B Heiss reviews one of 2022’s seminal, and darkest, films
Preface: This Review does not spoil major plot points; however, it is recommended that you watch The Batman before reading as minor details are alluded to, suggested and revealed.
The Batman’s tone is consistent and beautifully established. The film’s score, in particular the main theme, is something to behold. It soaks each is scene in blossoming dread that eventually elevates into a burning triumph. Paul Giovanni captures the essence of this Batman iteration in its purest form, distilling Gotham’s trauma and blending it with the whiplash of a biting highway chase, to embed this films emotion deep within you. It’s dismal, it’s triumphant, it’s euphoric, it’s depressing. When Bruce rides alone through the drenched streets of Gotham city, we feel the grit on the road. We feel the tiredness in his eyes. The solemn guitar that rides along with him makes us feel what Gotham is. When Bruce enters his eroded Batcave accompanied by Kurt Cobain’s mellow hums, we know what the whole city feels like.
“It’s dismal, it’s triumphant, it’s euphoric, it’s depressing.”
When I walked out of that cinema, I was able to recall the exact emotion of Gotham. I felt it in my stomach. A hopeless metropolis, drowned in despondence and things alike. Matt Reeves uses his faultless music choices and Giovanni's beautiful score to coincide with Greg Fraiser’s bewitching cinematography; creating a world established so well it burns through you.
Although this conquering and convincing tone is dismantled quickly. Many major plot points are revealed through the use of technology, in particular: iPhones. Rather than pulling you into the story, which is what each scene was attempting, I felt retracted from the story each time something like live-streams with user chats were shown.
(I mean, seriously - The Batman and The Riddler FaceTime.)
It was hard at points like that to even listen to the dialogue. I realise that this Batman iteration was set in modern day and it makes complete sense to use these methods to tell a story, but do they really have to be this centre stage? Especially since this film borrows largely from the films of 1970s crime dramas and 1990s Fincher-thrillers (like Seven and Fight Club). They are almost trivial methods of communication, and are not a detail that is particularly enjoyable. Please, leave your ignorant interpretation of social media out of your Noir thriller flicks, Hollywood.
“I mean, seriously - The Batman and The Riddler FaceTime”
Luckily, the tone and themes that coincide with this are propelled so far by Robert Pattinson’s intense performance that these criticisms end up being somewhat nit-picky. Pattinson brings a whole lot more to Bruce Wayne than just “a new take”. Much alike the incredibly well-established Gotham - Pattinson brings Bruce’s trauma and isolation out so well it feels as though you can physically touch Bruce Wayne’s emotions. More than anything, this repetition shows that the reclusive and sensitive Bruce Wayne does more than just work, it's who Bruce Wayne truly is. The incredibly intricate vocal inflections and emotions are detailed so incredibly well. I think he’s more than just an edgy emo take on Bruce, even if those titles do technically fit a description of his character. The Batman manages to make Bruce just as interesting and enthralling as Batman, perhaps sometimes emotionally overriding scenes where the Bat-suit is present and equipped. Pattinson’s eyeliner and darkened outfits could be passed off as emo, but they do work to a significant extent for the film’s themes and aesthetics. It all fits into place.
Robert Pattinson’s victory doesn’t stop there though.
When suited in his metallic bat-suit, Pattinson fully excels. He matches the dystopian visuals with an intense performance as the caped crusader that is absolutely convincing. Between the somewhat off-kilter and derivative dialogue is a Bat who is enraged and gritty, completely unapologetic. This Batman brings grunge to Gotham, even if his angst does appear shallow at points during his Cobain style journal narration. In the end these instances of moody short-comings do not truly matter, as Robert Pattinson delivers each line and action with such incredible devotion that the actual writing quality of the narration takes a backseat.
The Bat isn’t exclusively great because of his fiery intensity though. It’s true that he deflects bullets and glides through the dim streets of Gotham. But he also falls, battering his body on a bridge and falling fragile on a rat riddled pavement. Matt Reeves is in it for the long run. His portrayal of an imperfect Batman lends well to anticipation and the opportunity to tell a great story, without boring and robbing an audience with 23 films. Along with Gotham’s remarkable presence, characters are introduced subtly and almost in secrecy. Some we only get a glimpse of. This film only wants to suggest possibilities to you, because it knows it can detail them later. There’s no rush. At points this is a downfall, as there are minor instances where the film seems to drag slightly. However, these instances are short and in small quantities, which is truly remarkable for a 3-hour film.
