The Batman

The Batman ★★★

Matt Reeves’ “The Batman” is a brooding self-serious adaptation. Leaning on what’s always been the strength of Batman’s 8-decade long comic run, the criminal underbelly, and villains of Gotham. With primary villains like The Riddler (Paul Dano), Penguin (Colin Farrell), and Falcone (John Turturro) Reeves is able to establish the tone of a fallen city rather quickly. With many unnamed thugs and compromised government officials and employees along it’s near three-hour runtime. There’s no doubt what state Gotham is in. It’s a fallen city, Reeves’ opening use of shadow in contrast to the light of the bat signal and a helicopter spotlight is a resonant if not entirely controlled premise to open his rendition of the city up to the audience. The city’s crisscrossing alleys, metal and stone Greco-Roman architecture, and general state of unkemptness briskly convey its squalor. Michael Giacchino’s soundtrack also evokes a sense of Gotham, it’s a moody composition that brings audiences to an emotional comprehension whether Giacchino’s original compositions, Schubert’s “Ave Maria”, or Nirvana’s “Something in the Way” are audible, the soundscape always seems to be informing the plots machinations and characters choices.

But just as often as there seem to be intuitive choices there’s curious bordering on floundering ones such as the much-discussed presentation of Colin Farrell’s Penguin without a cigar in the Iceberg Lounge and 44 Below. Watering holes filled by patrons imbibing alcohol and a drug called drop. It’s peculiar to see one of the most iconic characters surrounded by alcohol and drug use while an inhalant like tobacco is notably absent. This and many other seemingly small choices like keeping the camera above an act of violence, fuzzy blending of CG stunt performers, and CG environmental and character models create peculiarities that restrict “The Batman” from feeling as adult as it’s attempting to be. In a film about a serial killer and drug-running, it’s decidedly opaque when it comes to showing any of the gorier details its characters and plot hinge upon. Zoë Kravitz’s Catwoman has one of the more distinctive visual sequences where she places a contact that records video in her eye and performs reconnaissance in “the club within the club”, 44 below. At the end of this scene, she stares into the bathroom mirror to talk to Batman. This contrasted later against what charitably feels like a forced rooftop romance scene alongside the bat signal is disappointing not just in its restriction of presentation visually but its seeming shoehorning of character arcs in place of a natural evolution of events.

Different directors have approached Batman differently, Nolan’s was a stoic self-loathing character, whose body was the yin to Gotham’s yang. Visually Nolan was able to contrast Bale’s bruised, battered, and beaten body to the scars of the city creating a visual subtext that anyone watching could pick up on. Zack Snyder’s choice of Affleck seems just as important metatextually as it was to the cinematic grammar of his film. Affleck’s physique was more important than his line delivery, his grimaces and anguish more memorable than any line he uttered (excluding “Martha”), his jutting chin seemed to be a wall that wouldn’t crack even under an Alien, Supervillain, or God’s punch. Pattinson’s Batman though is markedly different, overly expressive via dialogue in the voice-overs he delivers throughout the film. He’s more emotional than his recent predecessors as well, documenting his feelings and experiences in journals and at one point having a breakdown in the hospital while one of the few people he loves is recovering in a hospital bed. He’s a more petty self-centered Batman, one that I find pleasure watching the action of while grimacing at the emotional dialogue and voice-overs he delivers.

“The Batman” ultimately feels like a competent adaptation of the source material refined and emboldened in the image David Fincher’s “Zodiac”. Reeves has a knack for memorable shots and incorporates interesting visual perspectives into his Batman that make his presentation of Gotham and Batman feel unique. I’d be lying if I said this scratched my Batman itch, but I do like that DC and Warner Bros. aren’t treading water trying to build a new multiverse when a film series will do. Matt Reeves’ “The Batman” doesn’t seem as if it will be the definitive version of the caped crusader, but when you’re competing with the previous expectations brought by fans of the films of both Nolan and Snyder delivering this wholly contained version is an admirable feat.

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