The best Batman film? The best film with Batman in it? The best Bruce Wayne story? Matt Reeves’ take on Gotham’s caped crusader has been labelled plenty of things already, with a lot of them positive. However, despite having a number of stand-out moments and interesting ideas, a long series of issues meant it turned into something of an enjoyable mess.
Another reboot for the famous character was always going to require something a little different, and Reeves worked well with Robert Pattinson to create just that. This was a gritty crime film, incorporating some of the darkest moments we’ve seen from the titular character so far. However, the film’s inability to follow through with them ultimately does it harm.
Take Pattinson’s first appearance, for instance, when he emerges from the shadows to ruthlessly dispose of a group of crooks who are picking on an older man. Having been saved, that man proceeds to cower on the ground and begs Batman not to hurt him.
Wow, the audience thinks. This must be a different kind of protagonist. If even the citizens he’s saving are petrified of him, he must be well-versed in the dark arts when it comes to fighting crime. A typical anti-hero. By the looks of things, he has a reputation for hurting innocents as well as criminals.
Wrong. After that, Wayne doesn’t do a thing out of line when it comes to civilians. In fact, he does everything he can to protect them on a regular basis. So why this set up in the beginning? Why paint him as a hardened vigilante when he actually goes on to be a calming influence for other characters? It doesn’t make sense.
I’ve been confused by raving reviews which claim this film explores Bruce Wayne’s character better than any previous Batman installment. With so many having been released before (with varying success), Reeve opted to miss out the famous backstory altogether. This approach can work – see Spider-Man in the Marvel Cinematic Universe – but I don’t feel it paid off here.
We never really find out why this Bruce Wayne opted to turn his life upside down and battle crime. If you skip the chapters of his life during which he did this, you still have to explain it. Otherwise, as is the case, the audience is left a little short-changed. What is it specifically that drives Pattinson’s character? Why the bat costume? We need some hints.
Even as the film progresses, this Batman remains rather bland. The only character development he really gets involves finding out his father, Thomas, wasn’t the saint he believed him to be after all – before this is reversed and it turns out he was a good man all along who simply made a mistake. However, the film hadn’t actually set up Bruce’s long-lasting admiration for his father. In fact, we didn’t know what he thought of the man at all until late on. The reveal (and its reversal) therefore lacks weight.
However, the physical aesthetic of this Batman is outstanding. Pattinson’s costume design fits excellently with the mood of the film; it’s dark and you can feel how heavy it is from the way he walks. The close-ups of his stomping footsteps showcase this well, and Wayne’s gothic look mixes things up nicely from the usual handsome playboy.
The design department certainly got things bang on for the majority of the film. Batman looks the part, Colin Farrell’s Penguin slots in well with the mobster gangs and Zoe Kravitz pulls off the sleek costume needed as Catwoman (even if, once again, we don’t know why she wears it).
I personally am not a fan of the way The Riddler, the story’s primary villain, looks – although I appreciate the way he was grounded in reality by being designed to mirror real-life serial killers. He is certainly terrifying for the first half of the film, but he could have been even more so if his outfits had been more comic book-accurate.
The real problem with the antagonist, however, is that his appeal falls off a cliff after the film hits the halfway mark. He originally seems to be a cold, calculating murderer with a very clear agenda – ridding Gotham of its corrupt hierarchy and teaching those behind it a lesson. While the latter is true, those cold and calculating traits disappear.
As it turns out, he is simply a mentally ill civilian who has galvanised a band of like-minded followers to help him take down their ‘oppressors’ (where have we seen that before? We’ll get to that in a minute). As soon as we see the Riddler broadcast what looks like an Instagram live feed which could have been spotted by anyone, all fear we have for him evaporates. He’s a laughing stock. And that’s without talking about his strange, animal-like noises which don’t fit with the character whatsoever.
Did the movie’s primary villain truly believe that Batman was fighting on his side? Were we, the audience, truly supposed to believe that he believed that? What possible reason would he have for that? It felt strange. This character should have had Wayne on strings throughout; instead, he genuinely thought they were battling together. Nonsensical.
Now, as hinted at above, the Riddler’s story arc also presents something of a plagiarism issue. A mentally damaged civilian who wants to bite back, who takes on a masked persona and eventually galvanises Gotham’s evil underbelly to join him, who inspires an uprising against the establishment? That is quite literally the plot of 2019’s Joker, which did a much better job at pulling the ploy off – ably helped by the fact that it actually came up with the idea first.
The Batman’s primary villain’s story arc is ripped right from the script of another movie. To make matters worse, part of his plan is ripped right from another DC movie as well.
If you couldn’t shake off a strange sense of deja vu when the Riddler is captured and tossed in jail only to see his true plan take shape afterwards, then you’ve obviously watched Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight before. That’s exactly what that film’s Joker does – he is deliberately captured in order to progress his ideas. Another major plot device for The Batman is far too copycat.
