I often get asked about my thought process on writing a film review because from the outside, it can seem rather opaque or very intuitive. Throughout the years, I’ve come up with a simple system. When a film is made purely for entertainment like a summer blockbuster, my review will seek to answer whether or not it was an enjoyable experience. However, when a film is meant to be a true artistic product, I take an entirely different approach and try to answer whether or not it was a good film as well as an enjoyable one. Superhero movies often fall into the enjoyable experience category but Matt Reeves’ “The Batman” is more than an enjoyable movie, it’s an explorative and fresh new take on the genre.
There’s a lot to love in this rendition of the tried and true classic hero. First off, Reeves was clear in his inspiration for the style of the film. It’s clear that he was heavily influenced by the grittiness of 70’s filmmaking when it came to laying out his vision for this new franchise. Every part of Gotham feels like a mix of New York and Chicago at their worst. Real, dirty, and downtrodden cities plagued by crime and corruption alike, all while avoiding the more easy and hyperbolic depictions of poverty that can be seen in many other comic book movies. This sense of gritty realism doesn’t just stop at the environment. Characters move, fight, and act like they would in a real setting and with weapons one can reasonably find in a large city. This realism hit its peak for me during a car chase scene which felt like a modern rendition of the car chase scene from “Bullitt” or “The French Connection”. I’m sure we all still remember the chase scene from the Dark Knight, but this one tops that in my book, simply for the realistic approach that was taken.
The characters in this film are just as interesting. Colin Farrell’s Penguin is equal parts endearing and terrifying. He captivated your attention every time he appeared on screen. Zoe Kravitz’s character was well written as well and given a large part in the film. At times, it felt as if she was the protagonist of the story, especially with how well Kravitz brought the character of Catwoman to life. John Turturro’s Falcone was especially interesting as a number of great actors have played this role but his performance seemed the most authentic. He really felt like a character out of a Scorsese film. Lastly, as I’m sure many are wondering, Robert Pattison is a great Batman. I’m personally a fan of the Christian Bale version of Batman but Pattison’s take seems to be a variation of just that, which is exactly what I would want to see.
However, Batman’s character is where I start to find issues with this film. For a film called “The Batman”, the movie has very little to actually do with Batman. This is not an origin story, but rather a chapter out of Batman’s life two years after he begins fighting crime. The film opens by setting the scene in Gotham, that now criminals fear the dark because of Batman. As a symbol and an idea, he is very clearly defined, but as a person, he’s relegated to being a plot device. Like in the comics, Batman truly plays as the world’s greatest detective, but we follow him as he goes from crime scene to crime scene, slowly piecing together the puzzle that the Riddler is leaving him. Neither Batman nor his true self, Bruce Wayne, have any motivation here except to fight crime and get to the bottom of this mystery. There is no internal conflict, greater struggle, or crisis of identity. The only moment where this is touched upon is with Andy Serkis’ Alfred, who, similarly to Michael Caine’s Alfred in the Nolan trilogy, questions how far Bruce Wayne is willing to go. Except here, Alfred is given much too small a part to have any consequence. The Riddler was also somewhat of a disappointment. Despite being such an interesting take on the character, he ends up coming off as rather stale. So much of the buildup to this character paints the picture of some demented mastermind, but when we meet him, the moment is a bit underwhelming, at least to me.
The flaws I found in both of these characters really made me ask the question I really wanted to ask: What was this movie about? And I still don’t think I know. Unlike the Nolan movies, these played out a bit more procedurally. The film is by far the best looking and the most visually stunning, but it doesn’t ask big questions like the Nolan movies did, nor did it have the sort of captivating dialogue that’ll keep fans coming back for years to come.
Again, these flaws are only worth pointing out because the film is an artistic masterpiece for the comic book genre. It genuinely helps to push the envelope in a unique and new direction that previous films haven’t gone to before. It would also be good to mention that this is the first in a trilogy of films, so much of the overarching thematic meaning can be built up and defined as the franchise continues. None of that takes away from the fact that this is a good movie that is absolutely worth watching. This is easily one of the best movies I’ve reviewed in a while and I can’t remember the last time I sat through a three-hour movie and wasn’t bored. Be sure to chec it out in theaters on March 4th when it releases in theaters.