So serious.

Even Batmen get the blues. Still, Robert Pattinson's damaged young billionaire may be the Darkest Knight yet: He journals, he broods, he plucks a single blueberry from a silver urn and gazes at it mournfully. For nearly three hours he gives great mood — and while that is not quite the same thing as a great movie, writer-director Matt Reeves (Cloverfield, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes) nearly wills it to be in his sprawling, operatic update (in theaters March 4).

The batsuit, at least, is intact; so is most of the mythology. If Bruce Wayne has a tuxedo though, it's buried somewhere deep in his dry cleaning. He's still obscenely rich but not yet the playboy we know: On the rare occasions that he's home, he wanders through his decaying mansion like a wraith, trailed by the faithful Alfred (an elegant, underused Andy Serkis); mostly he's on the streets of Gotham City, swooping in wherever vigilante justice must be served. And when the mayor is murdered in what looks like a ritual killing, he finds out he has a new fan: A question mark who calls himself the Riddler (Paul Dano) is taking out the city's most powerful men, and leaving little mash notes for Batman behind at the scenes of the crime.

There's a squat, snarling Penguin who might know something about that, played by a patently unrecognizable Colin Farrell. (What is Hollywood's recent fetish with casting the prettiest actors, then burying them in Shrek-face prosthetics?) There's also Selina (Zoë Kravitz), a cocktail waitress who seems to take in an unusual amount of strays and has her own nocturnal alter ego. Catwoman has always been an antagonist and a mousetrap for Batman, but she's never really been his lone love interest. Here, the script has so reduced Bruce's social calendar that only a handful of core characters remain: Selina, Alfred, good cop Jim Gordon (Jeffrey Wright, radiating decency). A dapper John Turturro is the suave, menacing mob boss Carmine Falcone, and Peter Sarsgaard, a drowsy-eyed D.A.

In fact nearly everything but the score — a baroque teeth-rattling monolith by Oscar-winning composer Michael Giacchino — and a few requisite fiery set pieces feel stripped away. The dialogue comes in short, sharp bursts of hard-boiled noir, as if the actors only have enough oxygen for small sentences, and the inky austerity of Reeves' none-more-black color palette recalls movies like Blade or The Crow more than it does Tim Burton's boi-oi-oing camp or Christopher Nolan's swaggy, cerebral opulence.

Kravitz is feline and fiercely lovely, a girl with her own private pain and motivations; Dano feints and giggles, a simpering loon. (In a world where Heath Ledger's Joker still exists on celluloid, alas, pretty much every kind of pulp villainy that follows is bound to feel like pale imitation.) But it falls on Pattinson's leather-cased Batman to be the hero we need, or deserve. With his doleful kohl-smudged eyes and trapezoidal jawline, he's more like a tragic prince from Shakespeare; a lost soul bent like a bat out of hell on saving everyone but himself. Grade: B

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