WGN Roundtable Review: The Batman
There’s been a few comic book movies with definitive articles at the beginning of their titles: The Avengers, The Wolverine, The Suicide Squad, The Dark Knight, The Incredible Hulk. Hell, I suppose you could even count The Mask or The Crow in that category.
Quite simply, none of them feel as deliberate in their use of ‘The’ in their titles as Matt Reeves’ The Batman, a movie that unquestionably earns its definitive article. This really is the Batman, ripped straight from the pages of the comics and transplanted onto the screen in all his brooding, tortured glory, in order to take centre stage in a sprawling, near-three-hour neo-noir crime thriller that dives deep into Gotham’s grimy, corrupt underbelly; featuring mob bosses, cat-themed thieves, dirty cops, and of course a Zodiac-inspired serial killer obsessed with riddles…
But let’s start with the (bat)man himself. To put it bluntly, Robert Pattinson is excellent. From the moment his Batman emerges from the darkness like some hideous beast, his arrival heralded by heavy, sonorous footsteps, he truly inhabits the character. As much as I’ve enjoyed previous Batmen like Ben Affleck and Christian Bale, who both did absolutely sterling jobs, Pattinson’s Batman feels like the first cinematic iteration to present Batman as the true face of the character, with Bruce Wayne being the mask.
This is reflected in how much screen-time is dedicated to Batman himself: Pattinson’s scenes as Bruce are relatively sparse, with him spending the majority of the movie in the batsuit. This works tremendously well with both character building and narrative structure, as Batman spends a large chunk of the movie either working with Zoe Kravitz’s Catwoman, or with Jeffrey Wright’s James Gordon to track down Paul Dano’s sublimely terrifying Riddler. This movie is about Batman and the evolution of him as a symbol, not Bruce, who spends most of his time as a Kurt Cobain-inspired recluse, living a somewhat vampiric life away from the public in a gothic-styled penthouse at the top of Wayne Tower.
Bruce is two years into being Batman, and as such, is young, angry, and hasn’t yet developed the whole billionaire playboy image portrayed in previous movies. Honestly, it’s a refreshing change. We’ve seen said billionaire playboy façade in every prior depiction. What we haven’t seen is a truly haunted Bruce still caught in the depths of his childhood trauma, a Bruce who doesn’t care about his public reception, only caring about his mission to bring vengeance to the city’s criminals.
Speaking of the city, it’s practically a character in its own right, and is easily the best visual depiction of Gotham since Tim Burton’s art-deco splendidness in Batman (1989). This Gotham is a grimy, rain-lashed, neon-lit mix of industrial grimness and gothic flavourings. It’s at once stunningly beautiful and a total cesspool, and the first time during a Batman movie that I mentally said to myself “I really would not want to live there”. This is in no small part due to the brilliant work of cinematographer Greig Fraser, who takes visual inspiration from movies like Se7en and – obviously – Zodiac, and applies it to wonderful effect. It’s a hugely unique look amidst a sea of comic book movies, and while I’m not trying to turn this into a Marvel vs DC thing (I do actively like most MCU projects), The Batman is easily the best looking comic book movie in a long, long time.
One of the visual highlights is the car chase between Penguin and Batman, which can be seen glimpsed in various trailers. Seen in full, it’s brutal, powerful, and astonishingly well photographed. Most of the angles used are from cameras attached to the actual cars, and the way the whole chase is edited creates this intense feeling of claustrophobia (mostly from Penguin’s POV), and like the Batmobile is this snarling, eldritch beast intent on hunting its quarry down, no matter what.
Moving on, I obviously can’t review the movie without talking about Paul Dano’s Riddler. He’s markedly different from the comics, but in a way that works so damn well with The Batman’s overall cinematic identity (and he’s the polar opposite of how The Riddler last appeared, portrayed by a scenery-devouring Jim Carrey in Batman Forever). This Riddler is very much inspired by the Zodiac Killer, combined with a little Jigsaw from the Saw franchise, as well as some supremely clever influences that I won’t dare spoil. In terms of performance, Paul Dano is magnificent, and is easily as creepy and disturbing as the late Heath Ledger’s Joker. It’s a testament to Dano’s performance that, during a section in the second act where he was absent for a chunk of screen-time, I actively missed seeing him on-screen.
