Hey, Everybody! Welcome to another review from Flickmuncher.com where we entertain food for thought. My name is Ben and I’m the Flickmuncher. It’s been a couple of years since my last review and in that time a lot has happened the world over. For my part I’ve switched jobs, gained 20 pounds, and finished writing a full draft of a four hundred and fifty page book. But as one who is sentimental about old things I thought it was time I returned to my roots and started putting together some new reviews for you guys. So lets get into it!
Not having gone to the movie theaters much in the last two years, either due to the cumbersome restrictions or just sheer disinterest in what was being shown I’ve finally started to visit some of the newer material being produced by Hollywood lately. The most recent example of this is Matt Reeves’ The Batman. The Caped Crusader is a well known—if not the most well known—crime fighter in popular culture and has had many different iterations throughout the years. Some were phenomenal, such as Batman ’89 and The Dark Knight. Others like Batman vs. Superman and Batman and Robin, well…the less said about those the better.
Recently though a new contender has stepped into the ring in the form of The Batman, because for some reason Warner Bros. has gotten into their heads that putting “The” in front of a title automatically makes it new and ‘hip’ again (e.g. Suicide Squad vs ‘THE’ Suicide Squad). Directed by Matt Reeves, creator of titles such as Cloverfield (2008) and the recent Planet of the Apes movies, this film was intended as a reset of the Dark Knight after his previous incarnation as Ben Affleck supposedly flopped with audiences in the horribly botched Snyderverse Justice League films. So Warner Execs, with absolutely no spine among them, immediately hit the panic button and ordered an entirely new version of the character that would have nothing whatsoever to do with the Justice League—until of course, they change their minds again and put him in with a black Superman and the Rock as Black Adam, but I digress.
So how does this new film measure up? Robert Pattinson plays a young, decidedly not-sparkling Batman that has been working his new career as a vigilante crime fighter for two years now. Using his virtually infinite resources as Bruce Wayne and the help of his loyal butler Alfred (played by Andy Serkis) he has set fear into the hearts of criminals all across Gotham when they see the symbol of the bat shined into the sky at night. He’s even earned the trust of some of the police force including up and coming Lieutenant James Gordon (Jeffrey Wright). Yet on the eve of a major election, the incumbent mayor is found murdered due to the actions of a mysterious maniac that the police refer to as ‘The Riddler’. Enlisting the help of Gordon and amateur thief Selina Kyle (Zoe Kravitz), Batman’s investigation soon finds him caught up in a conspiracy that reaches into Gotham’s very roots, and possibly Batman’s as well.
Before that though I’d like to do my best Captain Kidd impression when I say: ARRGHH, HERE THERE BE SPOILERS – GREENHORNS, YE BE WARNED.
Sorry, had to get that out of my system. On to the review.
Let’s talk about the good stuff first. In my opinion this is the best looking Batman films since Batman (1989). While Nolan’s Dark Knight movies tried to bring Batman into the real world, this movie builds a real world around him, which I think it does brilliantly. My personal image of Gotham is a mixture of today’s minimalist designs built atop layers of more intricate gothic spires, and this is what I imagined. Every frame of the film within Gotham evokes a city that tries to maintain a clean and civilized façade while its jagged, corrupt, and sinister core is poking out through every seam it can find. The place is literally dripping with atmosphere—seriously, it rains so much you’d think Gotham was built right next to Seattle—and is exactly the kind of place I would imagine finding a character like Batman silently patrolling the streets. The only place in the film that didn’t do that was ironically Wayne Manor which didn’t seem nearly grand or stately enough. Rather it seemed like a set from the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Universal Studios. It wasn’t a huge thing as very little of film takes place there but it was still a rather disappointing display for the home of The Batman.
In addition, this movie plays with a part of Batman’s character we don’t see very often in the movies: the World’s Greatest Detective. Sure we’ve seen a couple occasions when he would use his knowledge to help locate a criminal or solve their dastardly scheme but with the exception of Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (a movie I highly recommend by the way) I don’t know we’ve had a Batman movie dedicate a solid half of the movie to him solving a crime using classic techniques such as using informants, conducting surveillance, and noting down relevant information to help in solving the crime and finding the perpetrator. It’s just a shame that the movie seems to abandon this approach after the first third, but I’ll get to that. It’s really refreshing to see Batman treated as the World’s Greatest Detective instead of a simple brawler/super ninja with a bat-themed costume.
The other big thing I appreciated was the strength of the supporting cast. If there’s one thing I learned from watching the Harry Potter films it’s that a strong supporting cast can do a lot to uplift an otherwise mediocre film, and this film is no exception to that rule. Headlined by Andy Serkis as Alfred, John Turturro as Crime Boss Falcone, Jeffrey Wright as Lieutenant Gordon, and Colin Farrell as the Penguin, this is a top tier supporting cast that does a lot through their performances to lend gravity and authenticity to the story in a way that helps pull you as an audience member into the story on the screen. Such an effect cannot be understated when you consider what the film would be like without it. Also, I have to give props to the team that did the makeup for Colin Farrell as the Penguin. I genuinely didn’t know it was him until the end credits.
Unfortunately this brings me to the main cast and the less positive part of this review. So if you like this movie and just wanted to hear me speak in glowing terms about how amazing this movie is then I’m glad you’ve enjoyed yourself and suggest you exit now and have a wonderful day, because this is where things get dark.
