The main feeling I have after watching Matt Reeves’ The Batman is one of disconnection. While visually an enjoyable movie, with some excellent action set pieces, and some fine performances, the overall package felt like two different stories mashed together but not connected in a strong way. In some ways, this is one of the better Batman feature films and in other ways, it feels like a lesser addition to the ever-growing catalogue of Batman films.
Spoilers ahead for The Batman, so don’t read if you haven’t watched the movie.
I’m going to be mixing positive and negative criticisms throughout, so this might seme a bit jarring. And since I’m not a film student or an expert on making films, my criticisms and praises are going to mainly be focusing on the story and the performances.
First, Colin Farrell as Oswald Cobblepot aka The Penguin is a delight to watch. Buried under prosthetics and a fat suit (which is a trend I’d like to see done away with in movies, if I’m being honest), Farrell owns every second of screen time he has. Serving as a secondary baddie to John Turturro’s Carmine Falcone (who also turns in a quietly menacing performance), Cobblepot is a second-tier gangster who kind of floats in the background until the very end of the film.
Unfortunately, the film takes far too long to get to that point, which is my biggest criticism of the story. At just under three hours, The Batman takes its time far too often, muddying the waters until it’s too difficult to see the bottom. Matt Reeves was clearly inspired by films like Se7en and other crime noir films, which makes sense given how Batman stories like The Long Halloween (which this film pulls inspiration from along with Batman: Year Two) use the detective noir genre to tell the story. The problem is the third act, which shifts from a detective noir film to a big-budget popcorn finale, complete with massive action sequence and a seemingly heartfelt, hopeful ending. I say seemingly because Batman is not a beacon of hope (that would be Superman). Batman is Vengeance personified, which the film uses as a way to teach this younger version of Bruce Wayne/Batman a lesson in how he should be spending his time as a crimefighter.
I’ve given Robert Pattinson grief in the past among my friends due to his presence in the Twilight films (which reportedly even Pattinson is not fond of). However, I’ve managed to see a few of his post-Twilight films and he is a solid actor. In The Batman, Pattinson’s Bruce Wayne is an obsessive-compulsive, driven beyond what most people would consider rational behavior in his all-consuming role as Batman. He’s curt, dismissive, constantly fatigued, and there’s a hint of both deep depression and more than a little madness in Pattinson’s eyes. I’m interested to see what Pattinson can do with a story that gives him more room to portray both Bruce Wayne and Batman in equal measure, since the majority of this film is spent with him under the cowl.
Special mention goes to Andy Serkis as Alfred. I’ve been a fan of Serkis’ since The Lord of the Rings and he continues to be a wonderful addition to any film he’s cast in. Taking notes from previous Alfred’s such as Michael Caine (from The Dark Knight trilogy) and Michael Gough (from the original quartet of Batman films), Serkis portrays the patron saint of patience version of Alfred, who has to deal with his moody, withdrawn charge the same way I imagine parents of a teenager have to. I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention Jeffrey Wright as Jim Gordon as well. Wright has also been one of my favorite actors for years now (ever since his portrayal of Belize in HBO’s miniseries Angels in America). This version of Jim Gordon is the stand-up cop he’s always portrayed as in the comics, with quiet intensity and more than a few moments where he visibly questions if he’s on the right side of things.
Zoe Kravitz is wonderful as Selina Kyle/Catwoman. In many ways, she is a major catalyst for Bruce to re-evaluate his outlook as Batman, pushing him to see the people that are suffering in Gotham rather than just the criminals that Batman enjoys pulverizing. I felt there was a strong amount of chemistry between the two leads and the news that Kravitz is getting a solo Catwoman series set in Bludhaven is something I’ll be sure to tune in to when it drops.
On the other side of things, though, is Paul Dano as Edward Nashton/The Riddler. The idea of turning what is normally considered a one-note joke villain into a quasi-Zodiac Killer was a brilliant move on the part of the screenwriters and Matt Reeves. Sadly, the movie is two-thirds of the way over before we get any real screen time with Dano’s Riddler. I would have enjoyed seeing more interaction between this version of The Riddler and Batman. There were times throughout the film that I felt Batman was reactive far more than he was proactive whereas The Riddler was always the proactive part of the story.
As mentioned above, The Batman owes a lot of its DNA to Se7en and films of that ilk, in much the same way Todd Philip’s Joker owed a great deal to 70s auteur films like Chinatown and most especially Taxi Driver. The modern, gritty version of Batman is rather played out at this point, particularly after The Dark Knight trilogy by Christopher Nolan, which took Batman set in a real-world to the furthest degree it could. While I’m not advocating pushing things all the way to the levels of camp found in Batman Forever and Batman & Robin (the less said about those two films, the better), there should be a happy medium between the grittier aspects of the Batman mythos with the more fantastical elements as well. At some point, I’d love to see a Batman film that embraces the comic book elements that make Batman unique in comics.
Overall, I enjoyed The Batman as a film but the story left me wanting, largely because it couldn’t decide if it wanted to be a psychological horror film or a popcorn action film. Both are good in their own way but mashing them together doesn’t work. Hopefully, the next venture into the DCEU with Batman will find a smoother path between the elements Reeves wants to bring to the franchise and the demands of the studio looking for a tentpole film to bank on.
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