Best part about The Batman? Absolutely no one should be clamoring for a Matt Reeves cut with extended footage showing the director/co-writer’s full vision. That’s what happens when you stretch a two-hour Batman story into three hours.
In hoping to create a more realistic take on Batman, Reeves ignores the significant fact that Christopher Nolan already climbed that peak. Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy helped raise the bar for not just superhero films, but blockbusters in general with his take on a Batman that could theoretically exist in the ‘real world.’
With The Batman, Reeves seeks to out-Nolan Nolan. The only logical recourse is to make his film even more dour, bleak and joyless. To coin a phrase from Nolan’s most iconic villain: Why So Serious? Simple, it’s the necessary step for a film that tries to make Nolan’s films look like the madcap adventures of the Tim Burton Batman projects.
Gone is the witty repartee between Bruce Wayne (Robert Pattinson) and his butler, Alfred (Andy Serkis). That’s been replaced by a double dose of brooding.
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Nolan’s Batman wasn’t exactly Iron Man with the gadgets, but there was a 007 spirit of cutting-edge technology at a billionaire’s disposal. Reeves’ Batman has a limited number of gadgets that make him come off decidedly low-tech to bring Batman back to the basics.
Pattinson doesn’t really get a chance to have fun with the dichotomy of the charade of the boozy playboy hiding the mask of Batman. It’s unfortunate as his Batman is fine even if he lacks the presence of Christian Bale’s haunting Dark Knight or Ben Affleck’s world-weary Batman. The Bruce Wayne scenes seemed like the best option to showcase Pattinson’s range and it’s wasted on too many blank stared glares at the Bat Computer.
While joyless, it’s hard to knock the overall competency of the film. Cinematographer Greig Fraser (Dune) plays up the shadows of Gotham alleyways where Batman could conceivably emerge at any moment. Nightclub scenes are awash in mesmerizing red strobe lights to effectively spotlight Batman strolling through. The Batsignal pierces through Gotham’s skyline as both a warning and call.
Composer Michael Giacchino (Spider-Man: No Way Home) crafts a booming Batman score that is memorable and effective.
Reeves and co-writer Peter Craig (Bad Boys for Life) thankfully jump right into Batman already being active in Gotham City for two years. No need to revisit an origin story anyone remotely familiar with Batman already knows. He’s got a working partnership with police Lt. James Gordon (Jeffrey Wright, No Time to Die) even if the rest of the police department is still leery.
Batman’s been called to a new case as a serial killer is starting to take out prominent Gotham citizens leaving behind vague riddles as to his next culprit.
The Riddler is a classic Batman villain and the film cast an ideal performer in Paul Dano (12 Years a Slave), but the serial killer angle is a dark turn that doesn’t work. Essentially, Reeves and Craig take a fantastic villain and just make him a retread of the Zodiac Killer, Se7en’s John Doe with a little of Saw’s Jigsaw for good measure.
The film works better the less Riddler is involved and Batman unravels the mystery and link to the victims taking him to the underbelly of Gotham’s mob empire. This brings him into contact with Ozzie Cobblepot (Colin Farrell, Widows), the owner of the hotspot Iceberg Longue and second in command to mob head Carmine Falcone (John Turturro).
Farrell gets lost in the role like few other performers in a comic book film. Sure, the makeup and prosthetics aid visually, but unless you knew going in he was Penguin, there’s no tells or clues that Ferrell is ever on screen. It’s not hard to see why Farrell’s Penguin is getting a spin-off as he’s the most compelling character on screen in nearly all of his scenes.
His major competition comes from Zoë Kravitz (Kimi) playing Selina Kyle aka Catwoman. Selina works at the Longue but has a deeply personal reason for teaming with Batman to solve the mystery.
Kravitz can nearly sleepwalk through a performance and be seductive and alluring, but it’s in showing the vulnerable side of Selina that Kravitz provides the film’s most layered role.
Given the run-time, it would have been nice for a bit more effort put into the Batman/Catwoman romance as opposed to it feeling more pre-ordained than organic. That’s one area Nolan struggled with as well and the gold standard of big screen Batman/Catwoman pairings remains Michael Keaton and Michelle Pfeiffer in Batman Returns.
Wright has a substantial role as Gordon is more of Batman’s partner who happens to be a police officer more than his helpful police informant. This is good as Wright is the kind of actor the more screen time he has the better for the entire film.
Turturro oozes sleazy charm while Jayme Lawson makes an impressive turn as mayoral candidate Bella Reál.
For the sake of being more realistic, Pattinson’s Batman isn’t the most adept fighter. His Batman takes serious damage throughout the film. It almost reaches the point that the wounds and gunshots he takes should have some sort of cumulative effect or keep him out of action for some time only for Batman to shrug it off.
The main issues with the film are the length and its one note tone. No one is asking for a fresh take on Joel Schumacher’s vision of Batman, but there’s room for some well-timed humor and a little playfulness.
The Batman is a competently-constructed film with its most significant flaw being it’s too darned serious. That grim one-note approach for two hours would be tough. At three hours it gets to be a bit much. I’ll take the Nolan trilogy and the Batfleck take any day.
Rating: 6 out of 10
Photo Credit: Warner Bros.
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