In his second year of protecting Gotham City, Batman faces a sadistic serial killer in Matt Reeves’ The Batman.
Batman is a character that has enjoyed many adaptations at varying levels of quality. At this point it’s valid to wonder what else can be done with the concept especially when there is a clear desire to stick close to a dark, gritty and grounded take on the character which makes it difficult to bring in the more outlandish villains and situations. The approach taken by Matt Reeves is on paper a unique one as he pledges to focus on the “World’s Greatest Detective” moniker by spending more time with Batman investigating crimes rather than quickly tracking down whoever he needs to beat up.
As such, The Batman fancies itself as a grimy noir inspired detective thriller that just so happens to have Batman in it. The reality is that it isn’t massively different from other takes on the character. He still beats up groups of criminals and causes property damage in his souped up car with the major difference being that more time is taken up by the scenes between those set pieces as he hangs around with the police at crime scenes.
Robert Pattinson is the latest actor to wear the cape and cowl and he does a good enough job but doesn’t have a great deal to work with. He delivers the noir influenced voice overs that pepper the film well and is believable when on screen but his Bruce Wayne/Batman is very insular which means that there isn’t a great deal to latch onto emotionally. The idea being presented is that Bruce Wayne isn’t even close to finding a balance in his life and has been fully consumed by his Batman persona. Repeated references are made to Bruce Wayne being considered a recluse because he is rarely seen in public and has no connections to speak of. At this point in his career there is barely a Bruce Wayne because his mission as Batman is all he considers to be important. This is all well and good as an idea but it’s very limited in the way it is explored and nothing is offered beyond it being mentioned periodically so there’s a lack of definitive resolution to it. The resolution could be doubling down on his commitment to being Batman or concluding that changes need to be made in order to be more effective.
Starting the film in Batman’s second year being active is a double edged sword. On one hand it’s refreshing to not have to sit through the familiar origin beats that have been detailed so many times but on the other there isn’t much of a sense of who Bruce Wayne is or what drives him. He simply takes action and then moves onto the next thing. In many ways this film is a fairly mundane day at the office for Batman with the strong implication that he’s dealing with similar things on a regular basis. Things do escalate but on the whole the narrative is framed as unremarkable which does achieve setting Gotham up as so riddled with crime that theatrical serial killers are the norm.
Bruce Wayne doesn’t have much of an arc but there is an interesting jab at his legacy and privilege. Much is made of his detective skills not being as refined as they need to be due to the blind spots brought on by his privileged upbringing. He wants to help the city but he doesn’t truly understand the hardships that people deal with on a daily basis. The city is being consumed by crime but Bruce Wayne is ill equipped to understand the roots of that problem which means he’s fighting an uphill battle when it comes to making it better. Aspects of the plot directly interrogate where his money comes from, mistakes his parents made and where he fits in. Having a point of view rich character being forced to question the reasons they are rich in the first place is a fascinating and timely idea but it receives surface level coverage with the questions being raised and not fully answered. It’s a detail that hangs over Bruce’s head that demands some form of resolution but never gets one.
Adding to that is the coverage of whether Batman is doing any good in the city or if Bruce Wayne could find better ways to spend his time and money. There’s a lingering question over whether the existence of Batman invites challenge from increasingly more insane threats or if he’s responding to problems that already exist. Connected to that is the issue of a wealthy man using his money to facilitate beating up the underprivileged. Questioning whether Batman is part of the problem is an interesting idea that other versions of the character flirt with to varying degrees so framing a story around exactly that is welcomed especially in the world as it exists now. Franchising is the biggest obstacle to a true exploration of that story as if Bruce Wayne concludes that being Batman is doing more harm than good and the police decide that they should never have allowed him to get away with it for so long then sequels can’t be made. This means that the film touches on it and then clumsily finds a way to suggest that Batman is needed at least for now in order to validate the longevity of this take on the character. The near three hour running time should have provided plenty of time to explore these ideas and dig deep into what the film is trying to say but much of that time is wasted with repetition which creates a lot of bloat that makes the film feel as long as it is.
The Batman also suffers in most of its characterisation. Jeffrey Wright’s Jim Gordon is a function of the plot with very little beyond what a scene needs of him. Lots could have been done with him being a good man in the midst of a corrupt police force and the desperation brought on by that forcing him to trust a mysterious figure in an armoured bat themed costume but there appears to be no appetite to say anything about it beyond the fact that it’s already happening. Andy Serkis’ Alfred starts off compelling and then disappears for the majority of the film so there is a limited sense of their relationship even though he is supposed to represent the Wayne legacy since he is aware of where Bruce came from. In theory he should be pivotal because of the questions Bruce is forced to ask of himself but he is little more than a background element.
