Review: The Batman

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A grounded, gripping detective story elevated by incredible performances, The Batman strips the Caped Crusader of most of what has made previous films exciting for a moody, darker vision that mostly works.

With a killer methodically working his way through notable Gotham figures and leaving clues behind, Batman works to uncover the identity of the murderer while finding that all roads in the city of Gotham lead back to the influential Wayne family. Matt Reeves’ vision and storytelling hallmarks are evident in each and every scene of the film as he skillfully navigates the complexity of the sometimes overly bloated plot. There are certain visual elements that are unrivaled in many ways, most notably with the practical Batmobile chase scene that is exciting from beginning to end. The decision to make a more grounded film focused on the detective aspects of the character was smart and fresh, given that we really haven’t seen it portrayed on screen, even with seven films solely dedicated to Batman in the past 33 years. 

The strengths of The Batman, besides the storytelling, can be found in the stunning performances by most of the cast. Colin Farrell absolutely steals the show as The Penguin, bringing a menacing humor and intrigue that will be exciting to explore in the already-announced HBO Max project. John Turtorro also gives the character of Carmine Falcone a devilishly powerful backbone that makes every scene with him a mesmerizing display of his acting brilliance. Jeffrey Wright’s Lt. James Gordon is equally strong, playing off of Robert Pattinson’s Batman with great chemistry. It’s Pattinson that sadly doesn’t quite work for me, though that’s not to say he couldn’t. His performance was rather one-note, lacking the emotion expected from the brooding character save for one scene opposite Paul Dano’s The Riddler late in the film. We spend little time with Pattinson as Wayne, something that makes it difficult to evaluate just how great he could have been due to the lack of opportunity to explore the dichotomy of the man with and without the fabricated persona. It’s hard to connect with a character who spends the majority of his time under a cowl with an altered voice and only his eyes to work with. I’m not saying Pattinson is bad in the role; it works here. I’m saying that I can’t properly judge him without seeing more.

Dano and Kravitz both are solid in their performances, delivering exactly what was expected. Kravitz’s character’s motivation didn’t completely wow me, mainly because she seemed to be emotionally driven, a cheap repetition of the mishandling of female heroines that we see all too often. Dano, for his part, plays creepy very well and brings a different kind of Riddler to the screen (the complete antithesis of Jim Carrey’s version in 1995’s Batman Forever). Altogether the film has an exciting young cast.

Since leaving the theater, I have struggled with my thoughts on The Batman. It certainly doesn’t feel like a Batman film, for better or for worse. Perhaps that’s a good thing in a crowded history of exploring the character (though we don’t see Martha’s pearls drop in this one, which is huge). But on the flip side, the dark and gritty Batman was already done exceptionally well by Christopher Nolan, especially in The Dark Knight. There are many parallels between the two films: a corrupt Gotham, a devious villain killing freely and destroying the city, Batman trying to get into his head. We’ve also seen exhilarating action in previous films, yes in Nolan’s trilogy but also with Ben Affleck’s turn (that scene in the warehouse in Batman v. Superman comes to mind). Such action, which has come to be expected from Batman films, is largely absent here. When we do get it, it’s familiar.

Reeves is a brilliant filmmaker and The Batman plays as the potential foundation for an exciting future for the character. We’re already seeing Warner Bros. jumping at the chance to expand and explore the story and characters on HBO Max and with a sequel reportedly in development. While The Batman didn’t fire on all cylinders for me, the seeds are there for potential greatness. I also felt the same way with Batman Begins, for the record, so we’re par for the course. The challenge moving forward is going to be to maintain the grounded nature established. How do we bring Mr. Freeze into this world without it seeming silly? How will a potential Joker factor in? Even Poison Ivy could present challenges. It will be interesting to watch, for sure.

The Batman hits theaters this Friday.

Rating: 3/5

Photo from The Indian Express

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