The main cast of The Batman is sadly rather lackluster. It’d be unfair to say that Robert Pattinson and Zoe Kravitz as Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle respectively are out-and-out bad in this movie but their performances are one of the weakest elements. I can remember a number of moments from the supporting cast I mentioned earlier, throughout this film. I can remember John Turturro as Falcone, exuding warm charisma while still being menacing every time he was on screen. I remember Colin Farrell’s Penguin, barely hiding his resentment at being a stooge to Falcone, a man he has no respect for. I remember Andy Serkis as Alfred almost breaking down in tears while confessing to Bruce that the Waynes might not always have been as noble as they wanted people to believe. I can’t remember a single scene with Pattinson or Kravitz that stuck with me that way.
The lackluster main cast is only weighed down further by what is in my opinion a very weak villain in the form of the Riddler. Besides never actually calling himself that (the police are the ones who give him the name), Riddler struggles to find a true identity in this film. Part of this is because he is hidden for the first half of the movie as the subject of the detective story so we don’t get to know him that well. Putting aside the insultingly trite approach of making him a wannabe youtuber, his crimes are given a rather milquetoast motivation to support them. He wants to expose the corruption of Gotham for everyone to see. Okay, that would be fine but we never see how that corruption affected him personally. Why does he care so much about exposing Gotham’s corruption? Yeah, he’s a forensic accountant but that’s an occupation, not a motive. On top of that his means of getting his message out kind of convoluted and cryptic; What radical revolutionary promotes their cause by committing crimes and then giving their reason in riddles that only one person in the city can solve? If A Tale of Two Cities had worked that way it would have been Charles Dickens’ shortest novel. In previous versions of the Batman mythos, the Riddler worked as a character because he was so egotistical and narcissistic that he would commit crimes just to prove how smart he was. Then when Batman outsmarted him he would commit another crime with a different riddle to do the same thing. That is a textbook definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. That’s what makes him crazy. This Riddler can’t decide what he is. Is he a murderer with a perverted sense of justice? Is he a genius criminal who gets kicks out of leaving clues behind just to prove nobody can stop him? Is he an anarchist? I don’t know because the film never lets him be one thing long enough for us to understand him.
This brings us to my personal two biggest issues with the film: the length and the structure. This film is just shy of three hours long, and boy did it feel like it was three hours long. Now, I’m not against films with long running times. I’ve seen plenty of films that I actually think would have benefitted from a longer runtime than they were given. The Lord of the Rings is one of my all-time favorite film series to watch and each of those is over three hours—four if you watch the extended versions. Yet throughout those movies I never once recall checking my phone for the time. With The Batman, I recall doing so at least three times. In school, when kids start looking at the clock during class, it usually means either they have some place to be, or they are bored out of their minds and just want to be out of the room as soon as physically possible.
In either case they have disengaged mentally.
Now—you might ask—how could a movie starring Batman that allows you to see him in all his glory for three full hours, possibly be boring? The answer is actually pretty simple. Batman in his full glory is not interesting enough on its own to keep someone engaged. A simple screensaver with a picture of the Dark Knight will do the same thing and for far longer. Batman has to have something interesting to do in those three hours and unfortunately, after the first hour, he really doesn’t. This wouldn’t be so bad if there was fun stuff happening elsewhere in the movie but the rest of the film is so unfocused that it never got me back after that first hour ended.
Which is where the structure comes into play. Most films have a basic structure wherein an event sets the story in motion (Joker commits a crime), there’s a build-up (Batman searches for the Joker), a climax (Batman finds the Joker), and finally the story is resolved (Batman takes Joker to Arkham—again). The Batman starts out this way with Riddler murdering someone, leading Batman to try and catch him, but after the first hour it detours into a conspiracy story involving every major figure in Gotham (except the young black woman running for mayor. ‘Kay). Yhen when both the murder mystery and the conspiracy story have been wrapped up and you think it’s time to say goodbye, there’s still almost an hour left where Batman has to stop a terrorist attack that the Riddler happened to orchestrate. The movie feels like three movies in one with none of them being allowed to breath, ironically talking more and saying less.
CONCLUSION: Leaving the theatre with my brother after watching this movie I wasn’t sure what to think of this movie. It is a Batman movie so there’s always something to enjoy. Yet for all that there was I just felt…tired. Not in the way that you feel out of breath after a rollercoaster at the amusement park or exhausted after running a marathon. More tired the way you feel when you come home from work; where you did what you had to do and now you’re done.
I’m sure there are plenty of folks who will like or even love this movie and its dark and gritty realization of the caped crusader and as I’ve noted above there are a lot of things to like about this movie. It’s certainly not the worst batman movie we’ve ever seen, or even the worst movie with batman in it. But while that might not be a high bar to reach—thank you Batman and Robin—it does make me wonder what this movie could have been. Wasted potential is a difficult thing to measure but it’s easy to see when there’s as much richness of atmosphere, world, and characters as this movie has to offer.
As it is though, I cannot truly recommend it except to the most die-hard of batfans. For the time invested this movie, like the Batman’s entrance, is a long slow plod toward an unclear destination.
What did you guys think? Did you like this movie? What stood out? Reach out to me in the comments section or comment on Facebook. Thanks and have a wonderful weekend!