Review: The Batman

The Batman movie poster

Well, your gut instinct on a film is just correct some times…

There is a new killer in Gotham City, and lieutenant Jim Gordon brings in the masked vigilante known as The Batman to pursue leads on the criminal’s identity. Little do they realize, their investigation will bring them head-to-head with some of Gotham’s worst, and a web of past regrets.

Directed by Matt Reeves (the talent behind the recent Planet of the Apes reboots, and the Let Me In American remake, sensing a theme here…) The Batman is the newest reboot / entry in the Warner Brothers / DC comics sprawl that no one fully understands anymore.

Indeed, the movie struggles to tread any particularly new ground, suiting its rather inconvenient title nicely. For all its good deeds and excellent production value, The Batman is a utter slog to get through.

Let’s start with the positives.
The casting of this film is excellent; no one drops the ball here. Zoë Kravitz shines as Selina Kyle, Colin Farrell as “Os” (read: the Penguin) is deceptively smart, Jeffery Wright as Jim Gordon is excellent, Robert Pattinson is good as the lead, and John Turturro is surprisingly affecting. The production value too is strong; sets and scenes are dank and look well lived-in. The “batmobile” is very cool looking, as is the batsuit, a really nice mix of Keaton’s and Bale’s suits.
The action scenes are well realized and shot, understandable and a mix of Bale’s Batman and the more recent, violent, Ben Affleck Batman.

It is tonally realized as well. This is a dark, depressing, grim, visually unlikable movie. Bruce Wayne is harrowed, his face is gaunt and deathly, while Batman is quiet and brooding. The cartoonish villainy is dragged through the gutter water of realism and social messaging. If you are into that sort of thing, it is certainly a positive.

Another genuine positive is the film’s intent to drive “investigation” to the forefront. Batman is “the world’s greatest detective”, and the film certainly gives him a lot of time to look moodily through crime scenes and puzzles as he pursues The Riddler. His ominous presence alongside sceptical Gotham police officers is something not often seen, and the film relishes in it.

It is a shame that Bruce Wayne kind of sucks at investigating.

A still from The Batman movie

We’ve had a lot of Batman movies. In the last thirty years we’ve had six different actors play Batman, and that’s only counting the live action movies. You really need to have a damn good reason to make another Batman movie, and Reeves’ movie is not delivering on this front.

It is common knowledge upon release, that The Batman is just shy three hours long, and it received some criticism for that. Whatever, films are allowed to be long if it is justified.
While the film does give us a new Batman already established, skipping a lot of the origin story, we still have to tread the same old story beats. All the usual hoops have to be jumped through: why does he do these things, is it right to be a vigilante, what happened to his parents, who were his parents, is he no better than the criminals he chases. Blah. Blah. Blah.
The film’s storytelling is long-winded and meandering, yet still falls into narrative cliché. For all its grimdark visuals, we still get the enforced “liar reveal” scene, for example. So much we’ve already seen from Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy (which remember, isn’t even 10 years old yet) we get more “spooky” and “unhinged” camcorder footage as The Riddler is boiled down to yet another Joker clone.

Speaking of The Riddler… While Paul Dano is probably a great fit for the character, what… what were they thinking? This missed the mark as bad as Bane in The Dark Knight Rises. The Riddler is a screaming lunatic incel now? I miss Jim Carrey…

Robert Pattinson in The Batman

The final act/sequence of this movie is completely from left field, a tonal upheaval from the rest of the film. You can imagine the script writers being puzzled, as they look back at the mile long story of intrigue and conspiracy and realize they actually need an exciting climax and that they weren’t writing about the Zodiac Killer after all.

There’s some weird editing too (of course, being three hours long, you could argue there wasn’t enough editing) tying in with another annoyance; unintentionally funny moments. Again, Paul Dano’s Riddler sparking giggles is another issue to add to the “he’s just the Joker” pile. But a weird scene with Selina and Batman kissing. The scene ends with the audio of the next scene overlaid on it: Thomas Wayne saying “I am Thomas Wayne, and I approve of this message.” What? His… dad approves of his son dressing up as a bat… kissing a woman dressed as a cat? Okay…

Oh, and the film’s gritty realistic / grimdark severity is severely limited by having such ham-fisted soundtrack choices as Ave Maria (as the Riddler’s “theme”) and Nirvana. Really makes you miss the enveloping, eerie atmosphere that Hans Zimmer created for The Dark Knight.

It feels like it is hand-in-hand with 2019’s Joker, being as it is a very intense movie with undertones of social commentary. But that film was unique, it was about a character we hadn’t seen at the forefront before. Plus, a lot has happened since 2019.

If this film had released in 2005 instead of Batman Begins, it would have been absolutely mind-blowing. This review would have been singing its praises and it would have been at the top of my list for this year’s movies.
But… it is 2022. We’re just coming out of a pandemic lockdown, and we’ve had seven or eight years since 2005 with a Batman movie in each of them. Enough is enough.

For all of its good parts, Zoë Kravitz, production values, action scenes… it isn’t the right story, and it is far too long for its own good.

3 out of 5 stars

Additional Marshmallows: No joke, someone audibly fell asleep in the theatre. I don’t entirely blame them.

Additional, additional Marshmallows: Why exactly is Os called The Penguin?

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