Much like the eponymous character in Matt Reeves’ The Batman, I find myself at a crossroads. On the one hand, Reeves demonstrates Robert Pattinson’s Dark Knight through an interesting, if overpacked, noir thriller. Co-screenwriters Reeves and Peter Craig concoct an exciting story both involving and about Batman/Bruce Wayne. On the other hand, the film runs smack dab into the same complaints that have been uttered online about Jane Campion’s Best Picture nominated The Power of the Dog – its 176-minute run time is perhaps too much fabric with which to weave this story.
Does either criticism attempt to balance the other out? No, not entirely.
The Batman doesn’t attempt to directly adapt an existing comic book story (at least as credited), which is good because I didn’t grow up on comic books. Instead, I grew up on reruns of the campy television series and the theatrical films sans animated films; The Batman injects various characters from DC and plots a story of corruption from the Wayne family up to the mayor. It is a tale for modern times, yet it doesn’t speak directly to those issues from the past few years.
This intrigue, much like Christopher Reeves’ Superman/Clark Kent films of the late 70s and early 80s, pulls us into Matt Reeves’ take on Batman. Pattinson plays the Dark Knight with an intense, quiet purpose, acting more through his body language, gestures, and eyes than through dialog. He is as much an observer of this Gotham City as we the audience are. He isn’t as contemplative as Michael Keaton, nor as action-driven as Clooney or Kilmer; Pattinson aligns with Affleck’s and Bale’s takes on the character.
Reeves doesn’t do away with the typical establishing entrée into the character, folding that element in at a more effective stage, effectively allowing the character origin to not be yet another mainstay; points to Reeves for that effort. Instead, Reeves and Pattinson subtly inject various situations and characters into the malaise through various high-profile murders riddling the struggling Gotham City, using the age-old revenge story to eventually bring Batman and the Riddler (Paul Dano) together.
Dano’s take on Riddler is psychotically subtle, something the actor has taken on in other roles while playing to the story’s strengths here. When the characters finally meet, the scene where they square off is full of tension; neither actor immediately backs down from their respective position. The detective aspect of the story coming to a head just as subtly as the preceding minutes behind it defines Reeves’ film.
The fourth cinematic appearance of Selina Kyle, this time played by Zoë Kravitz, is more Selina and less Catwoman in this story, again strengthening the characters’ subtleties. It’s an excellent counter to Pattinson, who spends most of the film as Batman. There is a proper crusader aspect to the character, playing detective through observation. Yet, Selina is not either friend or foe as it is her arc that establishes the character.
Jeffrey Wright plays James Gordon, taking a similar tack in character to Nolan’s depiction. Reeves allied he and Batman together, trusting only each other. John Turturro turns up as a slimy Carmine Falcone. Turturro is subtly nuanced as the link between the city and the Waynes, while Colin Farrell plays Oswald Cobblepot, sometimes referred to as Penguin, serving as Falcone’s lieutenant. Oswald sits on this story’s periphery, and if there was a weak link in the characters, this was it. Reeves establishes the character’s future motives more than being a part of the racket.
Andy Serkis plays Alfred, Bruce’s butler, and caretaker. Serkis’ performance is solid; however, the character doesn’t inhabit very much of the film. We miss Alfred’s sarcasm, infusing and guiding prior film’s sense of direction in Batman. A thought just occurred to me, but I’ll wait until more people see the movie to see if my suspicion plays out regarding Alfred.
Therein lies The Batman’s challenges – the story and character mechanics are so subtle with too much runway that this Dark Knight felt flat. There’s plenty of action on the screen. Grieg Fraser’s cinematography adds to the subtlety, as does Michael Giacchino’s rousing score; Reeves’ vision endures because of the subtlety, which is not necessarily a compliment.
The Batman’s role as observer fits nicely into the detective nature of the story; however, it doesn’t fully instill confidence that plans for sequels and spin-offs can continue this original story with existing characters.
Directed by Matt Reeves
Written by Matt Reeves and Peter Craig, based on Characters from DC
Starring Robert Pattinson, Zoë Kravitz, Paul Dano, Jeffrey Wright, John Turturro, Peter Sarsgaard, Andy Serkis, Colin Farrell
PG-13, 176 minutes, Warner Bros/DC Films