It burns slowly, revealing uncertainties and suggestions that are interesting to entertain if noticed. If not; it hardly matters. It does provide evidence for one thing though:
Matt Reeves understands Batman.
Not to discredit the Nolan trilogy, but this film truly embarks on a plot line that the comics perpetuate constantly. Batman is a detective, a great detective at that. Should we picture L from Death Note in a bat-suit instead of a playboy Patrick-Bateman-Jordan-Belfort billionaire? Perhaps not. Maybe Bruce Wayne lies somewhere in-between. However, it is true that there has been a vacancy for the detective character portrayal, so it’s great to see it implemented strongly here.
Having stated that, the actual plot of The Batman is really only the shell of a great detective story. A killer gains notoriety, clues are found and a scheme is unveiled. Hardly Zodiac. That is not to discredit it entirely, it's entertaining enough to operate as a crime thriller. It is just overly complex where it needs to be simple and simple where complexity is needed. Though I enjoyed the Riddler’s character, it was hard to have any emotional reaction to his scheme. For a film of this magnitude, I was expecting more.
It’s truly difficult to separate Paul Dano’s Riddler from the Joker purely because of how Joker-centred Batman has become due to the sea of different successful takes on the clown. When you mind submits and you do
manage to separate the two characters, it's apparent that The Riddlers' humoured threats and memeable dialogue are somewhat intentional. It’s easy to forget when enveloped in this grounded Gotham that The Riddler is a villain with a twisted sense of humour - one separate from The Joker’s. So, it’s crucial to remember when the Riddler is singing in a falsetto screech in this film's reply to the Ledger interrogation scene that he is The Riddler. Not John Doe, nor Hannibal Lecter. He’s a deranged, isolated and psychotically immature killer. With this in mind, it’s clear that Paul Dano did a great job at delivering the most grounded take on The Riddler, whilst still holding on to some of the characters original traits. His idiotic smile and over-zealous dialogue are
both hilarious and terrifying. Danos Riddler appears rarely throughout the 3-hour film. Its apparent that a dread
of the character was trying to be achieved, giving presence to The Riddler in scenes where he is vacant. An anxiety should bleed into every frame. This fear of the antagonist is achieved extremely well in contemporaries such as The Dark Knight and Seven. In The Batman, a better job could have been done. The script doesn’t allow dread to be established strongly, therefore the lack of Riddler becomes a slight negative of the film. Dana could have been given more space to perform.
“The Riddler is a deranged, isolated and psychotically immature killer.”
In terms of villains, Colin Farell completely steals the screen. His Scar-Face gangster iteration of The Penguin is absolutely enthralling. Moments are enhanced when his character is present, the car chase being one of the most intense and entertaining scenes I’ve ever witnessed. Do not fret Marvel Fans, Colin Farrell delivers humour masterfully into the grit of Gotham without erasing the tone. There isn’t any particular problem with Marvel’s attempts at comedic one liners, it’s just refreshing to see a film that is able to completely commit to its themes and tones. The penguin’s humour is written in an inventive way in which it completely fits into place with Gotham’s criminal underworld. Details like The Penguins waddle when his ankles are duct-taped are great. Please, let’s not let the conversation about Colin Farell’s make-up overshadow how amazing he is in the film.
Are Zoe Kravitz and Robert Pattinson electrifying? Perhaps not. Their chemistry is about as good as expected. However, Zoe Kravitz truly excels as Cat-woman, adding flair in each step and purpose into each word. Her subplot acts as a great catalyst for the film’s events, although it is slightly give or take in terms of interest due to the fact it’s under detailed in parts. Each classic Cat-woman detail is subtly shown with style and ease. Her screen presence is well used, creating an electrifying character, whether she’s beside the Bat or not. Her character confirms this film’s greatness.
The Batman leans into its influences without apology, and while it does attempt to recreate specific moments in the Nolan trilogy at points, it’s well and truly its own authentic film. The majority of the characters are well written and performed to a level that is beyond professional. The cinematography and direction of the film is stunning. Each frame contains a stained beauty that echoes the comics whilst excelling Batman into something new. Gotham is back and it’s looking good.
All pictures Warner Bros