DC is releasing another Batman movie this weekend, with the unadorned title "The Batman," this time with Robert Pattinson taking on the role of the caped crusader and Bruce Wayne.
Batman on film
Christopher Nolan wrapped up his Batman franchise in 2012 with "The Dark Knight Rises" featuring Christian Bale. Four years later Ben Affleck donned the cape for Zack Snyder's "Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice," and we saw him in that role again just last year for "Zack Snyder's Justice League" director's cut. So you could legitimately ask if we need to revisit the Batman story yet again and so soon.
It is interesting that while Marvel keeps digging into its comics archive to find new characters to introduce to film and TV audiences (think back to Ant-Man and now Moon Knight), DC seems intent on mostly trying to make sure we don’t forget its flagship properties of Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman, especially on the big screen. (DC is a bit more adventuresome in its TV outings.)
Matt Reeves’ "The Batman" begins well, like a superhero film noir with a hard-boiled voiceover, shadowy visual style, and morally ambiguous landscape of crime and corruption. We get Batman as a detective trying to solve the riddle of a masked serial killer. It’s a dystopian world but it doesn’t feel that far off from reality.
This Gotham is an underworld of mobsters and crooked cops rather than supervillains in iconic costumes. So we get a version of The Penguin (an unrecognizable Colin Farrell) that looks like one of the Sopranos rather than the beaked, waddling, black-and-white clad supervillain. But the film does have a nice call back to that earlier image when Farrell's Oz (as he is called) is tied up and must waddle after Batman. But sadly that kind of fun is all too rare in the film.
The film starts to wear out its welcome with multiple plot twists that it thinks are clever. At nearly three hours long and with a rambling, scattershot script, "The Batman" feels like multiple movies crammed into one and only the first one proves effective. The story progresses from film noir to tepid romance to Michael Bay shenanigans, but it maintains such a relentlessly serious tone that when things get ridiculous, it feels like a parody of itself.
The film lost me when Batman goes to glide off a skyscraper and rather than unfold some cool bat wings, he sprouts something that makes him look like a flying squirrel. To add insult to injury, the CGI also looks bad but the film is treating it all like a dramatic, serious moment and all I could do was laugh. Similarly, the mask that Selena/Catwoman is given looks equally silly. It looks like it was purchased at a dime store and I know this film has enough budget to buy her something better than a knitted cap with tiny ears.
Pattinson does prove more successful under the cape than unmasked as the emo, disheveled Bruce Wayne. The idea behind having a secret identity is that your alter ego should not blatantly give clues away as to who you are. Pattinson's Wayne behaves so suspiciously and with such a dour and beat up demeanor that he would seem to announce to the world that he is indeed The Batman. He should be behaving like the millionaire he is and as disinterested in the world of crime to throw others off the scent.
This Bruce is also so wrapped up in his gloomy frustration about not being able to be everywhere all at once that he simply neglects his fortune, which Alfred warns will soon vanish. If Bruce really cared about the city he could put some of that money to use rebuilding it. Both his identities should be working to help Gotham. When a politician chastises him for dropping the ball on his philanthropy and not doing enough for Gotham, the film wants us to see her as blind to what Bruce/Batman is doing. But I agreed with her. He could be doing more if he wasn't so consumed by his Batman persona.
The supporting cast proves capable. Jeffrey Wright as Jim Gordon is the best and he's always an asset to a film. Zoë Kravitz makes a cute Catwoman, and an improvement on Anne Hathaway but far less impressive than Michelle Pfeiffer or TV's Julie Newmar and Eartha Kitt (yes I confess, I grew up in the 60s and love the Adam West Batman show and movie).
The script is the weakest link and can’t seem to decide exactly what kind of story it wants to tell. There are so many annoying details. Here's just one: how could people think penguin and falcon are better answers than bat to the riddle of "a rat with wings." I mean really? These details start to add up along with the running time to the point of wearing me down. The script also tries to taint the Wayne family in a weird and unnecessary way. But if you leave near the halfway mark, after the first false ending, you could walk away thinking it’s a good film.