THE BATMAN Review
It's 1989 and a dark, grounded and gritty film of Batman is coming out.
It's 2005 and a new dark, grounded and gritty film of Batman is coming out.
It's 2022 and the darkest, realist, grittiest and grimiest film of Batman is out.
The Batman is, as the title suggests, another solo movie of the Caped Crusader. Starring Robert 'R.Pats' Pattinson as Bruce Wayne, this is blessedly not another origin story. Batman has been working in Gotham for a few years now, tentatively alongside the police. Batman investigates a series of brutal murders commited by The Riddler and along the way, discovering the depths of his city's corruption.
Many saw Christopher Nolan/Christian Bale's trilogy of Batman films as the most grounded take on the character we've seen on film. Director Matt Reeves makes those movies look as grounded as Batman (1989) with The Batman. The Batmobile is not a tank but just a Dodge Charger with a rocket strapped to it. Batman doesn't use his cape to glide, but turns his suit into a wingsuit to fly over Gotham.
It is frustrating to see a continuation of this dark and hyper-realistic take on a character who bases his vigilantism on a bat and fights criminals with monikers around various animals or humourous connundrums. What Matt Reeves sets out to do, he does extremely well, but this take feels worn down by now.
One of, it not the biggest talking point of any new actor taking on the cape-and-cowl is how they handle it. Robert Pattinson establishes a great version of Batman and Bruce Wayne. His Batman is wild and aggressive, storming into clubs ready for a fight before facing opponents he wasn't prepared for. It shows a Batman that is young and impetuous. His Bruce Wayne is rarely on screen, for a reason. He is a recluse that wears sunglasses inside because he spends every waking hour in his cave or patrolling at night. He is too consumed as Batman to care about his family's legacy and company. This movie shows a Bruce Wayne learning that there are alternatives to helping his city than dressing up at night, and makes for an interesting trajectory in the sequels.
Reeves does with Batman what many directors have lacked in their films and that is making Batman a detective. He was introduced in Detective Comics #27 way back in 1939, investigating murders and corruption. Here, Batman's cape is his beige, rain coat and his cowl, the wide-brimmed hat as he takes on the role of noir detective. It's refreshing to see Batman finding clues and solving mysteries at crime scenes, piecing it all together with the audience.
It does mean there are few action sequences, which in a 3-hour movie can make it drag. When they happen, they are visual spectacles and pulse-pounding. A car chase in the rain is exhilarating as the Batmobile's engine snarls and roars down the highway. An action-packed finale feels out of place with the rest of film, and does drag the film's runtime out but it is inarguabley tense and important for the story. It sees Batman as the hero and not the detective but Reeves still manages to include story and character in these action moments, leading to a striking visual to end on as the hero who hides in the shadows, leads innocents into the light.
When it was announced that The Batman would clock in at 2 hours and 55 minutes, there was many complaints about the ever increasing length of movies. While a valid criticism, the runtime is never a hinderance. It does feel like an epic, but there is no other way to tell this story. Every scene is vital to character's story and the narrative at large. But it will be a deciding factor on people's enjoyment of this movie; if the first 10 minutes don't connect with you, then the remaining 2 hours and 45 minutes won't either.
There is an unspoken curse in superhero movies which is to never do more than one villain per movie. See Spider-Man 3, The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Wonder Woman 1984 and Batman & Robin for examples of how this can make a movie bloated and lacking in developed villains. Here there at least FOUR villains that Batman is faced with, Zoe Kravitz as Catwoman, Paul Dano as The Riddler, John Turturro as Carmine Falcone and an unrecognisable Colin Farrell as The Penguin. Each is unique and layered and their individual stories and motives are weaved in seamlessly to create this larger mystery that Batman must solve.
Stand out amongst the villains is Zoe Kravitz, who gets the most screen time and has one of the best Batman/Catwoman relationships in live action. It's charged with sexual tension between the two but with a lingering tragedy that it will never work between them, making their interactions on screen exciting but heartbreaking.
Colin Farrell is, as mentioned, unrecognisable as Oswald Cobblepot hidden behind an impressive body suit and prosthetics. He is entertaining to watch, playing The Penguin as a New York-esque mob boss that is completely unfazed by Batman's imposing presence. Turturro as Falcone is the most subdued, with no moniker but fleshes out Matt Reeves' take on Gotham, as a sleak, sleazy underworld figure.
Paul Dano manages to pull off the difficult task of making The Riddler unhinged and terrifying to watch. Whether it's panting through his mask as he caves people's heads in, or bursting into a fit of rage, his scenes are tense as you wait for his next move. One criticism of his performance is that is too similar to previous interpretations of The Joker, mainly Heath Ledger, which makes his take on Riddler less faithful or more like an imitation of another villain.
Matt Reeves has crafted a fully realised world of Gotham City as a rain-drenched, filthy, vast city, combining New York, Chicago and Edingburgh to capture the gothic, fantastical feeling of the city. Unlike previous Batman films, we get a citizen's perspective of the city and Batman, his relation with the police and the people of Gotham, making it feel lived in and engaging.
The Batman is yet another realistic and visually dark interpretation of the Dark Knight. This time around though, Matt Reeves presents a noir story disguised as a Batman story making for a fresh take for audiences. Robert Pattinson establishes a unique young Batman/Bruce Wayne which is hopefully developed in the inevitable sequel. While epic in length, ever moment of The Batman is crucial in capturing this world and conveying a richly layered, character driven story.