Certified critic on Rotten Tomatoes. Member of the Houston Film Critics Society. Also writes for Bounding Into Comics and GeeksHaveGame.
A Scarred Adaptation of the Dark Knight
Matt Reeves’ The Batman isn’t an origin story. Instead Bruce Wayne (Robert Pattinson) treats every villain and every thug as if they were the ones to take his parents away from him. This is a version of Bruce Wayne that hates being Bruce Wayne; Batman is his legacy. The tragedy of losing his parents is his most defining characteristic. Bruce is a social hermit and the world’s biggest introvert in The Batman.
The Riddler (Paul Dano) kills Gotham’s mayor on Halloween night, and he continues to target key political figures throughout the film. A cryptic riddle is left for Batman at every crime scene revealing just a big enough clue to keep Batman and Jim Gordon (Jeffrey Wright) entangled in Riddler’s enigmatic bloodbath. As Batman crosses paths with a cat-loving thief named Selina Kyle (Zoe Kravitz) and the magnificently sleazy Iceberg Lounge owner Oswald Cobblepot (Colin Farrell), he soon realizes that the Wayne family may be a bigger piece of the puzzle than he originally imagined.
Paul Dano is essentially the highlight of the film. Matt Reeves stated that his inspiration for his version of the character was the Zodiac Killer, and it shows. Riddler’s costume is basically a camouflage gimp outfit with tactical advantages and a fetish for duct tape. Dano’s performance is haunting. His riddles are more akin to Jigsaw’s games from the Saw franchise. The character is at his best when he’s showcased in grainy cell phone videos where his shouting and heavy breathing are even more distorted than if he was standing right in front of you. The intriguing aspect is that Dano seems to be even more mesmerizing as the character once he’s unmasked. He’s able to tap into this lunacy, this dread, and this hypnotic terror that defines the character whether he’s hiding his face or not.
Featured less prominently is Colin Farrell as Oswald Cobblepot, who also delivers a fantastic performance. Farrell is so unrecognizable thanks to the facial prosthetics and fat suit that he’s wearing. Some of the aspects of the Penguin that makes him so dangerous is that he’s incredibly resourceful and he can talk his way into and out of just about anything. Farrell’s best moments as the character come during the Batmobile chase featured in the trailer followed by the conversation Batman and Gordon have with him immediately afterwards. You never knew how much you needed a Spanish lesson from Oz until Matt Reeves came along.
Seven-Layer Dip Disguised as a Riddle
The Batmobile car chase is the best sequence of the film. It’s absolutely explosive and worth seeing in a theater. Michael Giacchino’s score is also bold and thrilling; it helps define the Batman character for a new generation with an undeniably epic theme. Matt Reeves compared Bruce Wayne to Kurt Cobain in this film. Bruce’s relationship with the spotlight and how he’d rather stay away from it is a lot like how Cobain viewed being famous. “Something in the Way” by Nirvana fits the Batman universe so well, and it’s surprising nobody has ever thought of utilizing it until now.
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This unusual version of Bruce Wayne in The Batman makes it feel unlike any other Batman film. Bruce Wayne is typically a playboy that is consistently showcased at public events that flaunts his fortune and bounces from woman to woman on a nightly basis. In The Batman, we see the smudged black eye makeup as Bruce takes off his cowl. Robert Pattinson didn’t bulk up for the role, so he has this pale and gaunt appearance. He has no interest in the business his father left him in charge of. Vengeance is his only purpose.
The Batman is also the first Batman film to actually feel like a detective story. So much time is devoted to the investigation aspect of the film; maybe too much time. The film is five minutes shy of being three hours long and The Batman feels like a three hour film. Some of these sequences feel like they could have been trimmed (did we really need to see Batman or Bruce Wayne go to the Iceberg Lounge so many times?) or cut entirely, but everything feels like it’s part of the bigger picture of capturing the Riddler. Every little stop along the way leads to the next clue or next big encounter. Unfortunately, it feels like a chore listening to Batman answer riddles for the sixth time in the midst of three hours.
Robert Pattinson is a seriously talented actor outside of the Twilight franchise, and Zoe Kravitz chooses interesting projects to be a part of, but their chemistry in The Batman feels forced. Batman tracks down Selina Kyle almost like a stalker as he starts inserting himself into her life after a random encounter at The Iceberg Lounge. Despite being friends in real life, the two actors seem stiff and awkward when they’re around each other. These are two versions of the characters that don’t have the history the comics or the movies laid out for them after decades of publication and on screen appearances. This is supposed to be the first time they’ve met and they go from being bumbling partners to nearly leaving Gotham together after being shot at a few times and finding a dead girl in a trunk; it doesn’t make sense.
Matt Reeves was capable of taking The Batman into a different direction for both the Batman universe and superhero films alike. The action sequences are almost earned here as there’s much more down time while following a lead or doing research. You actually see that Bruce documents his inner monologues and his nightly outings as Batman in handwritten journals. There’s a ton of interesting concepts in The Batman that ultimately don’t pay off.
Paul Dano and Colin Farrell are extraordinary, but The Batman is a three-hour slog through Gotham that culminates with an over exaggerated riddle that isn’t worth solving. Having Batman and Jim Gordon both speak in raspy, whispery grunts feels excessive as does Gordon’s insistence on calling Batman, “Chief,” every time that they’re together. The film deserves credit for prominently shining the spotlight on the underbelly of crime in Gotham, but the storytelling in The Batman is a lot like Bugs Bunny meaning to have taken that left turn at Albuquerque; a meandering foray down a dark rabbit hole that isn’t entirely necessary.
© 2022 Chris Sawin