DC Comics is obsessed with Batman. This shouldn’t be a major surprise to anyone familiar with the company and their publishing line. Batman is what brings in the big bucks for them, so they feel the need to insert Batman into virtually everything. Batman forced his way into the sequel to the Superman solo film, Man of Steel; his origin was needlessly included in Joker; and he basically was the central protagonist of the team-based Justice League. They’re so reliant on him that there was an entire week in January where DC only published Batman or Batman-related titles. It doesn’t take a genius to see they’re almost entirely reliant on ol’ Bruce nowadays.
Even the most hardcore Batman fans have to admit that DC relies on him a bit too much to the detriment of a lot of other heroes and super teams (give me another Secret Six series damn it!). So of course it was only a matter of time until another Batman movie went into production and this time we’re graced with The Batman. There’s a new actor in the cape and cowl, a new direction for the series, and a lot of hype surrounding it.
I try to avoid other reviews as much as possible if I’m going to be covering a movie, but there was no escaping the accolades this movie was receiving. 10 out of 10 scores. Five-star ratings. A+ rankings from outlets. The critical praise for this movie is through the roof to the point where you would think it’s the greatest superhero movie of all time. And I mean, it’s good, but is it really that good? Surprise to no one, but The Batman isn’t a perfect masterpiece. Its highs are incredibly high, but its lows are pretty dang boring.
Director: Matt Reeves
Release Date: March 4, 2022 (Theatrical)
Batman (Robert Pattinson) has been a vigilante for a little over two years. He’s built up an image where the criminals of Gotham are in constant fear of him, but they’ve never really stood up to him in any meaningful way. That all changes when a serial killer calling himself the Riddler (Paul Dano) begins to kill many major figures in Gotham City while leaving calling cards directly challenging Batman. The Riddler vows to reveal the truth about Gotham, whatever that may be, so it’s up to Batman and Commissioner Gordon (Jeffrey Wright) to stop his killing spree and unravel a massive mystery that may or may not be related to the death of Batman’s parents, the mob, and an upcoming mayoral election.
The Batman is a dark movie, there’s no two ways about it. The film opens up on a violent murder that feels more in place in a Saw movie than a comic book film. The film can be positively bleak at times with very little joy anywhere to be found. It never comes across as mean-spirited mind you, but sometimes it feels like darkness for the sake of darkness. Joker was also a depressing movie to sit through, but Joker had a message that it was trying to convey with its bleakness, though you may argue whether or not it conveyed that message effectively. There’s no real reason for The Batman to be as dark as it is since its darkness isn’t trying to be a commentary on anything discernable. It comes across like the studio saw Joker was successful because it was bleak, so they did that again with Batman.
And this is a movie about Batman through and through. Sure, Pattinson may play Bruce Wayne, but even his character doesn’t think of himself as anything but Batman. He’s a merciless machine of vengeance who will do whatever it takes to make sure that no one ever has to go through what he did as a child. I like the fact that the movie doesn’t show us Batman’s origins yet again. The film starts with Batman already established and any mentions to Batman’s beginnings come through subtextual interactions between him and a child whose father was murdered in the first scene. It’s mild symbolism done right.
Pattinson does a pretty alright job as Batman. There are definitely moments where he gives off an emo-loner vibe, but there hasn’t really been a Batman quite like him. He’s not a brute like Batfleck was, or calm and collected like Keaton’s rendition. Pattinson’s Batman is one that is clearly damaged and not properly healed from his trauma. Alfred (Andy Serkis) makes mention of this whenever the two of them have a chance to talk. Bruce is like a child who never learned to overcome his grief and it pushed him to dangerous areas within his mind. This is probably the closest we’ve gotten to a psychological deconstruction of the character on the big screen and it works. I mean, they had the time to explore those areas, since the film clocks in at three hours.
There is no reason for The Batman to be three hours long. A long cut does not equal quality and sometimes having restraint can make a leaner and tighter overall product. The pitch-black tone can feel like a dirge at times and being exposed to that for three hours can just wear down your soul. The movie feels like it could end three separate times and a lot of plotlines in the middle of the film could have definitely used some trimming.
