Ok, Full Disclosure Time – I had to watch this newest cinematic iteration of Bob Kane and Bill Finger’s now classic comic book hero twice in order to get enough of a handle on how I felt about it that these scribbles would happen. And that’s kinda weird. The ENTIRE POINT of this blog is that YOU, Dear Reader, get my rawest reaction (short of me starting a Movie Reaction Channel on the Youtubes) as I’m going through the highs and lows left over when the final credits roll.
But nope. Matt Reeves’ (Cloverfield) completely-its-own-thing addition to the cherished WB/DC franchise, at the time of my first viewing (a week prior to this writing) left me somewhat confused and perplexed, after I broke down and blindly scored a Blu ray copy, opting to take the chance that this flick MIGHT be worth my hard-earned $25. Having now seen it twice…I THINK it’s worth it. Maybe. Probably.
Right off the bat, I’ll get this out of the way – is The Batman a Batman movie that the geeky masses needed? Craved? Yearned for?
As a close friend put it, in the form of a perfect, one-word review, The Batman is…drumroll, please…UNNECESSARY. And going with my instincts, I generally have to agree. BUT…having laid that out there…I also have to admit that as unneeded as this movie is, there is some fucking cool shit that I absolutely LOVED about this entry!
The basic storyline is as follows: Gotham City is a shithole (surprise, surprise) plagued by crime, much of which is caused by an epidemic of ‘drops’, a new designer drug that’s tearing up the streets and making its way through all levels of society. When we fall into the story, millionaire orphan ‘Bruce Wayne’ (Robert Pattinson) has been operating in the shadows as the Batman, a brutal vigilante that strikes fear and uncertainty into the underworld element of the city. At the same time, a vicious and calculating serial killer calling himself ‘The Riddler’ (Paul Dano) has also emerged from the darkness to brutally murder first the cities mayor, but then other political figures, leaving cryptic messages for the cops and the Batman at the crime scenes. As ‘Bruce’ quietly dives into the investigation, aided by Detective ‘Jim Gordon’ (Jeffrey Wright) and loyal family counsel ‘Alfred Pennyworth’ (Andy Serkis), he crosses paths with a mysterious and determined thief named ‘Selena Kyle’ (Zoe Kravitz) who is following her own investigation into the politically motivated disappearance of her roommate / girlfriend. Add to the mix a pair of menacing turns by John Turturro as Gotham gangster ‘Carmine Falcone’ and Colin Farrell as a scarred gangland enforcer version of ‘The Penguin’, the story then takes on many twists and turns as these forces collide.
When I first checked it out during a rare Bachelor weekend (the Better Half was traipsing about the Lower Mainland), I did my usual scribbles as it played. Initially, I was quick to blame my notes for pulling my attention away from the flick, which is why I opted for a second viewing, sans writing implements this time, in order to just get sucked into this new version of Gotham City and the stories unfolding in its darkened alleyways and roof-tops.
That being said, here lie those scribbles…
–Ave Maria. Beautiful track to open with.I’ve always loves this gorgeous piece by Schubert and it factors into The Batman’s narrative more than once, hearing it right off the bat (hee hee) as the opening scene plays out. Good tone setter.
–Creepy Riddler intro. Savage. The Batman at times embraces an undeniable horror movie vibe (that I welcomed) and that was established right off with the creepy and brutal introduction of Paul Dano’s ‘Riddler’, where we see him ambush the mayor with a bellowing yell and a sharp tool after lurking in the shadows, waiting for his moment like the sadistic psychopath that he is.
–Right off, love the gritty, lived-in vibe. From the first time I saw the teaser trailer, I got a distinct Se7en feel, with the constant rain, litter and overall well-worn and grimy feel of the city really coming through, clear as a bell. I’m happy to report that Matt Reeves most certainly and consistently used that 1995 David Fincher classic as a template and in my opinion, kicked ass with it. Don’t get me wrong, I know that Gotham City, be it Burton’s, Nolan’s or Snyder’s takes on the diseased metropolis, can all be accused of a gritty, at times Gothic, aesthetic but here, Reeves certainly dials it up and makes it his own. This production design, in my humble opinion, is one of the flick’s strong suits.
