The Batman Review
March 7, 2022 | Andrew Kelso
“Two years of nights have turned me into a nocturnal animal,” a murmuring Bruce Wayne narrates.
He’s not kidding. The film is shrouded in darkness as we follow Batman through his harrowing journey.
Illustration by Andrew Kelso
Despite the near 3-hour run-time, The Batman is incredibly fast-paced. The narrative is highly linear; Batman finds a clue, figures it out, and quickly moves on to the next. The film builds incredibly effective suspense and tension in its dress-up crime-thriller moments—so much so that one hardly notices how abbreviated key plot points are. Writer and director Matt Reeves crams story beats and characters, then discards them. He introduces interesting themes, then only commits to exploring them with an inch of depth.
Reeves sets up a compelling dynamic with Robert Pattinson’s Batman/Bruce Wayne and Andy Serkis’ father-like butler, Alfred. Alfred is the perfect narrative vehicle for prodding some humanity out of the tortured hero. Despite one or two great scenes with the pair, Alfred is shoved to the sidelines to make way for the heavy plotting. Alfred gets the worst of it, but Reeves decides to treat all the side characters as pawns in the greater Batman scheme.
Characters that deserve the time to be fleshed out are an afterthought. Likewise, the film’s biggest letdown is that this newly realized angsty Bruce Wayne receives little development for his identity crisis. Robert Pattinson is excellent in the role and finds ways to develop the character without much help from the script. Reeves teases fans with the only on-screen iteration of Bruce Wayne that can’t maintain the illusion of having himself together and disappointingly gives nothing more than a cursory peek into his mind.
The Batman is by far the grimmest Gotham City in any film to date, yet it often censors itself in favor of its PG-13 rating. A lot of surprisingly brutal moments become underwhelming as they suddenly shy away from the violent content.
The film is unique in its presentation and aesthetic—especially for a superhero blockbuster— but at its core, it is highly derivative. Films that The Batman has been compared to include Se7en, Zodiac, and Chinatown. Entire plot points and characters are ripped straight from these aforementioned crime-thrillers. A lot of moments with Paul Dano’s Riddler feel like a mash-up of the villains from these movies while hitting one too many similar beats as The Dark Knight’s Joker. To say that Reeves was “inspired” by these movies would be like saying The Magnificent Seven was inspired by Seven Samurai. Or like saying West Side Story was inspired by Romeo & Juliet.
Matt Reeves brings a lot of intriguing ideas to The Batman, and while some of them unceremoniously fall flat, a lot end up working. The quieter moments where Batman investigates crime scenes as the police resent his presence build great tension. The action scenes are fluid and hard-hitting, but only up to a point. Batman gets shot point-blank with all kinds of firearms, bearing nothing more than a grimace in his (plot-armor) kevlar suit. It becomes especially eye-rolling towards the end, as any semblance of tension over Batman’s safety dissolves.
The Batman is a beautifully shot, often satisfying re-interpretation of the classic cowled character, but the sum of the film’s parts can’t find a way to live up to its incredible build throughout its former half. Fans of the character, the comics, and gritty action movies will find a lot to love, while more casual movie-goers may not be as engaged.