Here we go again. Another Batman movie. But wait, this one promises to be a grittier, darker version of the Batman you know – a very fresh and new idea that has certainly not been attempted by any other filmmaker. Don’t worry, we’ll circle back on this thought later.
Despite the familiar promise of a gritty and grounded Batman flick, Matt Reeves’ The Batman successfully carves out a tonal lane not yet occupied by any big screen iterations of this beloved caped crusader. While the film does borrow heavily from genres like crime-thriller, neo-noir, and even occasionally horror, it manages to be a comic book movie above all else. We can all rejoice at the notion that The Batman does not forget its roots.
For all of the self-seriousness of the film, it still finds moments to be surprisingly silly. It’s as if Gotham’s inherent camp is merely masquerading as the hard-boiled detective story presented to us. The jokes are understated and often dry, but don’t let this movie trick you into thinking the humor is non-existent. There’s an arena in town called “Gotham Square Garden” and I refuse to believe that its inclusion is anything other than pure comedic genius.
Kudos to Matt Reeves for remembering that Batman movies should be fun, even when our Batman is a brooding mess. Emo Batman can still exist in a cool movie. He can ride around town on a motorcycle listening to Nirvana’s “Something in the Way” on repeat. He can wear loud, thudding boots that are 10x more badass than any of the gadgets on his utility belt. He can beat up crooked cops inside of nightclubs to the tune of crappy techno music. And it can all be awesomely enjoyable should we just allow ourselves to recognize the absurdity.
While the comparisons to David Fincher masterworks like Seven or Zodiac are perfectly valid and undoubtedly understood, The Batman feels like so much more than just another CBM serving as a cheap imitation of other movies we’ve grown to know and love (I’m looking at you, Joker). There’s an undercurrent of earnestness despite the film’s purported lofty view of itself.
The story picks up with Bruce Wayne about two years into his career (hobby?) as Batman. Robert Pattinson’s Batman carries himself with an air of confidence, bordering on bravado. He stalks the shady nighttime streets of Gotham for goons and thugs to beat to a pulp, announcing himself as “vengeance” when they dare to ask who he is. His brutality elicits more shock than cheer. His motivations are purely selfish; his prowling meant to avenge the death of his parents. Blind to how misguided his behavior truly is.
In Bruce Wayne, we see a young man who is somehow more misguided than his masked vigilante alter-ego. Pattinson’s Bruce Wayne is awkward and unsure of himself. He’s far removed from the playboy billionaire persona that we often see associated with the character. He barely leaves the Wayne manor and has no clue how to interact with people other than his support staff. He even has times where his interactions with Alfred, played by Venom: Let There Be Carnage director, Andy Serkis, are painfully uncomfortable to watch.
The man we see is only comfortable in his role as Batman – a terrifying realization for Bruce when highlighted by another character. Batman does all the swaggering here. There is none leftover for Bruce. But even with all of the posturing as Batman, Bruce is still nowhere near emotionally mature enough to begin healing the scars of the loss of his parents.
Chasing around low-level street gangs, mob bosses, corrupt politicians, and deranged serial killers all offer Bruce the same thing – a temporary distraction for the fear and anxiety that lives deep within him. Sure, he’s able to get a few criminals off the streets, but he doesn’t address the true cause of the issue. It’s why crime numbers continue to go up in Gotham despite his emergence. As long as Bruce Wayne is unable to heal, Gotham City is unable to heal.
This is by no means a brand-new concept within the context of Batman lore. However, it is the first time the concept has been explored in a movie featuring an unrecognizable Colin Farrell as the Penguin.
Remember how I said the movie can be a bit self-serious, but still finds ways to dip into the silly? Well, that Colin Farrell line was my attempt at doing the same for this review.
Farrell is just one of many in a stellar supporting cast. There are almost too many to name. Zoe Kravitz as Selina Kyle and Jeffrey Wright as Jim Gordon stand out above the rest. However, Colin Farrell and John Turturro (as Carmine Falcone) get to ham it up as the crime lords of the Gotham City underbelly. Their performances are equal parts goofy and menacing – Ferrell’s severely underutilized and Turturro’s used to poetic perfection.
Perhaps the most exhilarating scene in the film features the aforementioned Penguin character being pursued in a high-speed chase by Batman’s janky as hell Batmobile. Michael Giachinno’s brilliant score does much of the heavy lifting during this set piece, keeping you on the edge of your seat throughout. The sequence ends with an upside-down, slow-motion shot of Batman walking away from a fire with his cape blowing in the rainy wind. Who says comic book movies can’t be cheesy AND cool?
In Matt Reeves’ version of Gotham City, it rains a lot. Like almost all the time. That must be why Batman listens to Nirvana so much.
Not only is it often raining, but it’s typically extremely dark (maybe even annoyingly dark). And the movie is so committed to the bit of being “dark” that there’s quite literally a sequence that takes place in complete darkness, only illuminated intermittently by gunfire, giving us brief glimpses of Batman masterfully taking out some mob henchmen. Once again, I ask, who says comic book movies can’t be cheesy AND cool?
The Batman‘s commitment to the dark and gritty take on the character is both honest and tongue in cheek. Batman can never truly exist in a completely grounded story. He’s a lunatic who runs around town dressed up as a bat for crying out loud!
We can sit around and discuss how the politics of the film parallel the political reality of our times, or if it moves the needle on whether comic book movies can be viewed as “art-house” films going forward. I’m happy to have either discussion, or any of the many other discussions borne out of The Batman. That’s what good art should do – it should stir up these interesting conversations. But it should also entertain. I choose to celebrate The Batman‘s ability to entertain.
If you’ve seen The Batman, head on over to our Spoil Away thread to share your thoughts on the film.