REVIEW: The Batman

It’s Emo Batman Versus the Zodiac Killer in a Reboot That—if Anything—Is Shorter Than Justice League

By default, Matt Reeves’ The Batman is the best film depicting the Caped Crusader since 2008’s The Dark Knight. And I say this with a giant asterisk, as I’m still working my way through Zack Snyder’s Justice League (2021). I pushed PLAY on that one last March and have since strategically parceled it out in convenient increments: four hours while my cat uses the treadmill, two hours during the recess at my divorce trial, six hours when I forgot to hit Priority Delivery on my PostMates order of Limburger cheese, etc.

I’m excited to finish it, too. Batman—in real time—just finished reading the entire Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series of books and has been inspired to crush crime. Yes, things are getting good.

I jest, of course. Justice League was FINE. Snyder’s version works as a film, but the fact that it takes 714 hours to tell that story almost negates this notion. It’s literally the same plot as all the Marvel movies. A weird alien dude comes to Earth looking for objects that he will use to destroy everything, and a team of superheroes must stop him. So Fanny and Alexander, it is not.

But I’m not here to disabuse anyone of the things they like. I do bring it up, however, because where the additional time helped Justice League, it’s the Achilles Heel of The Batman.

I rather enjoyed the first two-thirds of Reeves’ film. Where Snyder’s films went bigBigBIG!, Reeves (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes) scales everything back in this reboot. Bruce Wayne, played by Robert Pattinson, has only been Batman for a couple years and is in the very rudimentary stages of his vigilante career. Unlike the invincible, lumbering hulk we’re used to, Pattinson’s portrayal has more in common with Paul Kersey from Death Wish (1974), in that he’s a weird, gritty night stalker. He’s efficient and mean, but vulnerable and rough around the edges.

(Except for the emo haircut. Thank God Charles Bronson didn’t live to see that haircut.)

Therefore, the film leans hard into the cunning detective aspect of Batman rather than the cool, ass-kicking superhero. And it’s all the better for it.

Teaming up with Lt. James Gordon (now played by Jeffrey Wright), Wayne hunts a deadly serial killer (Paul Dano) who dresses like the Zodiac Killer and leaves Zodiac-like ciphers for Batman to solve. It’s certainly a different approach to the Riddler. We’re light years away from the wacky, camp-to-a-fault Jim Carrey/Joel Schumacher, interpretation of the character.

So yeah, to sum things up: it’s Emo Batman versus the Zodiac. Pretty cool stuff.

In search of the Riddler, Batman must navigate the grimy criminal underbelly of Gotham City and the big personalities of Selina Kyle/Catwoman (Zoë Kravitz), Penguin (Colin Farrell in a distracting Fat Bastard suit), and bigtime mobster Carmine Falcone (John Turturro). He’s assisted along the way by his trusted valet, Alfred, played admirably here by Andy Serkis.

As a matter of fact, everyone is pretty good, including Pattinson. There’s enough meat and character in the film, that one could theoretically put the superhero angle in the back of their mind and imagine they’re simply watching a star-studded B-neo noir.

That is, until the final act where Reeves—almost like he’s nervous he didn’t deliver enough—aims for the fence with a huge and extremely unnecessary set piece, a turn so abrupt it doesn’t even feel like you’re watching the same film. I won’t give anything away, but I reckon this shift will be the topic of conversation amongst the fans and casual moviegoers.

However, for the first two hours, the always-reliable Reeves delivers a very watchable and unique Batman film. The toothpick-holding-your-eyes-open 176-minute runtime is the movie’s ultimate downfall, but even so, the total package is just enough to wash that Snyder taste out of your mouth and make one hopeful for the future. . .

The film is set to open in theaters in North America March 4, 2022; it will be distributed worldwide by Warner Bros. Pictures.