Movie Review - The Batman
It was a dark and stormy knight…
I’m going to be honest. Any long-time follower of the site knows that I have Batman issues. I’m sick of him. I’m soooooooo sick of him. Seriously, DC needs to remember they have other characters. And, dare I say it in spite of the legions of Bat-Fans out there, yeah, I will, better ones at that.
Okay, okay, I’m not gonna climb up onto my soap box, no matter how much I want to.
When it was announced that Matt Reeves was taking over Ben Affleck’s troubled movie, then scrapping that and going with his own new take, well, color me less than enthusiastic. And then Robert Pattinson was announced as Batman…and that’s when I finally broke down and told DC to fuck off. I would not be paying to see this. Nothing about the marketing or trailers for the film convinced me to abandon this way of thinking either.
Ultimately, I kept to my word…mostly. Yes, I pay of HBO Max, so yeah, I did technically pay to see The Batman, but I didn’t get chomped in the wallet, nor did I have to sit through 40 minutes of trailers, commercials and other bullshit on top of the just shy of 3 hour running time. So, how was it? Better than I thought, but at the same time has some glaring issues that keep it from being great. Now, let me see if I can write a synopsis for this…
Gotham City is being held hostage. An unknown madman is killing city officials, claiming the entire city is riddled with corruption and lies. It’s up to a relatively new Batman, only two years into his crusade, and his tenuous relationship with the Gotham City Police to follow the threads laid bare with each successive killing. But the web is vast, tying together city officials, the mafia, a seductive cat burglar and even Bruce Wayne’s own parents. Can Batman solve the clues left behind in time before Gotham is swept away in a seemingly one-man revolution?
While the film has more good points than bad, I gotta say, the fact that I don’t regret my decision to sit out the theatrical run isn’t necessarily a good thing nor a sign of good things to come for this trilogy. It’s certainly a plus for the film that Batman is very much a detective here, but at the same time, anyone watching the film is going to see such a heavy Se7en influence here, including the almost buddy characteristics between Batman and Gordon echoing those of Freeman and Pitt, that I’d hesitate to call Se7en an influence…more like a template or even a deranged Mad Libs where instead of nouns and verbs one inserts a Batman character. Continuing down this influence rabbit hole, I gotta ask, is anyone else getting tired of all the Frank Miller references? Yes, I get that this is the first time we’ve seen his take on Catwoman brought to the screen (or at least parts of her story very strongly echoing with her appearance in Batman: Year One), but there ARE other landmark Batman writers we can borrow from…fuck…give Miller a rest.
Okay, I should address the elephant in the room: Battinson. How’d he do? Well, not to parrot the above paragraph, but it seems like a thing with this film, for every good thing, there’s a bad thing to go right along with it. Robert Pattinson does a fine job as Batman and is certainly believable in the role…but holy shit, his Bruce Wayne? Look, the trailers don’t prepare you properly for the level of whiny, emo we get here with him. In doing research for this review, I had stumbled upon the little nugget that Kurt Cobain was supposed to be the influence here…and…just…no. I mean, sure, I can see it, but is that really who we want to base freaking Bruce Wayne on? This just hit a sour note so hard for me. On the bright side, Bruce isn’t in the movie very much, so there’s that. While we’re on the topic though, there’s something else I gotta get off my chest. One of the points that Batman wrestles with in this film is whether or not he’s making a difference. By the end, he’s reaffirmed and even ventures into a little ‘hope’ speech. Cue the record scratch. That’s not Batman territory. That’s Superman territory. I mean, sure, it fits thematically for the movie and it completes Batman’s arc…so it didn’t piss me off too much, but at the same time, it felt like yet another instance where WB gives less than a single fuck to their other characters and just gives all the cool stuff (including themes) to Batman. There was something else that ended up subverting this moment though…or at the very least subverting it through its absence. You see, one of the core things that helped to fuel the corruption of Gotham was the corruption of a fund that Dr. Thomas Wayne had set up before his untimely death to help to renew the city. While Batman gets his affirmation by helping citizens of Gotham deal with the fallout from the events of the film, sadly the film doesn’t take the time to redeem this shitty interpretation of Bruce Wayne by giving him a scene where he emerges from his reclusion to take a more active role in this Renewal fund. This would have completed an arc showing Bruce going from a whiny little bitch to an actually responsible adult. But with a three-hour running time, I guess we can’t have it all.