There are a couple of secondary villains in the forms of Colin Farrell’s Penguin, and Carmine Falcone, played by the always-great John Turturro. Colin is fantastic as the Penguin, and quite frankly, is completely unrecognisable under some of the best prosthetic makeup I’ve ever seen. He also manages to steal pretty much every scene he’s in, and I can’t wait to see him in the recently announced HBO Max series. Turturro, while having a slightly smaller (but no less important) role, puts in a similarly great, sleazy performance as mob boss Carmine Falcone. Both of these villains feel like they fit into the movie naturally, and somehow don’t make the movie feel overcrowded – though the three-hour runtime probably helps with that.
Lastly, while we’re talking about supporting characters, I want to talk about Jeffrey Wright’s James Gordon and Zoe Kravitz’s Catwoman/Selina Kyle. Wright makes for a natural Jim Gordon, and plays the role like he’s been doing it for years. His Gordon is a wary, staunch servant of justice, who feels like he maybe shouldn’t be trusting a vigilante, but doesn’t have any other choice in a police force that’s almost entirely corrupt. I actually wasn’t expecting him to have as much screen-time as he does, in fact, he’s present for a large number of the investigation scenes, almost turning the movie into a buddy-cop thriller at points. Catwoman fills a similar role, allying with the dark knight at select points in the movie, but still pursuing her own agenda, much like the classic femme-fatale roles of noir movies past, except updated for the current day. Her character arc and her goals are a big spoiler, so I won’t mention anything more, but suffice to say, Kravitz is great and handles her character with aplomb.
If I do have any criticisms of the movie, it’s that during the Riddler-less section I mentioned above, which largely concerns itself with a secondary plot, that section could maybe have been shortened by five or ten minutes. That’s not to say said secondary plot is bad, in fact, it’s still enjoyable, but it’s just a little less good than the rest of the movie, and could have possibly done with some trimming. Also, while I did enjoy Andy Serkis’ Alfred, the movie does under-utilise him a little. Again, it’s not a major flaw, and all I’m really saying is that I would have liked to have seen more of a good thing. Hopefully there will be more of him in the (probably assured by now) sequel.
Of course, I can’t finish this review without talking about the music. As any movie fan will know, a movie’s score is 50% of its lifeblood, and The Batman is no exception. With his score, Michael Giacchino is, in my opinion, hitting John Williams levels of brilliance. The Batman possesses a wonderful score, from Batman’s theme, which contains more than a hint of “The Imperial March”, to Riddler’s theme – which is a disturbing, creepy twist on “Ave Maria” – to Catwoman’s jazz-influenced noir-ish motif … it all blends together in an exceptional soundtrack (no word of a lie, I’ve been listening to it on repeat ever since I saw the movie). I hope Giacchino feels proud, because he’s truly outdone himself here, and managed to make his Batman score stand up to the likes of previous efforts from Hans Zimmer and Danny Elfman.
All-in-all, The Batman both manages to carve out its own identity amidst not only the rest of the live-action Batman movies, but also among cape cinema in general. Matt Reeves proves that he truly gets what encompasses the dark knight, from how Gotham should look on-screen to the characterisation of Batman and his rogues’ gallery. It’s a masterpiece of a movie, and one that I’m already itching to re-watch. Make no mistake: like I said in the opening paragraph, Matt Reeves and Robert Pattinson have crafted the finest adaptation of the caped crusader to grace the silver screen. This truly is the Batman.
Francis’ review (which contains spoilers)
The latest screen version of everyone’s favourite dark vigilante comic book superhero is particularly exciting. Why? Well, for a start it finally uses a determiner/definite article for the Batman…
Okay, now that terrible joke is over, let’s talk about the film. We will probably never see another Batman film which nails the style of the comics from a plot/storytelling perspective as much as this one. Although it is not an adaptation of the Long Halloween, the influence of this classic Batman tale is felt throughout. It’s a murder mystery/detective film with Batman as the main protagonist, what’s not to love about that?
