What do you do when you want to make a movie about a superhero that has already been done countless times? Simple. You make the movie but change everything about that superhero. This is the case with The Batman, written by Peter Craig and Matt Reeves, who also directed this movie. It is a bold idea, but was it a good one?
It has been two years since Bruce Wayne has donned the cowl and started his nightly campaign attacking criminal elements and striking fear into those who would commit crimes in Gotham City. The toll this has taken on the man Bruce Wayne has his butler, Alfred, extremely concerned. It has been 15 years since Bruce has done anything in public, let alone take an active hand in the running of Wayne Enterprises. Everything gets messier when a new serial killer starts targeting high-profile people of Gotham City, forcing Batman to get involved. The only person who welcomes his help is Jim Gordon. To the rest of the police force, he is an unwelcome vigilante. Each murder scene leaves a riddle for Batman to solve, with each puzzle leading him closer to the mystery as to who killed his parents and hopefully to finding The Riddler.
When Matt Reeves was given the green light to do his Batman movie, he chose to remake Bruce Wayne from the wealthy billionaire playboy into a recluse due to his family tragedy. He also drew upon the comic Batman: Ego, Batman: Year One, and Batman: The Long Halloween. Now, I freely admit that I have not read any of these specific titles. Still, I did have a problem crafting a story for a movie that emphasizes specific psychological traits that may or may not have dominated Bruce Wayne’s psyche. But, again, I have not read these comic books, and I may be entirely out of step here. I found this to fly in the face of everything I’ve learned about Batman in all of the other comic books I have read since my teens. Admittedly, making Bruce Wayne in this fashion adds to his perception of being an anti-hero at best. I believed it was the duality between being Bruce Wayne and Batman, two identities of extreme personalities, and what type of psychological damage it can cause. However, Batman isn’t the only problematic character.
The Riddler is a terrifying character. The Zodiac killer inspired Reeves when creating The Riddler, and there is nothing that even remotely resembles the comic book character (except for the riddles). The Riddler would give any sane person never-ending nightmares between the mask and his costume; even his voice is distorted to provide it with a strong horror quality. There is no popcorn movie fun with this depiction of The Riddler.
Lastly, there is Catwoman. Selina Kyle is only a cat burglar out of necessity to save her girlfriend’s life, and she comes around to becoming an unwitting ally to Batman far too quickly.
The performances are also lackluster. Robert Pattinson plays brooding throughout the movie; whether as Batman or Bruce Wayne, there is very little nuance in his performance. Even his poor treatment of his faithful manservant Alfred shows little difference. I would almost classify it as “one-note.” Paul Dano as The Riddler is only slightly more interesting because of his overly exaggerated character. He is a caricature, albeit a scary one. Only after he is unmasked do we see something deranged in the eyes that make him worth watching. While we can see his eyes while he is masked, I found that my only response to him was, “You’re a loony.” Once the mask is off, and you see his eyes and the rest of his face, does the character then feel dangerous. Two other noteworthy performances are Colin Farrell as The Penguin and John Turturro as Carmine Falcone. Turturro has always delivered smooth performances regardless of the genre. He could play comedic characters or villains. He always gives his performances with a tone that makes you forget any other role he has ever played. Then there is Farrell as Penguin. The actor is covered with plenty of makeup, making him thoroughly unrecognizable. However, he sells it with his voice by making himself almost sound like Joe Pesci. It was a fantastic performance that pretty much stole the movie.
Despite the many drawbacks, there are two elements to this movie that I did applaud. First, The Batman didn’t necessarily focus on his fighting ability but emphasized his detective skills. The Riddler still outwitted him, but it was a refreshing change to see this version of Batman trying to use his mind to solve the murders. Second, we see Batman’s transformation from being a much-reviled anti-hero most people were afraid of to a hero who would try to instill hope in the hearts of Gotham’s citizens. This is even shown in his transition from only operating at night to being seen in daylight towards the movie’s end. While I liked these two points, they were not enough to salvage this sadly mixed bag of a movie. Instead of a fun comic book movie, we were given a very dark horror story about a sick serial killer and the detective who tried to bring him to justice.
For its strange characterization choices and excessive dark tone, I give The Batman 2 out of 5 Riddles.
From Warner Bros. Pictures comes Matt Reeves’ THE BATMAN, starring Robert Pattinson in the dual role of Gotham City’s vigilante detective and his alter ego, reclusive billionaire Bruce Wayne.
Starring alongside Pattinson (TENET, THE LIGHTHOUSE) as Gotham’s famous and infamous cast of characters are Zoë Kravitz (BIG LITTLE LIES, FANTASTIC BEASTS: THE CRIMES OF GRINDELWALD) as Selina Kyle; Paul Dano (LOVE & MERCY, 12 YEARS A SLAVE) as Edward Nashton; Jeffrey Wright (NO TIME TO DIE, WESTWORLD) as the GCPD’s James Gordon; John Turturro (the TRANSFORMERS films, THE PLOT AGAINST AMERICA) as Carmine Falcone; Peter Sarsgaard (THE MAGNIFICENT 7, INTERROGATION) as Gotham D.A. Gil Colson; Jayme Lawson (FAREWELL AMOR) as mayoral candidate Bella Reál; with Andy Serkis (the PLANET OF THE APES films, BLACK PANTHER) as Alfred; and Colin Farrell (THE GENTLEMEN, FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM) as Oswald Cobblepot. THE BATMAN is out on home video and HBO Max.
ONE-LINER: When the Riddler, a sadistic serial killer, begins murdering key political figures in Gotham, Batman is forced to investigate the city’s hidden corruption and question his family’s involvement.