Going into The Batman, I was skeptical it could live up to the near-perfection of the Dark Knight trilogy. Thankfully, it’s on par with, if not better than, Batman Begins, which gives me hope for the subsequent installments. It’s certainly better than the Burton/Schumacher/Snyder films, though that isn’t saying much.
Right off the bat (ha), I appreciate that the film isn’t just a reboot of Batman Begins. While it borrows from the noir tone that Nolan established, Reeves does an excellent job of giving the film its own distinctive visual and narrative style. It’s much darker, literally, and the fight scenes feel grittier and more intense. It’s less of a Michael Mann thriller, and more of a seedy crime drama like Zodiac or Se7en.
Embodying the new intensity is Robert Pattinson. Despite some eye-rolling moments that seem designed to reinforce his broody emo persona (like wearing sunglasses indoors), he’s still the most genuinely troubled Batman to date. I haven’t read the comics, so I can’t say for certain whether this is an accurate depiction. But for the first time, a Batman movie has created a Batman that I care about. And for the first time, it feels like he’s the main character. Let me explain.
It’s no secret that the Batman movies are all about the villains. They might as well be called: The Main Villain, With a Contractually Obligated Mention of Batman. The Burton movies in particular seem to include Batman almost as an afterthought, but even Nolan’s films are so successful because of The Joker and Bane, not Christian Bale. So I was pleasantly surprised that The Batman centered on… Batman. It was a nice change of pace, and Pattinson has created a flawed but sympathetic protagonist who, so far, is more memorable than his enemies.
That’s not to say the villains are bad. Paul Dano is excellent, if not iconic, as The Riddler, imbuing the character with an uncomfortable insanity that fits the part perfectly. Colin Farrell is fine as the penguin – he’s no Danny DeVito, but he doesn’t try to be. And John Turturro is solid as Carmine Falcone.
Now, no offense to those three actors – they’re all consistently excellent in whatever role they’re given – but they can’t hold a candle to Barry Keoghan. He shows up for two minutes at the end of the film to tease The Joker, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t get chills from his performance… Good lord… If his career up to this point is any indicator, he may actually rival Ledger’s Joker, and I can’t wait.
If anything, that’s my main complaint with the film: it seems like a requisite part-one-of-three setup. Which isn’t inherently bad, and says more about my impatience than the film itself. Like any good ‘first’ movie, it successfully sets the tone, establishes the protagonist, invests you in the world, but still leaves open the possibility of an even better sequel.
Granted, it’s not without its flaws. Occasionally, the special effects are a bit goofy. Some plot elements also feel unintentionally funny. For instance, somebody comments that The Riddler has a major online presence because “he has 500 followers.” And the movie isn’t without its share of ‘member berries. I swear, several people in the theater gasped with delight when Catwoman’s mask vaguely resembled cat ears (because she’s Catwoman!! GET IT??).
There’s also Batman’s uncanny ability to crack The Riddler’s puzzles, along with an abundance of melodramatic, over-the-top dialogue. To be fair, that’s just a Batman movie trope at this point, and honestly it works in service of the movie being an epic. It just won’t win any Oscars for best screenwriting.
But in all, the film works surprisingly well. The cast is at the top of their game all around, the music and ambience are brilliantly immersive, and one action scene in particular features some of the most sublime cinematography I’ve ever seen. With Reeves at the helm and an impending showdown between Pattinson and Keoghan, this could very well match, if not exceed, the quality of the Dark Knight trilogy.
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