Matt Reeves ticks all the right boxes with this latest iteration of the caped crusader in The Batman. For fans of Frank Millers work, this is the Batman they have been clambering for. Shrugging off a tired third act, Reeves ends up giving us an excellent film.
With all new versions of a well established character, it becomes quite the challenge not to compare this latest film with all of those that have preceded it. All are good in their own right, with some nailing either the Batman or Bruce Wayne individually. Rarely has both been successfully portrayed by the same actor. Bale for example was an Excellent Batman, but not overly strong as Bruce Wayne. with the exact opposite for Affleck. Here Robert Pattinson is able to disengage us enough from what we expect Bruce Wayne to be. That he is able to meld both Wayne and Batman together more effortlessly.
Reeves is a clever enough as a writer and filmmaker to know where to pick the strengths of the source material. Relying on Frank Miller’s work is essential to the success of the overall film. This is the iteration that we want. Sure Bruce still has trauma from his parents deaths but here, instead of it just being a crux, their deaths are given a fuller purpose. It is these small things that make the overall experience of The Batman a more fulfilling one.
As said Reeves looks to Miller with his Batman and we finally have a Batman who, first and foremost, is a detective. He is able to just focus on the case and his own personal links that come from it. No big overarching dilemmas (until a slightly stale final act), we get to be invested in the cat and mouse hunt. There is no grandiose plan to save all of Gotham and the world as quickly as possible. As he says in the voiceover, he has been going for 2 years and only now beginning to see some progress from his efforts.
He is a man who is continually grinding and slowly grinding himself down. In truth this is far more watchable than the overly charasmatic playboy who burns the candle at both ends effortlessly. Bruce is being dragged down by his efforts and he should be, Nolan gave us a more realistic Batman and it really feels as if Reeves has take on the baton and took it that step further. Nolan’s version effectively walked so this version could run. It is almost refreshing for a film that is as dark and grim as it is.
Keeping this live-action iteration as fresh as it ends up being is essential to its success with the audience. Reeves and the excellent Pattinson give us a reason to care about this character and this world in which he lives in. Yes it is grittier and the influences are worn on its sleeve. This quickly allows us to be absorbed by the story far better than in previous iterations. While it is a near three hour film, it never drags, keeping you invested at all times.
Another refreshing aspect to The Batman is that Reeves was unafraid to have his Batman be someone who makes mistakes. He isn’t ready-made as “The World’s Greatest Detective”; he is still learning, even two years in, be that with some translation errors, eating it when he uses his wingsuit. A caped crusader very much in his infancy and as such one that we are motivated to watch their story unfold. Previously, everything with the character would be smooth and just that ounce too perfect.
Robert Pattinson’s performance is surprising with its effectiveness. This is a Bruce Wayne that you could imagine existing, a character with a lot of depth that isn’t just shrouded in angst. He is a broken man who is doing the one thing that he now feels is right. Pattinson also makes some choices here that you simply would not expect. For instance, his voice eerily echoes Bale’s Batman.
It is easy to target the “emo” look and lack of bulky muscle to say that this isn’t what you envision as Batman, but hey, look back at previous versions and could you say that Keaton and Clooney, filled out their suits well? Pattinson remains true to who Bruce Wayne is as a person and really that is what matters in a film like this. He evokes the emotions he needs to when in the suit. But it is behind all of that, that matters far more and Pattinson exceeds any and all expectations.
With the supporting cast, Zoë Kravitz takes the opportunity to portray a more complex version of Selina Kyle and grabs it with both hands. Again, she is a character given some great depth (one of the pluses of a 3-hour runtime). Yet never do you feel Reeves is being self-indulgent with her or the other characters. So good is she as Kyle that you want more time with her, her presence continually grabs you. Hopefully this is not the last we see of her in the role.
Paul Dano is another who takes what is given and runs with it, to the point that when we are away from The Riddler subplot, we actively want them to return to it. When Dano gets those moments to shine in face to face meetings he delivers immensely. Jeffrey Wright also subverts expectations with Jim Gordon, not just a man thinking of his family or thrown to the back to appear when needed. No, he is able to give us a character that is angry at how low his city has fallen. Batman was just the ignition to course correct it. So if that means working with a vigilante, so be it.
As mentioned Reeves wears his influences firmly on his sleeve, which is perfectly fine. There is a lot of likeness to Zodiac, and rightly so when you have a character written as the Riddler is. Though at times you almost wish he would be bold enough to go darker with the tone to echo those other films. We merely skim along safely instead of stepping in with both feet.
Interestingly Reeves has ventured for a more intimate version of Batman. Working best when we centre on Bruce trying to step out of his families shadow and be the person he should be. Whether that is as himself or as the reason why he dons the guise of Batman. So for Reeves to attempt to break away from that crux gives him and his audience the chance to breathe.
Where The Batman falters is perhaps where all superhero films do, in its finale. Our antagonists have to conjure up a plan that destroys or kills hundreds if not thousands of people. A film like The Batman needed to be smaller in its scope. Did we need Batman fighting so many people at the end? Not really. All of the leg work had been done that a more intimate conclusion would have equally sufficed. Equally, it has to be said that the riddles themselves are not particularly difficult with characters not overly being mentally stretched to reach the desired answers. So when Batman or Gordon reach the right conclusion or figure something out, it feels earned. A minor quibble, but one all the same.
Does this finale hurt the overall film? No, but it does ever so slightly dampen what is ultimately an excellent piece. With an opening act like the one we get here, you can easily forgive the film taking the safer well trodden root of a finale.
What shines through is that Reeves could have easily played this one as safe as possible, but he didn’t. For that, his neo-noir picture thrives, even with that stumble in the finale. There is still so much worth enjoying. Is it perfect? Not at all, and you wouldn’t want it to be, but goodness does it bring us a version of the man that many have been clambering for.
The Batman is out now to rent.
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