Matt Reeves’ The Batman manages to be one of the best takes on the Batman while failing to be anything other than slightly underwhelming. The movie excels in its cinematic presentation of the Batman. The cinematography of the opening sequence makes use of horror techniques to establish the terrifying omnipresence of the Batman throughout Gotham. Expert use of lighting and fight choreography make the Batman appear terrifying and lethal, giving him an almost cryptid-like aura of mystery and danger. The film’s strengths appear to lie in this use of cinematography, backed up by an even more impressive score.
Rob Pattinson shines at the Batman, finally bringing the investigative side of Batman to the forefront in this neo-noir detective story. This is a still grieving man who has only just started his career as a superhero and is figuring himself out. The dark underbelly of Gotham is poisoning its streets and most of its authorities are deeply corrupt. Having lost his parents to Gotham’s crime problem, Bruce Wayne turns to vigilantism as both an act of vengeance and a method to outrun his childhood helplessness.
Despite his criminally limited screen time, Andy Serkis’s Alfred Pennyworth serves as Bruce’s surrogate father figure, attempting to get him to rejoin the real world and find a healthier way to cope with his grief. However, Pattinson’s Bruce Wayne is obsessed with his new crusade. Pattinson’s Bruce Wayne is the most human iteration I have seen so far once out of costume. His eyes are red from sleepless nights patrolling the city, he has removed himself from high society and hides in his basement, and his makeup remains messy and streaked down his face once the mask is removed.
This contrast between the inhuman Batman and the incredibly human Bruce Wayne is perhaps one of my favorite components of this film. He is a new hero, rough around the edges and still figuring out his mission. His quest for vengeance drives him to incredible violence, something the Riddler reflects back at him. I believe the one thing the writing truly succeeded at was Bruce’s arc in his vigilantism. His realization that vengeance and violence help less than hope and support was truly refreshing to see in a Batman movie, especially live action.
However, the film fails to bring anything truly impressive to the table when it comes to its writing. The most apparent problems can be spotted in the dialogue and narration provided throughout the film, Batman and Catwoman being the greatest offenders. Much of the scenes between Batman and Catwoman are truly terribly written to a point where any chemistry the two actors may have is overshadowed by the over-the-top one liners they keep throwing out. Pattinson’s Batman does this with other characters as well, throwing out lines that sound like they were written by an emo teenager in a dark basement. Zoe Kravitz’s performance as Catwoman is amazing and she is definitely my favorite choice for Catwoman, but even she can’t save the script.
Batman’s narration towards the beginning and the end of the film reveal even more writing problems, ruining otherwise eerie and perfect scenes with musings that offer barely anything to the comprehension of the film. The opening sequences especially would have benefitted from using only the score rather than undercutting tension with Bruce’s recap of his feelings. Only Jeffrey Wright manages to make Reeves’ over-the-top monologues sound incredible. I also feel that he too is the best version of Jim Gordon I’ve seen so far in live action.
And this is the main issue. Because all the actors chosen in this film were truly incredible and I believe presented the best version of their characters seen in live action to date. And yet they were failed by the writing. The long investigation that takes up most of the film’s runtime ends up feeling like an exercise in patience and leads to underwhelming reveals. The villains being high profile politicians and mob bosses is interesting in terms of social commentary, but the villains aren’t set up enough for us to care about them, barring the Riddler who remains a quite interesting thematic critique of the Batman’s own shortcomings.
However, the main crime of this film is its unwillingness to truly takes risks in its storytelling. Thomas Wayne is almost revealed to be morally objectionable, introducing a possible moral dilemma for Bruce who has always revered him, but Alfred reveals he was truly a good guy all along. Bruce Wayne’s privilege as a billionaire’s son is brought up by both Riddler and Catwoman while a mayoral candidate prompts him to give back to the community as his parents did. The only payoff he get is Batman helping people escape the floods when it would have been narratively satisfying to see Bruce Wayne also help others in his civilian persona.
Possibly the most important plot point that isn’t truly resolved is Bruce’s trauma which affects him throughout the film and drives him away from people and towards vigilantism. While the film gives him a different output for his trauma (i.e., helping others instead of seeking vengeance), there is no moment of emotional catharsis for Bruce. While this film sets up a plot thread about Bruce’s grief and trauma, it does not deliver on the emotional pay off of such a story line, leaving Bruce to keep his emotions bottled up. This is truly frustrating as The Batman had the opportunity to examine Bruce’s trauma in a way I haven’t seen it properly addressed since LEGO Batman.
The Batman fails at truly wowing its audience, but the performances by the incredible cast make it worth a one-time watch. While I did not love it, I hope Rob Pattinson, Jeffrey Wright, and Zoe Kravitz return again as their respective characters, under perhaps a better direction and writing team.
Featured image: giulia on Flickr.