*Based on how The Batman looks, I would enthusiastically thrown Matt Reeves’ named into the ring (behind David Fincher or Ridley Scott) should someone FINALLY get around to doing a down n dirty retelling of The Shadow, one of my favorite comic book characters ever.
–Bats is brutal! Good intro. Our first encounter with the Batman sees him literally emerge from the shadows of a darkened subway station (like Jason Voorhees or Michael Myers, one could say) to rescue a man being beaten by a gang of macabre, clown makeup-wearing street thugs and, while not killing any of them, he definitely fucks the lowlifes up, with enough intensity to have the would-be victim also fear harm at the gloves and gauntleted hands of the Dark Knight, begging to be spared as Bats strides toward him.
–Everyone’s SO broody!This is both a mere observation AND a critique. There is almost no levity to this story and not once do we see Bruce Wayne demonstrate any lighter personality traits, with him going full emo at every turn. All the other versions of ‘Bruce’ / ‘Bats’ have had a moment or two where a smile is cracked or a wisecrack is made but nope…not in THIS Gotham City. I understand that this does fit with the tone but at times it was almost too much. SO MUCH GLOWERING…from everyone.
–Odd use of Nirvana. Not sure about it.Nirvana’s track ‘Something in the Way’ is used more than once and I will admit to being…amused (for lack of a better term)…by it’s inclusion. It ties back into my previous scribble about the overall broodiness of the tone, and the melancholy use of this track felt almost too on-the-nose. Added to which, rumor has it that Robert Pattinson used late Nirvana lead singer Kurt Cobain as an influence in his portrayal of ‘Bruce’…so there’s that.
–Ok, sweet Bat Cave. The new Bat Cave has a cool, real-world design and I liked it.
–Farrell is awesome! Love his Penguin. Now we get to one of the points that I love about this flick. As a rule, I like Colin Farrell when he turns up in a role, with his Irish bad boy good looks often leading this way into solid performances. Here, those looks are gone, hidden under some impressive prosthetics that almost completely render Farrell unrecognizable. Add in a somewhat New Yawk-sounding accent and the man disappears into this cool, gangster version of the classic Batman villain that is worlds removed from Danny DeVito’s iconic 1992 portrayal. Much like Heath Ledger’s iconic portrayal of ‘The Joker’, Farrell was a joy to watch every time he was onscreen.
–Cool escape scene, shitty landing. After an explosion goes off in Batman’s cowled face, knocking him senseless, he wakes up surrounded by cops who want to finally unmask the vigilante and reveal his true identity. His one police ally, ‘Gordon’, concocts a quick plan that results in Batman kicking off a hurried and desperate escape from the authorities, using a custom designed ‘squirrel suit’ to base jump off the roof of the Gotham Police department. What’s cool is that, while the gamble pays off, it comes with the price of a terrible and painful landing that leaves Batman completing his escape by limping painfully off into the shadows.
–AWESOME Bats vs Penguin car chase!More stellar Penguin action. When a Batman / Gordon stake-out goes south and the Penguin escapes an interrupted drug deal, Batman tears after him in what is now one of my favorite Bat-mobiles; a souped-up muscle car version of the classic vehicle. The two tear at high speed through the rainy streets and highways of Gotham before the Penguin is neutralized in a most spectacular fashion. If you can, watch this scene loud. It’s awesome!
–Definitely more of a detective vibe. A lot of people seem to forget that Batman is also supposed to be known as the World’s Greatest Detective, not just some ninja-like vigilante, and here Reeve’s and Co. honed in on that aspect, with ‘Bats’ / ‘Bruce’ taking on a far more investigative role than previously seen, as opposed to merely kicking the shit out of anyone who even looks at him sideways.
–Pacing noticeably suffers in the Second Act.This is where the flick’s unnecessarily bloated run-time of nearly 3 hours starts to show wear and tear. Both times now, I found myself starting to ‘check out’ at around the midway point, after one too many drawn out scenes of exposition.