Another underwhelming aspect is Paul Dano’s Riddler. Framing the character as a serial killer leaving clues at the crime scene for Batman to solve in order to get closer to finding him is a strong idea and seeing himself as a partner to Batman as he is going after the corrupt in Gotham City is an excellent subversion of the standard villain relationship. The problem with this approach is that the Riddler isn’t a physical presence for most of the film. More time is spent investigating the aftermath of his actions which fits the character perfectly but prevents an actual antagonistic relationship from forming. He only shares two scenes with Pattinson, one of which they barely interact so there is a lack of connection between them. Turning him into a crazy internet troll galvanising followers with his rhetoric and preying on the desperate by promising to work together to make real change is the perfect grounded modern spin on one of Batman’s most recognisable villains so it’s unfortunate he wasn’t better used particularly when his endgame plan actually proves more damaging to those he claims to stand for. The mystery driven plot isn’t as clever as it needs with some bland puzzles and clues to be which makes the Riddler’s lack of presence more glaring.
The strongest character is Zoë Kravitz’ Selina Kyle aka Catwoman. Her performance is excellent and she has plenty of strong material to sink her claws into. Selina is far more connected to the street level reality than Bruce is so feels like a more organic part of the story and has access to the different levels within the city. She’s intelligent, driven, damaged and fierce in the way she conducts herself. The relationship developed between her and Batman carries the film nicely and develops naturally. Her objective is clearly presented and the arc she follows is strong with a neat and believable resolution. Franchising may later force her to back-pedal from choices that she makes but for the purposes of this film it comes together beautifully and she easily steals the show. Colin Farrell’s Ozwald Cobblepot aka the Penguin bears mention as Farrell is having a blast in the role suitably enhanced by prosthetics that make him unrecognisable. He is a background figure but he represents the corruption within the city and enjoys the position he has carved out for himself.
Gotham City itself is an example of excellent worldbuilding. The film clearly sets up the divide between the rich and poor within the city and identifies that as the direct cause of how broken it is. Visually it’s presented as being run down and crumbling with graffiti adorning almost every building, destruction everywhere and a general sense of hopelessness overpowering the setting. The police are mostly corrupt because they feel the only way to survive is to be part of the problem. It’s a dying city because of corruption and financial inequality which makes the perfect setting for a film like this. It’s a beautifully shot film that showcases the setting wonderfully and the mood -while relentlessly bleak- is well set.
The set pieces are also really well done. Most of the action is coherent, well choreographed and easy to follow. Anything that isn’t is due to impressive stylistic choices and the variety on display is impressive. This version of Batman moves believably and there’s a brutality to his fighting style not often seen. Selina Kyle’s agility is highlighted impressively and there’s a really strong vehicle chase. The third act suffers from being a bit by the numbers and the setup comes across as out of place when compared to what has been delivered up until this point but the action is exciting, dynamic and fitting to the world this film inhabits.
An undeniably compelling take on The Dark Knight with strong worldbuilding that suffers from surface level characterisation, a bloated running time and incomplete exploration of the ideas it presents. Robert Pattinson does a good job with the material he’s given but doesn’t have a great deal to work with. His Bruce Wayne is very insular which means there’s little to latch onto emotionally. He lacks much of an arc though there are attempts to interrogate his inherited wealth and where it came from as well as questioning whether Batman as an idea is a good one or not. No definitive resolution is reached on either of these but they are interesting to contemplate. The near three hour running time should provide ample time to explore these ideas but instead there is a lot of repetition adding bloat to the narrative. Most of the characterisation suffers. Jeffrey Wright’s Jim Gordon is a function of the plot and little else while Alfred should be pivotal but disappears for most of the film. The Riddler is great in concept but less impressive in execution. Zoë Kravitz’ Selina Kyle steals the show. Her performance is excellent, she has a clear arc to follow that is resolved and is a distinct part of the world the film inhabits. Colin Farrell deserves mention with the fu he’s having in the role of the Penguin. The worldbuilding is excellent and supports what the film is saying about corruption and financial inequality. There are a number of excellent set pieces that are exciting, dynamic and fitting to the world this film inhabits.
- excellent worldbuilding
- the movie being generally visually stunning
- impressive set pieces
- Zoë Kravitz stealing the show as Selina Kyle
- interrogating Bruce Wayne’s inherited wealth and family legacy
- posing the question of whether Batman is a good idea or not
- Colin Farrell’s take on the Penguin
- Bruce Wayne being too insular meaning there isn’t much to latch onto emotionally
- Bruce Wayne not really having an arc
- characters like Jim Gordon and Alfred receiving surface level characterisation
- the Riddler being better in concept that execution
- the mystery driven plot being less clever than it needs to be
- ideas being presented and not fully explored
What did you think? Select your rating in the “User Review” box below
User Review( votes)
We’d love to know your thoughts on this and anything else you might want to talk about. You can find us on Facebook and Twitter or just leave a comment in the comment section below. You’ll need an account for Disqus but it’s easy to set up. Don’t forget to share your rating in the “User Review” box
If you want to chat to me directly then I’m on Twitter as well.