the Zodiac Killer.
Bruce Wayne (Pattinson) is determined to honour the legacy of his murdered father, at the expense of his personal wellbeing and sanity.
He prowls city streets as masked vigilante Batman in open defiance of the rule of law upheld by police lieutenant James Gordon (Jeffrey Wright) and fellow officers, often returning to his hi-tech lair bloodied and bruised.“If I can’t have an effect, I don’t care what happens to me,” Bruce growls at butler Alfred Pennyworth (Andy Serkis).
The prodigal son hopes to undermine the criminal empire of unctuous kingpin Carmine Falcone (John Turturro) and his associates, including nightclub owner Oswald Cobblepot (Colin Farrell).
A serial killer dubbed Riddler (Dano) targets high-profile city residents, beginning with a forceful intervention in the fiercely contested mayoral race between incumbent Don Mitchell Jr (Rupert Penry-Jones) and idealistic ingenue Bella Real (Jayme Lawson).
Bruce is drawn into a deadly game of brinkmanship with Riddler, aided by enigmatic burglar Selena Kyle aka Catwoman (Kravitz), who slinks seductively in the grey area between law and disorder.
The Batman opens with a soaring refrain of Ave Maria as a nocturnal predator stalks unsuspecting prey, establishing a tone of grim foreboding that pervades every frame, including murky cinematography that blurs edges of the screen, focusing our attention of the eye of a storm.
Action sequences are slickly choreographed to discordant ebbs and flows of composer Michael Giacchino’s score, including scenes shot in Glasgow. Pattinson and Kravitz spark palpable sexual chemistry despite the relentless downpours, while Farrell is virtually unrecognisable beneath cutting-edge prosthetics as a criminal underling with grand ambitions. He’s perfectly poised for bigger and battier things in an intended second chapter that promises much and hopefully lops 30 minutes off the running time.
ALI & AVA (15)
Spectres of the past haunt a blossoming new relationship in writer-director Clio Barnard’s romance filmed on location in Bradford.
Former radio DJ Ali (Adeel Akhtar) is a taxi driver, who still lives with his soon-to-be-ex-wife Runa (Ellora Torchia) in a home they hoped would be filled with the laughter of children.
The couple haven’t worked out how to break the news of their relationship breakdown to family and friends and are stuck in a painful rut.
Ali rents a flat to Slovakian parents and kindly collects their six-year-old daughter Sofia (Ariana Bodorova) from school in his car. During one rain-lashed pick-up, he meets Sofia’s teacher Ava (Claire Rushbrook), a widow with an emotionally demanding grown-up son called Callum (Shaun Thomas).
Ali offers to drive Ava home to her notorious housing estate and escape the downpour. A connection is unexpectedly formed between two lost souls from very different backgrounds.
REBEL DREAD (15)
First generation British-born black film-maker, DJ, musician and cultural commentator Don Letts has been a driving force in popular culture for more than 40 years.
Director William E Badgley’s documentary explores the life and career of Letts against a backdrop of political and social unrest on home turf including Enoch Powell’s 1968 “Rivers of Blood” speech. It covers Letts’ work behind the camera, directing music videos for Chain Gang, London Calling and Pass The Dutchie, and feature films including One Love starring Idris Elba.