Batman contains multitudes. He whispers while yelling. He wears coldly efficient, tactical armor but also a luxurious, irresponsible cape. He will not kill you on purpose…but if you happen to horrifically burn to death as a direct result of a wholly unnecessary car chase that he started? Hey, accidents happen, baby.
All superhero flicks are inherently ridiculous, but the ones that insist upon themselves beg a scrutiny that feels unfair to fans. You can’t say your comic book movie was inspired by Zodiac, classic noir, and some 1970s thrillers that rank among the best ever and then toss your emo hair in a huff when someone asks “Wait, so was Catwoman actually necessary in any way to tell this story?” The answer to that is “No” but also “That’s one of the two ladies we’re allowed to put in a Batman movie.”
Sorry, I should say, I liked The Batman. As promised by every bit of advertising, it’s a broody detective tale set in a city soggier than Seattle, where night lasts 16-20 hours, and crime is actually as common as data manipulators suggest it is in real life. Absolutely everything that writer/director Matt Reeves and cowriter Peter Craig put in the script works. That’s “works” in the sense of how I kept my Mitsubishi Galant “working” until it caught fire in a parking lot.
The opening of The Batman lays its cards on the table. Either you’re going to giggle at the meme-able, quasi-self-parody that lines like “I’m vengeance” have become or you’re in the target demo. Set two years into Bruce Wayne (Robert Pattinson) tucking his bangs into a cowl, the film’s events are sadly a bit more convoluted than complicated. The Riddler (Paul Dano) kills Gotham’s mayor and leaves a cypher for Batman to decode. FYI: The riddles here are a step-up from Laffy Taffy one-liners but wouldn’t give Gollum pause.
With the help of his cop buddy Jimmy Gordon (Jeffrey Wright), Monsieur Bats unravels Senior Riddler’s mysteries, which don’t really feel like mysteries. Is it surprising to anyone in the city that a well-known mob boss, Carmine Falcone (John Tuturro), is doing corrupt things with his associate, a club owner nicknamed The Penguin (Colin Farrell)? Selina Kyle (Zoë Kravitz) works at said club, and her role in the film is to tell Batman things he could have found out on his own. Their dynamic is also pretty gross, as he literally controls her like a robot/doll the second time they meet and then gets super-rage-grumpy when he thinks she may have a sexual history with someone he doesn’t like. Anyway, by the end, Gotham itself is under siege and only Batman’s punches can save the day.
What works best here is, stunningly, Colin Farrell. His campy caricature is everything House of Gucci thought it was. When the announcement came that a TV spinoff for him was under consideration, it sounded premature at best. Now, it will clearly be appointment television. R-Patz’s breathy bat-voice and weirdo Bruce Wayne are surprisingly effective. Dano expectedly effectively pulls off an off-putting maniac. Kravitz…does what she can with a character that has, thus far on screen, been reduced to kinky fetish nonsense and the most reductive of motivations.
With cinematography that is almost upsettingly pretty, a score that is equal part Jaws and Nirvana, and fight sequences that feel plausible, the complaints don’t tilt the scales of justice. It’s not narratively surprising in any bat-way, bat-shape, or bat-form, but it is absolutely in line with the ongoing, rabid demand to take Batman super-f’n-seriously at all times. No worries: He remains vengeance, justice, the night, and whatever other abstract concepts sound intimidating when barked in alleys.
Grade = B+
Other Critical Voices to Consider
Jennifer Heaton at Alternative Lens says “If you’re tired of all the cinematic universes and cookie-cutter storytelling of the current superhero landscape, The Batman is a welcome change of pace that reaffirms the genre has plenty more to offer when it diversifies and broadens its horizons.”
Travis Hopson at Punch Drunk Critics says “For those who are tired of homogenized superhero experiences, The Batman could be the film that shows them their full potential.”
DarkSkyLady reviews says “The mix of great and subpar makes it a challenge for me, but there is more good than bad…barely. Plus points for reminding me of The Crow.”