But that’s the thing, there should have been time for that. Look, I love me some epics. I was totally down for the four-hour Justice League. I’m the kind of guy that’ll watch Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame back-to-back. And even though I can’t stand fantasy, yes, I willingly bought the extended versions of the Lord of the Rings films…and don’t regret it. Sadly, The Batman feels a little long in the tooth. Mind you, for the life of me, I can’t really determine what to take out, because the story does need breathing room given the nature of its slow burn…so I can’t say that the running time is unwarranted, but at the same time, you’re gonna look at your watch. You’re gonna find yourself pausing it to find out just how much more you have to go yet…and that’s a problem.
Now, I’ve already talked about Battinson, but how is the rest of the cast. Pretty good, for the most part. Zoe Kravitz makes a great Catwoman/Selina Kyle…but that was pretty evident from the trailers. Yes, Colin Farrell is nigh unrecognizable as The Penguin but at the same time, I don’t know if I can give credit to a performance that is essentially a Robert de Niro impression. Jeffery Wright is a damn good Gordon which is tough because I do want to see more of J.K. Simmons’ Gordon too! Paul Dano’s interpretation of the Riddler fits within the context of the story being told here and in some ways vibes with the Jeph Loeb ‘Hush’ version of the character. While I’m not sure if I liked it, per se, I feel it to be an important take on the character as far too often in Batman media the only difference between the Riddler and the Joker seemingly is the green leotards and the need for riddles…otherwise? Same guy. So kudos for the new direction. John Turturro takes quite a heel turn as Carmine Falcone, which, you know, thank goodness. Audiences needed to be reminded of his range as an actor and not of the Agent Simmonds nonsense after 5 Transformers films. Sadly, Andy Serkis’s Alfred really gets hung out to dry as we end up seeing very little of him. Sure, part of that is tied into the plot, but it almost felt like a waste as I really wanted to see what he’d do with the role…and, again, with that three-hour run time, you’d have thought there’d be time to squeeze in a little more of him in there, but there you go. Hopefully he’ll get more than 10 minutes next film.
In spite of the Alfred situation, I have to admit that for all the Bat-Foes in here: Catwoman, Riddler, Falcone, Penguin…that this film would feel crowded, but it doesn’t. Sure, part of that is going to be due to the writing and part of that is going to be due to the massive running time. Regardless, that crowded feeling is what has killed past iterations of the franchise (Batman & Robin anyone?), so to see that they were smart about it is something certainly worth noting.
As a film score fan, a tip of the hat is definitely earned by Michael Giacchino. He’s shown he can handle superhero scores in his work for the recent Spider-Man trilogy from Sony/Marvel, as well as becoming one of my favorite composers from recent years with scores to John Carter, Star Wars: Rogue One and the Kelvin Timeline Star Trek films. He does have an actual theme for Batman in this film, unlike Nolan’s trilogy, and it is pretty good…although while some reviews say it’ll stick with you, I have to admit that I’m having trouble remembering it. To continue the theme of ‘with every good thing, a bad’ though, I do have to admit that the film does lean on Nirvana’s ‘Something in the Way’ a little too much.
Lastly, to circle back to what I was saying about the Se7en influence, this Gotham City is pretty much the personification of ‘grim-dark’. It’s very gritty, full of shadows and, if I’m honest, fits in very well with the Gotham portrayed in Joker. All in all, it worked and worked pretty well…and, stop me if you’ve heard this before in this review…except for one thing that almost kind of ruined it. You see, in this film, Bruce isn’t living in stately Wayne Manor, he’s holed up in Wayne Tower. Fine. All well and good. But the interior or Wayne Tower is SOOOOO gothic it would make Dracula wonder “Perhaps you should tone it down a bit, blah?” It’s over the top. If I were to put it in the context of an internet meme, you could walk into the joint and say “Tell me you’re Batman without telling me you’re Batman,” and these interiors would have you covered in spades.
So, is The Batman the new ‘gold standard’ for superhero films? God, let’s hope not. No, it’s not terrible, but its problem is that for every good thing there’s an equal and opposite bad thing. And that ends up being in everything: great Batman, shitty Bruce, great score…but quit with the Nirvana, three hours is needed, but you can’t help but wonder if it couldn’t have been paced better. Initially, I was prepared to give the film a Happy Cat, but as I sit and pick it apart, seeing the odd balance of good and bad in the film and how neither good nor bad really edge out the other, it just makes this movie middle of the road. And, I have to confess, my Bat-fatigue doesn’t help here either. So, for excellence in mediocrity, I gotta go with just a Plain Cat for this one. This film exists, and for Batman films, that’ll probably be enough. For the rest of us though, some of you will likely find a better use for three hours.