Ethan is an independent filmmaker and critic living in Grand Rapids, MI. His favorite movie will always be Jaws.
The failure of this movie would have been disastrous for Warner Brothers. Everyone I know was filled with anticipation for this new psychological crime thriller featuring the Dark Knight. It was going to be the best Batman movie of all time, a masterpiece. It was going to be the most accurate portrayal of the character to ever be shown on the silver screen. Lead actor Robert Pattinson and director Matt Reeves were going to craft a movie that would please both comic book fans and cinema snobs. Multiple youtube videos released months before the movie had titles that read things like, “Why The New Batman Will Be The Best Batman Movie Ever Made,” which I felt was more than a bit premature. For all these critics and analysts knew, the movie could have been a three-hour long trainwreck. The trailers featured clips that showed promise, when taken out of context, but it wouldn’t be the first time that a few good trailers preceded what would end up being a lackluster film. Movies of the superhero genre are particularly infamous for this. Luckily for all of us, The Batman is a very good movie.
This is the first superhero film I've seen in a long time that felt like a real movie to me. Many will cringe after reading that sentence, but hear me out. While films like Spiderman No Way Home are perfectly well made action movies that you can argue are exceptional for what they are, I don’t get invested in the story and characters the same way I do with other cinematic works. Mainstream audience members don’t seem to be concerned with being invested in a movie these days. The thing about investment is that it requires effort on your part, and people aren’t looking to put forth effort when they go to a theater to watch a superhero film. They’re not opposed to it, but they have no craving for it. They are content to have everything done for them. They won’t insist on being allowed to interpret, or demand nuance in the storytelling. They’ve been fed the same thing over and over again for more than a decade. They’ve grown comfortable with the flavor, and their palette is very sensitive to added spices. As a result, watching these superhero movies has become a bland and passive experience for me. My engagement is low because my brain doesn’t need to be on while watching them. It powers down like a laptop that's been left open for too long. However, that didn’t happen during The Batman. In fact, this movie had me hooked from the opening shot, which to my immense delight, felt very “Hitchcockian” in its approach. We’re put in the point of view of the movie's main villain, The Riddler (played by Paul Dano) , as he stalks the mayor of Gotham in his apartment through a pair of binoculars. We know instinctively that this scene won’t end well for the politician.
The shot and cinematography choices displayed in every scene are exceptional! This is by far the best work I've seen from director of photography Grieg Fraser, who is currently hot off earning a truckload's worth of accolades for his work on Denise Villuenueve’s science fiction epic Dune! I would argue his work on this film is even more exceptional. The images of Dune are undeniably striking. They lend themselves more to the style of filmmaking that gets you Oscar votes and unanimous praise; but in my opinion, the canvas that it allows the DP to paint on might be too big for its own good. The possibilities are limitless with a movie like Dune, and that may actually hinder creativity. When you're restricted to a city setting like Gotham you are forced to be creative in order to look visually interesting. You have to be dynamic with camera movement, and you have to manipulate light and shadow in order to yield the desired tone of a scene. You can’t just fall back on the vast desert landscapes and grand special effects, which are already going to steal the audience's attention anyway.
You can’t write about any new superhero film without dedicating a sizable paragraph to the lead. There are people out there who worship these pre established characters, and they have standards when it comes to casting. Poor Robert Pattinson was put in a tough spot with this role. He’s being asked to play a beloved character that has been portrayed by five different actors prior, and that's just if you're only counting the live action portrayals. On top of that, many average moviegoers who don’t run in the indie film circle still associate Mr. Pattinson as the pale skinned vampire love interest, Edward Cullen, in the universally ostracized Twilight series. We can all rest assured that Pattinson does a phenomenal job as the caped crusader. Out of all the previous actors to put on the suit he has the most presence, which is actually the opposite of what I was expecting. Whenever he emerged from dark alleyways or lurked around in the darkness I felt just as paranoid as the criminals he was hunting. In terms of the character and the actors' presence, the fear factor was dialed up to 11, and I loved it!
This film does have the obstacle of a PG-13 rating. I use the word obstacle because It can’t go all the way with some of the things it wants to do. It can’t be too violent, the word fuck can only slip out once, and it can’t stray too far into the darker aspects of the story like other crime films that don’t have the pressure of making over a billion dollars at the box office. I personally would have enjoyed the added edge, especially with scenes involving the Penguin. Perhaps I've seen one to many Scorsese movies, but seeing a crime boss who is restricted to PG-13 language was distracting.
The movie also suffers from a noticeable amount of cheesiness. I enjoyed a lot of the scenes between Batman and Catwoman, and thought the dynamic they had going worked great for the story, but I did not care too much for their “romantic” moments. They weren’t terrible by any means, but they felt quite routine and formulaic in a movie that manages to feel fresh and unique for most of its nearly three hour runtime.
These offenses end up feeling very minor at the end of the day. By the time the credits rolled I had experienced a thrilling noir film that balanced being a complex mystery and a crowd pleasing superhero film with great efficiency. If every superhero film was as well made and interesting as this film, then I would be a much bigger supporter of them. I’m happy that a genre I’ve grown so tired and weary of can still bring out good cinema like this.