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Review: 'The Batman' takes the character back to his roots

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The teen vampire of the "Twilight" movies, Robert Pattinson, is the latest of many actors to play Batman on the big screen. According to the title of his new movie, he is the Batman. This is apparently not meant as a slap at the previous actors. Critic Bob Mondello says it's about taking the character back to his roots.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: It is a dark and stormy night - that being the default setting in Gotham - where the city fathers evidently haven't budgeted for light bulbs and it rains pretty much constantly. So criminals run wild, and to combat them...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE BATMAN")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) Fear is a tool.

MONDELLO: ...The authorities use what they have.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE BATMAN")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) When that light hits the sky...

MONDELLO: He's talking about the bat signal.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE BATMAN")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) It's not just a call.

MONDELLO: A bright searchlight to summon a dark knight.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE BATMAN")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) It's a warning.

MONDELLO: A warning to the masked muggers who on this dark and stormy Halloween are beating up a guy on a subway platform, until...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE BATMAN")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) The hell are you supposed to be?

MONDELLO: Perfectly reasonable Halloween question to a guy in a cowl and cape - answered in a flurry of kicks and punches, and then the big reveal...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE BATMAN")

ROBERT PATTINSON: (As Batman) I'm vengeance.

MONDELLO: Not his actual name, perhaps, but quite the entrance for Robert Pattinson's caped crusader, who was in the right place at the right time for this guy in the subway, but who missed the evening's big crime - a member of the city's elite murdered at home while wife and son were out trick or treating. The killer left a card for Batman, taped to the corpse with a riddle. And that's a trick he'll repeat at the dead man's funeral.

(SOUNDBITE OF EXPLOSION BOOMING)

MONDELLO: Though this time, the victim is what you might call a corpse in training, crashing a car into the cathedral service and emerging...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE BATMAN")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (As character) There's a bomb around his neck.

MONDELLO: ...With a cell phone taped to his hand...

(SOUNDBITE OF DEVICE BEEPING)

MONDELLO: ...For the riddle.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE BATMAN")

PAUL DANO: (As Riddler) It can be cruel, poetic or blind, but when it's denied, it's your violence you may find.

PATTINSON: (As Batman) Justice. The answer's justice.

MONDELLO: This being a detective story, the Batman first appeared in DC's "Detective Comics." I shouldn't say too much about the investigation into this Riddler fellow, except that we're just two years into Batman's career, so it involves Jeffrey Wright's police lieutenant, Gordon, who in the Bat-o-verse (ph) will someday be Commissioner Gordon, and unrecognizable Colin Farrell as a club manager, who will someday be the villainous Penguin, and a vinyl-clad Zoe Kravitz as a safecracker with kickboxing skills who will someday be Catwoman.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE BATMAN")

PATTINSON: (As Batman) You got a lot of cats.

ZOE KRAVITZ: (As Selina Kyle) I have a thing about strays.

MONDELLO: A lot of world-building going on here, considering the Batscape (ph) is pretty well-established from the previous movies and TV's "Gotham." Director Matt Reeves and his designers have noir-ish fun with the visuals. Our hero's gothic breakfast nook looks like Notre Dame. And close-quarters combat in a hallway illuminated entirely by machine gunfire is a nice touch, as is expressing the duality of Pattinson's bat dude by making him a brooding emo Edward type when he is Bruce Wayne and an implacable Jacob type when he's bulletproofed in his bat suit - as opposed to Paul Dano's much-bullied bully The Riddler, a pasty conspiracy theorist who has a QAnon-like internet following and a master plan to...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE BATMAN")

DANO: (As Riddler) Unmask the truth about this cesspool we call a city. You're part of this, too.

MONDELLO: What's that now?

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE BATMAN")

PATTINSON: (As Batman) How am I a part of this?

DANO: (As Riddler) Oh, you're really not as smart as I thought you were, Bruce Wayne.

MONDELLO: Well, we'll see about that. We have three hours, after all - enough time for overlong car chases, multiple leaps off buildings, hints of romance, nifty spy tech wear, serenades of both "Ave Maria" and Nirvana and a rain-soaked citywide emergency that can only be solved by "The Batman" and possibly a plumber - an overstuffed, visually impressive superhero epic that takes fan service seriously. I'm Bob Mondello.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.