Might contain spoilers.
Disappointingly unengaging, not particularly intelligent, and somewhat ridiculous. Beyond that: dark, violent, slow-paced, and often outright boring. Beyond even that: painfully long. I have no objection to the delightful Robert Pattinson playing Batman; it’s nice that he and Matt Reeves wanted to work together. However, I despise this reclusive Bruce Wayne who’s been consumed entirely by tragedy.
This is a laughably bad version of Batman as well. His quick offscreen changes to get out of costume are silly in such a serious story: how could he possibly not be spotted? In addition, half the movie is predicated on him slowly and conspicuously turning to look at things no one else is supposed to have noticed. He’s a formidable fighter but a worthless hero—which is why he spends half his time wrestling with the consequences of his own actions—and anything but stealthy or quiet. It’s all the more preposterous now that I know the intended effect:
When coming up with ideas for the first crime scene at the mayor's house, Robert Pattinson told director Matt Reeves that he wanted his movements as Batman to be like that of an apparition, or ghost. Reeves stated, "He moved like a ghost in that scene, and he moves like a ghost in much of the movie."
Really, the film seems to misunderstand key aspects of Batman. I have no interest in a barely-functional Bruce, and I certainly don’t want a Thomas Wayne with questionable morals. Most of all, I do not want a more intelligent and mentally ill version of Victor Zsasz with the Riddler name.
Speaking of which, I’m conflicted about Paul Dano in the role. While I admire the commitment and occasional brilliance, his portrayal borders on caricature. I’m unimpressed with Jeffrey Wright’s bland, humourless, ineffectual Gordon, too. I do like that Catwoman is both sensual and a capable combatant, unlike in the Nolanverse, but Zoë Kravitz is still ill served by the writing.
Indeed, there’s an interesting thread running through the story about the way powerful white men make the rules and everyone else pays the price, but it only briefly touches Bruce: there’s a 20– to 30-minute period where he thinks his father had a journalist killed until Alfred explains it was unintentional. Thomas Wayne is thus exculpated of anything more than a grave mistake; Bruce can rest easy with his riches as he never knew. Nothing need interfere with his dispensation of ‘justice’.
On the positive side, I rather like Batman’s theme, apparently composed before the screenplay was completed. Using a radicalized community of incels as the villains is a good choice as well. I enjoyed the tactility of the outwardly-antiquated computer and browser on which Batman looks up the Riddler’s URL; the film as a whole has a curious, not-displeasing marriage of modern technology with an older æsthetic. There are a few beautiful images, like Batman leading the crowd through the water with a flare, or his conversation with Catwoman in the morning light.
There are also several remarkably good performances: John Turturro relishes his properly villainous turn; Andy Serkis and his lovely voice force you to feel for his character before being summarily ejected from the plot; Colin Farrell expertly chews the scenery and provides comic relief under a mountain of prosthetics; and Peter Sarsgaard doesn’t engender sympathy but tugs at your heartstrings as the impotent, pathetic, and short-lived district attorney.
Although Barry Keoghan is superb as the Joker in the post-credits scene, I’m much less impressed after seeing the deleted scene and his evident attempt to imitate Heath Ledger. I also dislike the scarring, which, to be sure, fits the rest of the film—not that one can see much, since he’s out of focus the entire time for no reason except to pull the viewer out of the story and signify that it’s ‘that villain you know’. Of course there’s no humour in there, either. The magic of Heath Ledger’s Joker is that he’s funny on top of everything else, but naturally, The Batman wouldn’t want to spoil the effect. (On a tangentially related note, it’s easy to see why this scene painstakingly explaining every last aspect of the Riddler was excised.)
I’m loath to make the comparison, but this film makes the abysmal Batman v Superman look good: at least that risible movie tried to be about superheroes, however it might have misunderstood them. Perhaps the difference is that BvS was so bad I could only react with horror, whereas here I felt like I was trapped in some sort of local time dilation; BvS failed spectacularly in its adolescent attempt to be serious, important, grim, and dark, while The Batman has all the necessary skill behind it to make it grim, dark, bleak, violent, and oppressive. I’ll always wonder about Ben Affleck’s more James Bond–esque film.
- I am mortified to be praising it in any way, even simply in relation to this film.↩