First off, The Batman was long. It was two hours and fifty minutes, and to be honest with you, it left me wanting more. I would have been happy if it came in at three hours, and I will explain why shortly. The old cliché that it didn’t feel like it was three hours long certainly applies here. For as long as it was, it was paced well with outstanding action sequences, a compelling story and characters that were rich and deep. It took a long time, but it finally feels like DC is finding its voice. They were trying to copy Marvel for a long time, but now they’re taking their films in a completely different direction and it is refreshing as hell.
The Batman is no mere superhero movie. It’s much more than that. It is a detective story. It is a crime drama. It is a mystery. It is a redemption story. It is nuvo noir. It is all of those together to create a cinematic experience that is more than just a Marvel carnival ride. This is a film that is the complete package. It has incredible action and a compelling story. Imagine such a thing!
Thankfully, director Matt Reeves and co-writer Peter Craig opted to forego the origin story route. We’ve seen that many times, and do not need to see it again. We meet Batman (Robert Pattinson) in this film as a veteran of the night and his vigilantism holds fear over some, but sadly turns into motivation for the Riddler (Paul Dano), who, as the hero of his own story, is terrifying Gotham by systematically killing the corrupt politicians that have been driving Gotham into the ground. With every new murder he commits, he leaves behind a clue for Batman, as though inviting him to find him.
This is where the film becomes a detective story. Batman works with Lt. James Gordon (Jeffrey Wright) to sift through the clues and try to solve the mystery of who is behind the murders. From this point, Reeves and Craig did a wonderful job of constructing a narrative that wasn’t built on car chases, but on characters having to solve a puzzle to chase the truth. The story is constructed in a way that everything is built on what came before it, and you actually have to pay attention to what’s going on in the story in order to get the most out of the experience.
That is one of the ways they made the narrative so strong over such a long timeline. Because the story was so compelling, it didn’t drag. It was never uninteresting. I was never looking at my watch wondering how much longer we had to go. The mystery that they were trying to solve held my attention and held my interest in what was admittedly a long film.
Then there were the action sequences, and they were great. Like all Batman movies since Tim Burton took over the franchise in the late 1980’s, this film is dark. Most of it happens at night or in dark spaces. Even daytime shots are gray and monotone. Other than the Adam West Batman series and film in the 1960’ where technicolor reigned supreme, Batman’s palette is limited and the lighting is almost always muted to dark. This often works against action sequences because it can make it difficult to see what’s going on. But Reeves and Director of Photography Greig Fraser played with light in just the right way to allow us to see and enjoy the stellar action sequences that they created.
The hand-to-hand combat scenes where well-choreographed and added to the intensity of the film. What’s more, there were quite a few of them, but they didn’t feel repetitive. And the lighting was subtle enough as not to draw attention to itself, but to allow us to see and enjoy the action.
Then there was the car chase. At one point in the film, Batman is chasing the Penguin (Colin Ferrel in what should be an Oscar nomination Kat Ali for the stunning makeup job she did) that ends with the climax that many of us saw in the trailer. I would like to say that, in my humble opinion, The Batman might have the most badass Batmobile of any movie in the franchise. Just like most of the film, there is nothing flashy about this Batmobile. It is a solid muscle car through and through, and the scene in which Penguin thinks it’s blown up only to see it burst through the flames to run him off the road is one of my favorite shots from any movie in a long time. Ultimately for me, that’s what makes this film so enjoyable. It’s badass all around.
That leads me to the casting. I seem to recall a lot of backlash around Robert Pattinson being cast as the caped crusader when it happened. I will say this about his performance. I liked him a lot better as Batman than as Bruce Wayne. I didn’t dislike him as Bruce Wayne, but he brought a brooding and sullen aspect to the character that I think did him a bit of a disservice. The best Bruce Wayne’s to me are Michael Keaton and Christian Bale. They brought a debonair style to the billionaire that served as an archetypal mask for the pain and trauma he was feeling behind it. There was no such mask for Pattinson’s Wayne. His emotions were on his sleeve, and those emotions were mostly bordering on depression. It made Bruce Wayne come off as a flat character lacking depth, and that is the opposite of what Bruce Wyne should be.
But as Batman, Pattinson absolutely brought it. He was simmering when he needed to be and explosive when he needed to be. It was the kind of portrayal in which, if you didn’t know any better, you might be unsure of which side of the law the Batman was on. He was constantly walking a razor’s edge and you never knew when he might cross the line. That type of performance helped establish and carry the intensity of the film and was one more element that kept it from feeling like it was as long as it was.
Zoe Kravitz was very solid as Selina Kyle, aka Catwoman, although I feel like they missed an opportunity with her. Catwoman is traditionally a villain in the Batman franchise, but there is always a not-so-subtle sexual tension between the two of them. There were a lot of film noir elements to this film and making Selina a traditional femme fatale would have been something that could have added a lot of depth to her character and added tension to the story. There needed to be more nuance to her character. We understand that she’ll do anything to avenge her friend, and she’s also still a cat burglar, but she should have been a character that could have tempted Batman to fully commit to being on the wrong side of the law. There was never any doubt that she was an ally to Batman in this film. She could have been more of a seductress who was attempting to seduce Batman to cross over to the other side. I liked what they went with her character development. She was certainly sympathetic, but she could have been a lot more.
The other characters were also very solid. Colin Ferrel, John Turturro, and Andy Serkis all gave solid performances in their limited screen time. Paul Dano as the Riddler was psychotic and scary and gave a performance of a character who was just over the edge far enough that there was no coming back. The scene between him and Batman in the jail is as intense of a dialogue scene as you will ever see.
Was this a perfect film? No, it was not. There were a couple of McGuffins that I would have liked to have seen get paid off. Early in the film, Alfred (Serkis) tells Bruce that the accountants are coming over because he could be on the verge of losing his fortune. We also find out that his father had started a Renew Gotham fund that criminals like Falcone (Turturro) had been pilfering from for years with no oversight. I think Reeves missed opportunities to tie both of those loose ends up at the end in a way that would have redeemed Bruce and his father from a flaw that had been tied to them over the course of the film.
Otherwise, though, this was a thoroughly entertaining film. If you haven’t seen it yet, do not let the long run time scare you away. This is a superhero movie that goes way beyond the superhero genre and gives us a thoughtful film that is thematically strong and has a compelling story to go along with all the action. It might not be a perfect film, but it sure is a terrific one.