Take the mafia subplot, which takes over the second third of the movie. The Riddler plot takes a backseat while Batman and Catwoman (Zoe Kravitz) try to tackle a drug ring involving Carmine Falcone (John Turturro) and the Penguin (Colin Farrell). It does play into the Riddler’s overall plan, but the comic book nature of the production shifts to being more along the lines of a standard mob movie. It can be compelling at times, especially when you piece together how the mob fits into Riddler’s plan, but they ultimately can’t escape the shadow cast by Dano’s psychopathic serial killer.
I don’t exactly know how this next statement is going to land, and I know that I shouldn’t say this lightly, but here it goes anyway; Paul Dano’s Riddler is better than Heath Ledger’s Joker. Paul brings a terrifying menace to the role and dominates any scene that he’s in. Whether it’s a recording of him or him talking directly to Batman, he controls the conversation and we understand very clearly that something is wrong with him. The Joker may be about senseless anarchy and chaos, but the Riddler is calculated chaos. He has a reason for his actions, but you get the feeling that it’s just an excuse to let himself cut loose, that this was something he always wanted to do and just needed some reason, any reason, to burn Gotham to the ground. He’s absolutely perfect in the role and is the highlight of the film, bar none.
But he’s almost too good in the film. Whenever he’s not around, the film suffers for it. His dynamic with Batman is rock solid and his plans are deviously delicious, so to remove them from the equation and replace them with mob drama and corrupt cops feels out of place. Gotham’s mob villains have always been the weakest element of his mythos. When you have villains like the Joker, Scarecrow, Bane, or the Riddler running around, who cares if the mob is creating a secret drug ring? I suppose it fits in more with the down-to-Earth tone the movie wants to set, but it causes the film to feel drawn out and makes you want to go back to the good bits, mainly the central mystery.
The mystery is a solid one with a lot of varying elements that don’t quite fit together. Why is the Riddler killing famous Gotham politicians and leaders? Why is he directly targeting Batman? How does he know all of the information to orchestrate these events? What is his endgame? Most of those questions have satisfying answers, though some of them are quickly handwaved away at the end in favor of more compelling interactions with Batman.
Instead of this being a typical superhero action movie, this is a detective story at its core. Batman rarely gets to solve mysteries anymore, so this is a nice change of pace for the character. This isn’t a particularly tough mystery like Knives Out was and you’ll probably figure out the answers if you’ve been paying attention to seemingly important background points that no one draws attention to, but it gets the job done.
Kravitz also just kind of gets the job done as Catwoman. Her introduction is strong and her motivation for staying in Gotham and fighting against Falcone is good, but she suffers in two very different but unfortunate ways. There’s definitely an effort to push her and Batman into a relationship here that does not feel justified. Her sudden acts of physical affection towards him don’t work when he openly shows little to no interest in her. Plus, once Falcone’s plot wraps up at the two-hour mark, the film doesn’t really know what to do with her afterward. She just kind of shows up at the climax and helps out for no reason other than she was in the area. You get the impression that she was included in the film to give Pattinson someone to work alongside other than Gordon.
The Batman swings wildly from being exciting and tense to boring and tedious. The Riddler is amazing, but the mobsters are boring. The psychological deconstruction they have with Pattinson is solid, but there’s very little of it to go around. The mystery is interesting and compelling, but can be predictable and ends sooner than you would have thought. The action is done competently, but there’s remarkably little of it in this three-hour movie. Avengers: Endgame knew that if you were going to ask your audience to sit for three hours, you needed to reward them with the mother of all fight scenes. In The Batman, you’re rewarded with a climax where Batman fights a bunch of no-name goons.
I did enjoy my time with The Batman, but by the time the credits finally rolled, I felt exhausted. Have you ever seen a movie where afterward you just feel like you need a nap? That’s The Batman. It’s not a movie that you can just put on and enjoy. You need to be in a very particular mood and have the time to watch it, but if the stars align then you’ll have a blast with it. In fact, I’m sure that as time goes on and I have more distance from when I first saw the film, my opinion of it will only increase. But this isn’t a 10 out of 10 movie. It’s a very good movie, but this isn’t going to challenge The Dark Knight any time soon for Bat supremacy.