At last, Batman is back, and this time he is even darker and grittier than the last time he was darker and grittier than the previous time he was darker and grittier than ever before- including that one time he was darker and grittier than we had ever seen in a live action adaptation.
The Batman is the latest in a long line of films featuring the dark knight in an ever increasingly dark way. At some point, a Batman film is going to release that is just a black screen for two and a half hours. But until then, we have to settle for the still visible films, and the this one is pretty dang good. Matt Reeves, who was previously at the helm for the Planet of the Apes snoozers, put together one of the most visually interesting superhero films in a long time.
The visuals are where this film is at its peak- though in a very different way from what Marvel, for example, is putting out. At this very moment, the marketing for the next Dr. Strange film is at full steam, which also looks visually interesting thanks to its use of computer and other special effects. The Batman is very different, and makes better use of the actual language of film to create a rich and rewarding visual experience. The film opens up creating a parallel to the actions of both The Riddler and Batman. Both men are shown engaging in their own brands of justice/vengeance upon the city of Gotham, and the cinematography creates a strong link between the two. Their actions are far more analogous than a normal hero/villain dynamic.
Strengthening this dynamic is the voyeuristic nature of the camera early on, and sprinkled in throughout the film. There is a plethora of POV shots placing the audience directly in the perspective of the two characters to create an often uncomfortable feeling in the shots and scenes. Because nothing about what either of these cats do is comfortable. The Riddler in this film is a serial killer/domestic terrorist/Qanon conspiracy theorist on steroids, and Batman is a dude who stalks around at night, watching people and beating others to a dad gum pulp. Watching things through their eyes is naturally going to be strange, and unnerving.
That sense of unnerving persists throughout the entire film which swaps out much of the fun antics of other super hero films for a near cut and paste tone from Se7en. At last we can answer one of the greatest questions of life: what would happen if you took Brad Pitt’s character out of Se7en and replaced him with a man dressed up as a bat? For everyone who has lost sleep pondering that question, fret no more, for now we know the answer! The resulting tone and feel of the film is successful for the most part, as Batman uses his world’s greatest detective title more thoroughly than most other film adaptations.
The unfortunate part about this tone and overall feel is how it handles Bruce Wayne. This film presents a more complex examination of the Bruce Wayne-Batman dynamic, and it doesn’t really know how to handle the Wayne end of things. He is shown mostly brooding like a mid-aughts emo kid whose parents think they’re just going through a phase. Robert Pattinson has come a long way from his time as the moody, sparkly vampire, but he isn’t given much to do as Bruce Wayne in this film, which creates is weakest part. This has the compounding misfortune of also being about of the film’s other big weakness: it’s too dang long. The film’s runtime is 2 hours and 55 minutes long, and at least 20 of those minutes should have been trimmed. The middle of the film drags as we are dealt some revelations about Thomas Wayne and the Wayne family overall, which feel like they should be important, yet they could also have been left on the cutting room floor, and the film likely would’ve been better for it.
One of the odd things about it being too long, is that it is simultaneously not long enough. The aforementioned stuff about the Wayne family has some bits and parts which feel as though they would lead to a larger reveal or character change, but they kind of trail off. This has all the vibes of plot line that had to be sacrificed because an early cut of the film was even longer. Don’t be surprised if a director’s cut comes out that is encroaching on four hours- release the Reeves Cut!
After the middle section runs its course, the film picks up steam again with Batman returning to the streets to beat people the shit out of people! The violence in the film is very visceral, and each and every blow looks painful and impactful. The choreography as a whole is terrific, with the fights and battles appearing as a blend of Casino Royale– era James Bond and Old Boy. But the choreography and cinematography is not limited to the fight scenes, as this film busts out one of the best car chases in years. The camera work is outstanding, as vehicle-mounted cameras on the new Batmobile make it feel alive and a different character itself as it rocks, shakes and flexes around every turn.
All of this careful choreography and actual use of film language mentioned earlier combine for one of the most visually appealing super hero movies ever, and one of the strongest actions films in years. The length can be a tur-off, and some character work needed some fine tuning, but the film succeeds in light of those. Is it the best Batman film of all time? I don’t think so, but I think it has a decent argument for itself. It is certainly the best thing DC has put out, and has a real shot at being the best super hero film of the year.