Furthermore, when Heath Ledger’s legendary depiction of the character did that, there was a purpose. What was the point in this Riddler getting captured? He obviously wanted to – he sat down in a cafe, making no attempt to hide or run away. But it didn’t help him personally. Nothing changed. His plans were executed all the same, but he could have been there to see it. It felt like the film was trying to be too clever.
That was also a problem when it came to his ‘riddles’ – for lack of a better word. They weren’t exactly riddles seeing as Bruce Wayne easily solved every single one inside a matter of seconds – bar, of course, the most obvious one, which was played as a big reveal that fell flat. Of course a rat with wings is a bat – how the quiz show maestro Wayne couldn’t guess that answer was surely beyond most viewers.
Small, individual riddles are fun, but not when each of them is instantly solved on the spot. A few mini tasks should have been littered throughout the movie with one big, overarching question which casts doubt on everything Wayne knows up to that point. That’s what the Riddler should do. Instead, he posed a couple of basic questions and turned into a comically idiotic villain by the end.
A few other characters also fell short of expectations. Selina Kyle (Catwoman) was an intriguing addition, but her out-of-the-blue arc to avenge her mother felt out of place and she had a couple of cringeworthy lines. ‘Let’s go get this son of a bitch’ was particularly cheesy, while her dig at white privilege was both unnecessary and grounded in falseness.
Jeffrey Wright’s James Gordon was far, far worse than the brilliant Gary Oldman’s version in the Dark Knight trilogy; he seemed to exist solely to deposit exposition, blatantly stating the obvious every time he graced the screen just in case any viewers had fallen behind. Talk about not trusting your audience.
Carmine Falcone was a solid character, living up to the stereotypical mob figure who we all knew would be rooted out as evil by the film’s end. He should have died much earlier, though; Catwoman literally shoots him from point-blank range, and yet he’s alive in the very next scene. Was this a trick of the light, did the clinical Catwoman somehow miss, or did the writers genuinely forget they’d just killed him off?
Plot thefts and poor character development aside, the film had a number of other issues. It has been heavily criticised for its run-time, and it’s not hard to see why. The movie could easily have left half an hour on the cutting room floor – especially after the idiotic flood scene somehow made it into the final release.
What was the point in this flood? It literally did nothing to propel any character growth or to serve the plot in any meaningful way. It just happened. We were treated to a baffling scene where Batman looks as though he is going to commit suicide by jumping into the water’s depths, with various characters staring on with shocked faces. Naturally, he just stands up and gets on with things. Was this just for the purpose of a cool shot? Again I ask; what was the point?
Going back to the darker moments the movie fails to follow through on – I really thought we were going to have an immense moment on our hands. After Wayne injects himself with adrenaline amidst the final battle and is attacked by one of the Riddler’s followers, he throws him to the metal floor and proceeds to absolutely pummel him in the face. Over and over.
Watching this, I was sure this was going to be some kind of turning point. Wayne was going to have inadvertently killed someone; he has repeatedly bashed the man’s head into the ground, and there is no question that in a real-life setting the man would either be dead or in a hospital bed for the rest of his life.
Alas, no. Mere seconds later, the man’s mask is ripped from his barely bruised face and he is talking away to our main characters. Come on. Not only is this unrealistic, but it’s disappointing. It was another example of the film going extra steps to make this Batman significantly darker, but then taking a few strides back straightaway.
Finally, The Batman’s attempt to shoe-horn a Joker cameo into its climax was laughable. His design was awful, his cackle was annoying and he simply wasn’t needed. There are plenty of cool Batman villains to pick from – choose a new one for any sequel we may have.
Strangely enough, however, I actually enjoyed this film. Like I said earlier, its aesthetic was brilliant; the fight scenes were close to impeccable, with every blow jumping out of the screen. The dark tone worked well, and the writers could actually have gone even further to cement that.
The score was excellent, with every note working well in conjunction with its corresponding scene. Robert Pattinson’s debut as the character was solid, even if he was held back by that lack of character development and some screenwriting issues. The villain was good until the halfway mark, when the movie seemed to get confused, and there is potential for a strong sequel.
The opening 20 minutes of the film were particularly impressive. The Riddler’s first kill is downright petrifying, while Batman’s entrance set the scene for a dark shift. Bruce Wayne’s early narration (read from the pages of his diary) works relatively well, and viewers are on the edge of their seats for the entirety of that passage of screen time.
Unfortunately, the writers ramble too much after that. The film is too long, its main plot points are ripped from the scripts of better movies, its characters are all exposition and no emotion, the riddles are too easily solved, woke agendas are forced into the dialogue, and the villain loses credibility too early on.
The Batman has too many flaws to be considered a major success. It’s an enjoyable film with stunning fight scenes (the Darth Vader-esque battle springs to mind), a great score and some top tier design, but it lacks the two things you need for a great movie – worthwhile character arcs and a sensical plot.
Hopefully when Pattinson’s caped crusader returns, he is given more freedom to explore his inner character and is treated to a more worthy opponent. With the way the Joker was portrayed in this movie, my hopes aren’t high. With the Riddler primed for a prison escape, they’re even lower.
I hope I’m wrong.