I slept on it before writing this, to let the euphoria pass.
Matt Reeves’ The Batman surprised me in a number of ways, some of which can’t be mentioned without throwing spoilers. I’ll perhaps write a second piece on this, but for now, understand that this film has effectively pushed The Dark Knight to the side as my favorite live-action Batman film (The Lego Batman Movie stands on a pedestal all it’s own above all the rest). My favorite Batman stories are the detective tales. Gotham by Gaslight. The Long Halloween. Hush.
On film, the Caped Crusader has moments of investigation, but they often took a backseat either to the action or the resolution came as quickly as a Batcomputer search. For me, The Batman had closer ties to films like David Fincher’s Seven, Alan J. Pakula’s Klute, Bruce Malmuth’s Nighthawks, and even Shane Black’s The Nice Guys to some degree. It does all this legwork while finding a way to avoid giving us the same clip of the Monarch Shooting of the Waynes. That alone is worth it for me. This is Batman. After more than 9 films, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone on the planet younger than maybe six who doesn’t know how he got that way.
Living in NYC, I can relate to Gotham City. On the surface, it’s beautiful. For those who can afford it, there are tons of amenities available to its citizens. Peel back that layer, though, and you’ll always have Crime in a city holding 9 million people. It’s a constant as rain. Gotham City is on the verge of breakdown. Looking at the torn poster filled streets and I was reminded of a cross between Walter Hill’s Streets of Fire and Alex Proyas’ The Crow .and the way most of Manhattan looks now with it’s closed down stores. The city almost serves as a character itself in The Batman. It’s a throwback to some of the classic black and white detective movies my parents grew up on like 1947’s Kiss of Death. For all his gadgets and resources, there’s an argument suggesting the Batman can never really save his beloved city, though we love his efforts.
“Forget it, Bruce. It’s Gotham.” one might as well say.
Visually, the movie is a little dark, but that makes sense given the tone of the film. Cinematographer Greig Fraser (Dune, Zero Dark Thirty) is somewhat new to me, but I’m liking his work, which felt a little like Janusz Kaminski’s Lost Souls. It wasn’t dark to the point where I couldn’t make out elements (and I was sitting in the front row, far left side in my theatre), I’ll say that much. I’ll keep an eye on him in the future.
The Batman takes place in our hero’s second to third year, according to an early narration (much like Blade Runner). Batman has a good rapport with Lt. James Gordon (Jeffrey Wright, No Time to Die) and his butler, Alfred (Andy Serkis, reuniting with Reeves since Dawn of the Planet of the Apes), for the most part, there are some results. Criminals flee when the bat symbol shines in the night sky, because no one really knows where The Dark Knight will strike. A new murder brings both Gordon and the Batman into play, as his opponent leaves various riddles for them to solve. The mystery brings Batman into various circles, including those of Selina Kyle (Zoe Kravitz, Kimi), crime boss Carmine Falcone (John Turturro, The Big Lebowski) and Oz (Colin Farrell, The Gentlemen). They all bring in great performances, including Peter Sarsgaard (Green Lantern), but it’s Paul Dano (Ruby Sparks, There Will Be Blood) who really runs away with things as The Riddler. I’ve never considered The Riddler to be a creepy villain, but this was quite dark, even for DC’s standards. I can’t imagine how it would have turned out if this was a Rated R film. I’m really curious to know.
Bruce Wayne has never been an easy character to handle on screen.
There are whole books written on the Psychology of the Batman. Here you have an individual who witnessed his parents being murdered as a kid and grows up in a near empty mansion with butlers and maids. The individual decides to dedicate his life (and vast resources) to studying criminal investigation techniques, martial arts and even Ninjitsu for a singular focus: To rid Gotham City of Crime. Add to this the concept of instilling fear in one’s enemies, and dressing up like a Bat to pummel thugs with fists and gadgets just adds to Wayne’s madness. Pattinson honed in on this and turns Bruce Wayne into a pretty isolated and brooding individual. For someone with nearly unlimited resources, he doesn’t seem happy with any of it at all. At least Keaton pretended to party and Clooney’s Wayne truly did party. Bale’s Wayne let Fox focus on research and development. Hell, even Affleck’s Wayne recognized he was rich and flaunted it like a superpower all its own. Pattinson’s Batman is lean and really looks like the kind of guy you might find stepping out of the shadows just past Wall Street late at night. No offense to Affleck’s Batman, who for some is the pinnacle of what the character should be, but I’ve always associated that look with the older, fresh out of retirement Batman of Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns.
Together, Pattinson and Kravitz’ chemistry was really nice on screen. I’ll admit, I enjoyed the romance between the two. Both characters accept tha they’re Creatures of the Night, and there’s this sweet give and take between the two as they nudge each other. Selina doesn’t have to do crime, and Batman doesn’t have to be the spirit of Vengeance, but they’re caught up in what works best for them. I enjoyed that aspect.
At first listen (about a week ago), I thought Michael Giacchino’s theme needed something outside of the four note motif it had. Hearing the music with the movie is a different beast, and I have to say, it works really well here. In some places, it’s as minimalistic as Hans Zimmer’s Nolan scores.
Now, a little Devil’s Advocate. The main problem I had with The Batman was the same I had with Spider-Man: No Way Home. I understand DC & Warner Bros. want to draw people into the theatre, but in this age where every element of a trailer is scanned and studied, I’d argue that 40% of the action you watched on screen were already somewhat spoiled by the trailer (or trailers, if you watched every one the Warners released). I’m not saying one should refrain from watching trailers – I only watched the teaser and the main trailer – but I would have liked if they held some scenes back. One might also argue The Batman was lighter on action than the other films, but it’s the detective work and the character performances that make up for it.
There’s also a lot of rain. Almost too much. Remember the sequence in Jurassic Park with the first appearance of the T-Rex? I would say that most of The Batman is set under somewhat similar conditions. It felt like it either just rained, was about to, or you were in the middle of a downpour. Then again, so did The Crow. Perhaps that’s just a nitpick on my part.
Also, clocking in at 2 hours and 56 minutes, it’s a long film. You might not really notice it, but I’d go so far to say that the time didn’t feel wasted. I noticed 3 or 4 people who left for the restroom in my showing, if that’s any indication.
Overall, The Batman was a wonderful surprise from the DC side of things, and I’m liking the direction it’s going. It might not be a completely connected universe like Marvel’s lineup, but they’re proving they can still weave some amazing stories with the characters they have.