Jan's Review of The Batman!
Written by Jan H.
Holy multitude, Batman! 2022 is a special year for fans of the caped crusader - for it will see a whopping three different Batmen soar across silver screens all over the globe (well, except for Russia‘s). In November’s THE FLASH, the Batfleck will return one last time (probably only to be written out of the Snyderverse continuity for good during the film’s parallel universe shenanigans) and then be replaced by a returning Michael Keaton. The third and most exciting Batman to go punch some thugs this year though, that’s the Pattman. And he’s already here!
Like with many Bat casting decisions before, director Matt Reeves‘ choice to cast Robert Pattinson as Batman / Bruce Wayne was a controversial one. You know the drill: Be it Heath Ledger or Ben Affleck, fans cried wolf about these supposed miscastings and then had to eat their words once people actually saw and loved these performances. Just the same with Pattinson who has long been unfairly reduced to his Twilight role by part of the Bat-fanbase. Unfairly? Of course. Pattinson’s post-Twilight filmography is full of daring roles, culminating in his absolute beast of a performance in Robert Egger’s horror-comedy hybrid masterpiece THE LIGHTHOUSE.
So, how does Pattinson carry himself as the Bat? Mighty fine, as expected.
If you like Reeves‘ take on Batman, that is. There’s a clear throughline in the reception THE BATMAN has gotten so far: Almost everyone likes Pattinson in the role but not everyone likes this iteration of Batman. And it’s easy to see why. Not that Reeves is in any way an iconoclast, radically re-inventing Batman and pissing off audiences in the process. No, it’s just a few changes. And whether you’ll consider them legit or ill-advised really is a matter of perspective – your reaction to them will depend of your personal idea of who Batman, at his core, is supposed to be.
Let’s try this out with three questions and how Reeves answers them. 1) Does Batman kill? 2) Does Batman have actual PTSD from the loss of his parents or is he „just“ really motivated by it? 3) Does Bruce put on the Batman mask or does Batman put on the Bruce mask? From Burton to Snyder, filmmakers have come up with different answers. Now Reeves adds his take: No, Batman doesn’t kill. Yes, Batman does have massive PTSD. And: There is no Bruce, there is only Batman.
That means that, despite the no kill rule, this Batman is an absolute wreck just a heartbeat away from a nervous breakdown. In an almost Rorschach-like opening diary monologue, he admits to having no idea whether his vigilantism actually does anything good. He doesn’t have hope, he’s just utterly driven. Even if it isn’t made explicit: This Batman in his year 2 on the prowl in Gotham is borderline suicidal. All his remaining energy is channeled into beating up criminals. Beyond that there’s just nothing left. He’s a self-described nocturnal animal - emphasis on animal - who can’t bear daylight anymore without sunglasses (this might actually be the most Edward-Cullen-y role Pattinson played since he played Edward Cullen). To him, Bruce Wayne is merely a mask he puts on when it’s absolutely necessary, and even then he has trouble keeping up the mask.
Gone is the hedonistic playboy Bruce Wayne. Even the make-up choices hammer home that point: For a good bunch of unmasked scenes, we still see him in the thick, black eyeliner he puts on to have his eyes merge with the mask. You know, that make-up that is always magically gone once Bats removes the mask in all other iterations. Reeves‘ Batman is both goth and grunge. He even listens to Nirvana. He doesn’t talk, he mumbles and whispers. Even his Batvoice is subdued – a far cry from Christian Bale’s hilariously over-the-top voice choice in Nolan’s trilogy. Pattinson fully commits to this almost depressingly dark take on Batman and delivers on his director’s choices.
You can like or dislike these choices. But there’s hardly anything objectively right or wrong about them. This goes for the movie’s aesthetics as well: This isn’t Nolan’s modern, well-lit Gotham, neither Burton or Schumacher’s cartoonish gothic cityscape. This is a super-gritty, very tangible, and digustingly downtrodden Gotham that’s got more in common with BLADE RUNNER and DARK CITY than with the previous franchise iterations. There’s barely any daytime scenes and it goddamn rains all. The. Time! None of that is original – but it’s well done and quite intense, also thanks to Michael Giacchino’s (also quite subdued and brooding) score.
Reeves‘ tonal and aesthetic direction shouldn’t surprise anyone who saw his similarly bleak Apes movies though – that’s how he rolls. And he’s good at doing it. Sadly, the same cannot be said of the THE BATMAN‘s script, contrary to the fine-tuned storytelling of the Apes movies.
THE BATMAN’s first or three long hours is focused and intriguing. Rather than storming out of the gate with a spectacular set piece like Nolan did with THE DARK KNIGHT, THE BATMAN is a slow-burn, methodic detective piece obviously more akin to SEVEN than to the previous, action-heavy Batfilms. The first third is all about establishing a strong central mystery: What does the Riddler – who is leaving a trail of dead bodies and accompanying riddles - want?
The movie’s story problems become more apparent in the second third. By now it’s clear – as the trailer already suggested – that the Riddler wants to expose liars from high positions in Gotham’s corrupt hierarchy. The question about his motives, if not his exact backstory, are pretty much evident now. So we need a new mystery: Why did the Riddler target each of his victims? For what kinds of corruption? And how deep does it go? All of which isn’t particularly intriguing because – no shit, Sherlock – it’s Gotham and pretty much every high-ranking person is deeply corrupt. Still, Batman now teams up with Commissioner Gordon (Jeffrey Wright matching Pattinson’s subdued delivery in a very low-key performance) and Catwoman (Zoe Kravitz doing the heavy lifting in terms of THE BATMAN’s emotional resonance). It’s fun detective work, but nothing they unearth is particularly surprising. Now, two hours in, things start to really drag.
The final third ups the action ante but barely holds together as a story. You see, the Riddler’s plan has a surprise twist that shall not be spoiled here. Suffice to say, it comes quite out of nowhere and doesn’t make a ton of sense regarding Riddler’s previously stated goals. At least it gives Paul Dano an opportunity to take off his makeshift villain mask and go full ham. He’s having a blast. But there’s some obvious Ledger-isms in the way Dano does crazy. Not just that, Reeves & Dano even copy Ledger-Joker’s scary vlogs. And once more, Gotham’s media airs the sh*t out of them. Punks!
And then, it is finally done, a good 30 minutes after the film should have ended at the 2.5h mark. Once every dirty secret is out in the open and the film has come to a lackluster conclusion, there’s one final cameo, hinting at a much larger rogue’s gallery already in place for the sequels. Yes, we’re gonna get those. THE BATMAN had a solid start at the US box office and Pattinson has signed up for three movies in total. And why not? Bring 'em on! Reeves has a clear vision with much potential. Emphasizing Batman‘s detective aspect seems to be a well-liked choice throughout many audiences, and it’s refreshing after so many action-heavy iterations. Fingers crossed for Reeves to (co)produce a more focused, emotionally resonant script next time – if he pulls that off, then his second Batfilm might just be the new The Dark Knight and something truly magnificent.