Matt Reeves’ vision of the Dark Knight has many strengths and few weaknesses, the highlight being a performace by Robert Pattinson unlike anything we’ve seen for this much-beloved character.
By Sean Blanford
In nearly thirty-five years spanning five directors and ten live-action feature films, each of them brought their unique vision to the Batman story. First, with his Michael Keaton-led films Batman and Batman Returns, Tim Burton had one of the first glimpses of what a blockbuster comic book film could be. Next, Joel Schumacher with Val Kilmer’s Batman Forever and George Clooney’s Batman & Robin turned the neon lighting up to eleven, and by the time the end of 1997 rolled around, there were diminishing returns on the Batman name. Then 2005 came, and Christopher Nolan, known for the smaller-scale films Memento and Insomnia, took those same sensibilities and gave Batman the jolt it needed with Batman Begins. The Christian Bale-led trilogy took this character to heights never before seen, reaching its cinematic climax with the second of the three films, 2008’s The Dark Knight, which garnered Heath Ledger a posthumous Academy Award win for his stirring performance as The Joker. Then in 2016, Zack Snyder had a go, bringing his already made Superman universe from 2013’s Man of Steel and combining it with his own Batman story with Batman v. Superman and Justice League. Now, this brings us to today with Matt Reeve’s most recent vision, The Batman. This history lesson serves the purpose that different directors can interpret a character differently to various degrees of success. With Robert Pattinson’s portrayal of the Bruce Wayne/Batman duo, it is something like we haven’t seen before.
It’s modern-day Gotham City, and Batman is the vigilante working alongside Jim Gordon (Jeffrey Wright), but the Bat-signal is much more than communication for when Batman is needed most; it serves as a warning to all those who want to do the worst kind of harm to the citizens of the city: vengeance is coming. This city is amidst a heated mayoral race between incumbent Don Mitchell, Jr. (Rupert Penry-Jones) and young, fresh-faced upstart Bella Real (Jayme Lawson). Real wants swift change to the city to rid the stench of corruption from the streets, while Mayor Mitchell intends to keep things the status quo. Lurking in the background, a man known as The Riddler (Paul Dano) lurks in the shadows, planning his brand of justice to the most corrupt in the city, which includes the city’s district attorney (Petes Sarsgaard), leaders of the local crime syndicate (John Turturro) and those that work for him (Colin Farrell), and ending with Bruce Wayne himself.
With such a considerable runtime, there are many moving parts that, for the most part, come together nicely. The film hinges on Pattinson’s performance as both Batman and Bruce Wayne, and while he fills out the Batsuit nicely with his well-formed jawline coming through the mask, his version of Bruce Wayne is different. We usually see the rich ladies man who wastes his day and shows up at galas and parties perfectly dressed in a three-piece tuxedo. Here, Wayne is the angsty teenager who turned into an even angstier adult. He’s awkward around people and defensive toward those few people he has left in his life. When he does have to get himself in a suit to attend a big event that brings many of the people mentioned above together, he looks like the kid who wears a suit because he has to, not because he wants to. It sounds like it could be something that is easily mocked as Hot Topic Batman, but it worked because of the commitment of Pattinson in his performance.
That isn’t to say the supporting cast doesn’t do their part because they do in spades. Dano brings a level of fear to the Riddler character that is closer to Tom Hardy’s Bane in The Dark Knight Rises than it does with Jim Carrey’s spandex-clad version in Batman Forever. Likewise, Zoe Kravitz as Selina Kyle/Catwoman is cool and strong while not actively going for a love interest angle. While her story arc works within the elements of the film where she is needed, I would have liked more of her, with her character being more seamless and clean rather than dropped in when needed. Colin Farrell is unrecognizable as Oz/The Penguin, and Andy Serkis’ version of Alfred is less father figure and more putting Master Wayne in his place when needed. It is hard to maneuver such a robust cast of characters, and while I wish Catwoman or The Penguin were interwoven into the story more effectively, Reeves does as well as he could have given the story he was trying to tell.
This point begs the question of whether or not the film needed to be nearly three hours, with such a sprawling cast going between multiple storylines to reach a satisfying conclusion. To that, I say yes and no. If you could handle sitting through recent films like Avengers Endgame (181 minutes) or other Batman films like The Dark Knight Rises (164 minutes), you’ll have no problem getting through The Batman. Enough is going on to keep you engaged in the story combined with a top-tier score from Michael Giacchino a few solid set-pieces to whet the appetite of those who like it when things go boom. That being said, there are several moments of lingering stares or motorcycle drives that could have been trimmed back to make this a more compact film. The third act also drags its heels to get to where it wants to go. It doesn’t reach the same levels of “third act problems” that other films of its ilk have, but there had to have been a more straightforward route to take that could have been just as if not more compelling.
At the end of it all, The Batman is about the journey its titular hero takes to become the man whose name strikes fear into the hearts of small-time crooks to the icon that a city needs at its darkest hour. There are many ways Reeves can go with this story, and if this is all we get, then it serves as a steller one-off entry into the Batman franchise and the greater crime-drama genre as a whole. So go see The Batman on the biggest screen possible and enjoy one of the best Batman films ever made.
Grade: 4.5/5 (A)
The Batman is only in theaters beginning on March 4th. it is Rated PG-13 for strong violent and disturbing content, drug content, strong language, and some suggestive material.