From vampire to the dark knight.
The Batman feels like an analogy for the current happenings at Warner Bros. regarding the DC Extended Universe. It’s kind of a train wreck, beset by a combination of incompetence and corruption, and the folks at the bottom are just looking up hoping Batman will save them. Ben Affleck is out as Batman, Henry Cavill is unofficially out as Superman, Joss Whedon turned out to be a huge scumbag (although most of us who pay attention knew that), Zack Snyder is gone, Jared Leto still sucks as Joker, and overall WB seems to not comprehend how to run this franchise in the long term.
One positive I will say is that most of the cast is fantastic. Zoe Kravtiz as Catwoman is both sexy and dangerous, playing the partner role for Batman who doesn’t quite trust teaming up with a burglar to take down the bad guys, even if he does want to slide into her latex suit and cry. Paul Dano as The Riddler is…interesting. Riddler was never an imposing figure, but there’s a point in this movie where Batman is interrogating Riddler and it feels like watching an adult bully an autistic manchild with how Dano screams and whines through it. Riddler has barely any presence in the film considering he’s supposed to be the major villain.
Jeffrey Wright does a great job as James Gordon, who is a lieutenant in this film. It’s fair to say he’ll become commissioner in a sequel assuming Warner Bros. doesn’t shitcan the series before then. This is not a DC Extended Universe film. John Turturro plays Carmine Falcone, and does an acceptable job at putting on a cheap Italian accent and saying “eyyy gobbagool, I’m walking here, fettucine alfredo” to other characters. Turturro’s career is mostly side characters in crappy Adam Sandler films, so it’s nice to see him play something with dignity for a change. Andy Serkis as Alfred is an odd choice and I’m not quite sure how I feel about his portrayal. Colin Farrell does a fantastic job as Oswald Cobblepot, aka Penguin. I’m quite a fan of Colin Farrell as an actor.
The Batman is an origin story of sorts, in that it’s less about Bruce Wayne putting on the cape for the first time and more about him figuring out his role and what the Batman will eventually become. Going with this approach was the right idea, as it basically serves several purposes. The audience gets accustomed to a new Batman actor. Robert Pattinson gets a canonical reason to ease into the role without people expecting him to immediately be the grizzled vigilante we all know and love. And it gives the writers an opportunity to build the narrative of this world without forcing the audience to sit through yet another origin movie. While I don’t think Pattinson is going to top many lists of best Batman portrayals, his uneasiness of being Batman at least makes sense in the context of the film.
The cinematography of this film is fantastic, with the lighting and camera work being the true star of the movie. Gotham is presented as a gloomy New York City and an absolute shit hole to live in, and it’s quite a marvel to look at. One thing the director really loved using as a crutch is the whole trick where the camera is facing straight at a character and then there’s a flash of light and someone is standing behind them, or in the reflection of a window/mirror. It’s a staple of Batman engineering.
Now on to the negatives. The Batman is like a buffet that you have no choice but to eat from every option and who wants mashed potatoes mixing with their crab legs and those juices getting into their flan? Batman fans will already be familiar with the names, but there’s an onslaught of characters that make things hard to keep track. Who is the major villain? It’s supposed to be The Riddler, but very quickly the primary focus shifts to Falcone and then Penguin and then Falcone and then the Riddler shows up like “hey you forgot about me.” The film seems to mock its own repetitive nature via a running gag of two bouncers answering the back door to Penguin’s club with slight variations on each encounter. As is common with comic book movies, there’s also a habit of mistaking cleverness for shoving references to comic books in every corner.
The film is also very long. It doesn’t need three hours, and the original vision was longer meaning we’ll probably end up getting an extended director’s cut in the future. I also didn’t like how Batman was effectively invincible for the whole movie. There’s a point in the trailer where the baddies are shooting Batman and you see the bullets ricochet off his armor. It’d be an interesting one-off, but they do this a lot. Dude takes a full shotgun blast point blank to the chest and it just knocks him on his ass. There doesn’t really seem to be any point in this film where Batman is in serious danger or gets notably hurt, the movie instead choosing to put his companions in the line of fire and have their lives on the line.
Overall The Batman is a good movie even if it’s not a great movie. It is inarguably well-produced film and it’s certainly not as bad as DC’s lesser films from the last few years. Matt Reeves also benefits from the fact that this is not a DCEU film and can be enjoyed without worrying about passive Easter eggs for the upcoming Black Adam or Flash movies. As a continuity with its own planned sequels as well as spin-off tv shows (yes, shows plural), it doesn’t have quite the same satisfaction of a one-off film like Joker. There are literally scenes from the last few minutes of the movie in the trailer.