(spoilers, spoilers, spoilers ahead)
At this point, is it even possible to bring something new to a cinematic Batman adpatation?
Honestly, before I headed in to the cinema to see Matt Reeve’s The Batman, the three-hour neo-noir epic following a grapple between the Caped Crusader (Robert Pattinson) and the Riddler (Paul Dano), it wasn’t really a question that had crossed my mind. I’m not the Batman expert around these parts, and I was sure that my slightly less-intense knowledge of all the Batman cinematic iterations would render it hard for Reeves to make something that felt…well, as stale as it did.
It feels unfair to say that, in some ways. Because The Batman is certainly not a bad film: it looks gorgeous, bubbles with hard-boiled dialogue, follows scene after scene with brilliant character-actor turns, fills out a strikingly-full Gotham with rich, deep cinematography. A focus on the world-greatest-detective angle is a welcome change from Batfleck decapitating people with cars. Robert Pattinson brings a solid performance as Bruce Wayne/Batman to the table, and the plot takes enough twists and turns – with Batman failing to stop the villain’s master plan by the time the credits roll – to make it feel like an attempt at something new.
But, at the end of the day, this is the eighth straight Batman movie adaptation we’ve seen in the last fifteen years or so, not to mention another handful that deal with his extended universe and a trilogy of highly-popular games, amongst another half-dozen in the decades that came before. It almost feels unfair to expect Matt Reeves to be able to bring something new to this. Batman has been pretty much approached from every angle at this point – campy, serious, racist – what else could there possibly be to say?
In all fairness, I think that Reeves manages to make this work somewhat in his favour, at least for the first hour of his behemoth. This isn’t an origin story, thankfully, instead building on the broad cultural understanding of this character to skip straight to the good stuff. We get right to the action, and really explore Gotham in a way I don’t feel we have with other one-shot films, as well as using Pattinson’s voiceover to genuinely build on the character instead of just talking us through his motivations yet again. Zoe Kravtiz as Catwoman is a particular standout, with the film mostly skipping the “look, hot woman in tight clothes!” bit to get right to her actual character.
But at the same time, it’s impossible not to compare this film against other versions and often, it comes up lacking. Paul Dano’s Riddler is pretty solid, but with his shaky video calls and window-sniping and general iNsAnE performance, he feels a little too close to Heath Ledger’s Joker. The action is honestly downright not very good a lot of the time, particularly a dreadfully-choreographed car chase featuring Colin Farrell’s Penguin (got to admit, I enjoy how much he’s chewing the scenery here, even if he does come off as trying to parody Danny DeVito’s turn as the character), especially when compared to a lot of the excellent action sequences in Nolan’s trilogy. John Turtorro’s Falcone feels utterly generic, basically spouting video game cut-scene dialogue, and it’s a let-down to see the film pivot to feature him so heavily in the second act at the expense of the more interesting parts of the rogue’s gallery. Reeves is adapting characters and concepts that have been adapted so many times already, and there’s just no way around that fact. It all feels…done.
The Batman isn’t a bad film. It just isn’t. Despite it’s flabby run-time, I did enjoy it more than I didn’t. It’s nice to look at, nice to listen to, nice to see some great character actors getting some airtime (hello, Andy Serkis). But it comes after a good decade and a half of major, mainstream Batman adaptations, both cinematic and otherwise, and it all just feels so…staid. How many times are we going to come back to Gotham, to this character, to the tiny handful of marketable villains who get rotated between movies and franchises? And what’s it going to take to really make it feel exciting and new again?
If you love Batman, The Batman is a very solid take on the characters and the setting, and you’ll probably like it. If, as I do, you just like Batman, and you’ve watched even half of the adaptations of the last fifteen years, The Batman might well feel like just a retread of aspects that we’ve seen done better and more originally (just by virtue of the lower number of adaptations) before. Matt Reeves was cursed when he took on this film – cursed to deal with the long shadow of the versions that have come before him – and, for me, it’s not a curse that The Batman ever really finds a way to throw off.
If you enjoyed this article, please check out the rest of our Batman retrospective right here (and stay tuned for our retrospective on this movie later this month). And, as ever, if you enjoyed this and want to see more stuff like it, please consider supporting us on Ko-Fi!
By Lou MacGregor
(header image via Hollywood Reporter)