–Not sure about the new Thomas Wayne backstory. In pretty much every Batman story version that I know, ‘Bruce Wayne’s ill-fated father was a prominent and highly successful doctor / philanthropist who, with his wife ‘Martha’, was gunned down in an alley by a random mugging-gone-wrong. Naturally young ‘Bruce’ witnesses this violent act of murder and, traumatized and vengeful, is set on his path to becoming The Batman. Here, ‘Thomas Wayne’ is far more the cause of his own demise, given certain dealings he had with unsavory characters, as is eventually revealed. Now, I have no problems with changing things up, as this flick does in many regards, but tainting the elder Wayne’s established reputation does detract from the ‘righteousness’ of ‘Bruce’s quest for truth, justice and cold-blooded revenge. But hey…that’s just me.
–LOTS of ‘tell’, not ‘show’. This critique goes back to the suffering of the pacing, starting around the 1 hour and a half mark. On my second viewing, it stood out that a lot of conversations were being used to fill in backstory and motivation, while also slowing the pace right down. Reeves could’ve been a bit more creative and economical in his narrative approach, while also recognizing that this particular Batman story does NOT NEED TO BE THREE HOURS LONG. It just doesn’t.
–Solid sound design. This is another aspect where The Batman succeeds beautifully. On a technical level, this movie is solid and that especially applies to the robust sound design that was employed to bolster the dial-gritty-up-to-11 production. Punches sound like they hurt, gunfire roars, explosions duke you in the face and the Bat-mobile lighting it up almost gave me wood…and I’m NOT a ‘car guy’! On an even half-way decent sound system, this movie is definitely Demonstration quality. It’s also worth noting that the low and ominous tones of Michael Giacchino’s near horror-movie film score added its own moody touch to the proceedings, and it definitely worked for me.
And that’s where my scribbles stopped. I’m pretty sure that I opted to just let the drawn-out 3rd Act wash over me without the potential distraction of the pen and the paper.
If I’m going to be completely honest (kinda the name of the game here, huh), I’d have to say that while there’s a good amount of The Batman that I absolutely loved, as a whole it doesn’t quite come together. It comes really, REALLY close…but I think the narrative loses some of its grip on the viewer as it gets bogged down by the longer-than-it-should-be run-time and possibly one too many side plots.
When it comes to what I genuinely thought was cool – the production design and overall atmosphere / tone was amazing in its grim and gritty presentation, the reimagining of established characters like ‘The Riddler’, ‘The Penguin’, and ‘Cat-woman’, along with ‘Commissioner Gordon’ and ‘Alfred’, really struck pay-dirt, the cast was solid, the score and sound design were certainly above average, and even Robert Pattinson’s dour portrayal of ‘Bruce’ MOSTLY came to work for me.
On the other side of the coin, the main complaint again revolves around a good chunk of the pacing and the overly indulgent run-time. As most of us know, if a long movie is well paced and presented, you don’t even notice that 3 hours + of your Life goes by. But when the effectiveness of the pacing comes in fits and starts, the narrative starts to get bogged down and that definitely happened here. I felt the bloat. There’s also some forced dialogue and borderline eye-rolling examples of perfectly timed coincidence but truly, for me, the biggest issue is that of the run-time and how it detracted from what could’ve been a far more tense and focused story.
Now having said that, can I recommend The Batman?
Yes, I safely can…especially if comic book adaptations are your thing, particularly the DCEU. It’s definitely not a perfect flick but it does boast some very cool additions to the overall Batman universe, and just some generally cool shit in general (I keep coming back to that car chase!). Even if no further films from that particular universe emerge, The Batman is a curious experiment / gamble on the part of WB/DC, with the SnyderVerse Batman (and Nolan’s, if we’re being honest) still so fresh in people’s minds and if nothing else, it can be exactly that. An entertaining and well-crafted (but flawed) stand-alone that doesn’t insult any of the other Batman titles, but also doesn’t necessarily need to exist.