At The Movies: Meet Bruce Wayne, cracker of codes and solver of crimes

Still from the film The Batman starring Robert Pattinson, Zoe Kravitz, Andy Serkis and Jeffrey Wright. PHOTO: WARNER BROS

The Batman (PG13)

176 minutes, opens March 3

3 stars

The most surprising thing about this moderately entertaining but muddled project is not the fact that it is three hours long. The surprise comes from how those hours are used.

Those familiar with recent DC Comics movies (Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice, 2016; Justice League, 2017) would expect this to be the same mix of grim posturing and bombastic action.

It is not. Director Matt Reeves, working with a screenplay he co-wrote, digs up an aspect of the caped crusader seen mostly in the comics and animation specials. Meet Batman, the hard-boiled detective.

Gotham's most prominent citizens are dying in complicated, gruesome ways at the hands of a killer who leaves cryptic clues for masked vigilante Batman (Robert Pattinson).

The self-appointed arbiter of justice is not popular with the police, having appeared only two years prior. He receives help from the only cop who appears untainted by corruption, detective Gordon (Jeffrey Wright). Aided by Wayne family butler Alfred (Andy Serkis), the team cracks the code from the murderer the media has dubbed The Riddler.

Reeves and Pattinson have decided that when resting, young Wayne should possess the vacant stare of a junkie rock star. It works, at first. In the brownish half-light that permeates every scene, audiences hear grunge band Nirvana in the soundtrack as the man in black scratches his skull-cracking itch.

Reeves nails Batman's raison d'etre. The personal grievance, married to intimate violence, is satisfying, more so than seeing yet another flying crusader hurl a fellow cosmic immortal through a building or battling a mountain-sized deity from space.

That attitude vanishes quickly and the film's key problem is exposed. It cops the gore-soaked nihilism of David Fincher's Seven (1995), but sanitised to fit PG13 values.

The tonal mismatch continues the fan-service introduction of scenery-chewing villains such as John Turturro's crime boss Carmine Falcone and Colin Farrell, under prosthetics, as The Penguin. Paul Dano's Riddler is creepily magnetic, but the absence of showiness makes him look like he stepped in from another movie.

In this noir-inflected police procedural, characters spout exposition at detective Gordon and Batman. Gordon and bar hostess/burglar Selina Kyle (Zoe Kravitz, giving this movie much-needed spark and groundedness) steal scenes simply by looking like they know what they are doing.

Meanwhile, by staring balefully from the shadows and not doing much else, Batman gives the impression not so much of the dogged gumshoe solving crimes in a wicked city, but of the muscle-bound bodyguard who, for reasons unknown, has been thrust into the main character role.

No Exit (M18)

96 minutes, Disney+

4 stars

An icy storm batters the landscape. The bad weather forces a group of characters to take shelter in a building. It emerges that one among them poses a deadly danger to everyone else, but no one is sure who he or she is.

The locked-room paranoia seen in The Hateful Eight (2015) or The Thing (1982) is repurposed in this made-for-streaming original production. Instead of making everyone a suspect, as in Quentin Tarantino's Eight, or making the main character an action hero with a gun, as in John Carpenter's Thing, the protagonist is a young woman with addiction issues, thrust into a situation that triggers her deepest fears.

American actress Havana Rose Liu makes her main character debut in a feature film as Darby, who is introduced as an unlikeable, withdrawn patient in an addiction treatment centre.

She escapes by car, but is forced by a blizzard to shelter in a one-room highway rest area. Four other travellers join her. She discovers a girl, obviously kidnapped, in a van. Unarmed and cut off from cellphone service, Darby must plot her next move.

This adaptation of a 2017 novel of the same title offers taut pacing and character-driven story without falling back on gunplay or complex gotcha plotting. The straightforward set-up unfolds into a satisfyingly violent climax - note the M18 rating - with clues left in earlier scenes paying off.

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