Pattinson does an excellent job of dispelling any doubts that people (including me) may have had about the character. This is helped by the film (possibly intentionally) playing to his strengths by persistently minimising his appearances as Bruce Wayne. He is a perfect Batman, both physically and emotionally.
The acting all round is really good, actually. Jeffrey Wright’s Commissioner Gordon is often quietly understated, but is consistently effective, with a similarly quiet yet powerful and righteous fury when required. Dano as the Riddler is also excellent – like Carrey, he opts for a loud and over the top style of performance, but crucially, he is much more sinister. He reminds me of the version of the Riddler we got in the Arkham games. Andy Serkis and John Turturro are also good value as Alfred and Carmine Falcone respectively, although sadly we don’t get to see as much of them as I would have liked.
Michael Giacchino’s score is also really good from what I remember, though I need to listen to it separately in order to judge it properly.
However, this film also has flaws. Firstly, and most prominently, it’s just too long. They seriously needed to trim some of the fat here, through a combination of making the plot move a little faster and cutting/reducing some of the sub-plots. If this film was at least half an hour shorter, it would have got at least half a star added to my score below.
This take on Catwoman is so unbelievably badly thought out as well. I respect that they clearly wanted to do something very different from what we’ve seen in other films and the original source material, but this version just doesn’t work for me at all. Kravitz tries her best, but this one is mostly down to the writers. Her redemption arc both simultaneously falls completely flat and manages to be cringeworthy at times. The more personal styling of her ‘tweener’ gimmick doesn’t work as well as the more well-established ‘Robin Hood style’ do-gooder/thief mix that we normally get with Catwoman, in my view. Making her Falcone’s daughter is also a mistake for me, or at the very least unnecessary. The costume design looks terrible; again, I get that they clearly wanted to do something different here, but it just didn’t look good, especially her mask. The predictable romance storyline with Batman also fails, and I think this comes down both a lack of chemistry between Kravitz and Pattinson and the romance angle also feeling a little forced/unnatural. They certainly succeeded in making her a femme fatale as Catwoman should be, but not a good one.
While I like this version of the Penguin, and I think Colin Farrell delivers a terrific performance (while also being completely unrecognisable physically), I also think this film does the character a disservice as he is sidelined and really only used as a character-based plot device throughout. He never really feels like a threat to Batman here. It’s a shame; in a less crowded film in terms of characters/length, he could have been much more useful. I do wonder if he’s lost that chance in this series now.
That Joker tease at the end really irritated me as well. It was done as well as it could have been, and Riddler/Joker are and have always been a natural combo. But I am so unenthusiastic about the idea of seeing yet another version of the Joker on our screens. Batman has one of the greatest rogue galleries of any comic book character. Do we really need to keep seeing different versions of the same one(s) over and over?
A much more minor issue is this film’s complete and utter lack of subtlety. We are both shown and told time and time again that Bruce Wayne is Batman’s mask in this film. Yeah, no sh*t, we kind of got that for ourselves. As I say, this is a minor quibble really, and it’s not like comicbook films tend to be subtle as a going rule, but they didn’t need to hammer us over the head with this idea like a blunt instrument so often.
This film gets so many things right, it really does. It gets so many things right when it comes to the Batman character. But as myself and my housemate, both said when we were discussing it a couple of days ago, ultimately we liked it, but we didn’t love it. This film just has too many problems to be considered as great as a lot of other people seem to think it is.
Nate (Ultimate Movie Geek’s) Review
The biggest theme of this film is What is The Batman? Is he a vigilante, a crazy person who needs locking up in Arkham? A leather-clad S&M fetishist? Or just a superhero?
Compare Batman with Superman, and there is a definite divide between the two, one is more superheroic than the other. Is Batman a superhero at all, or just a vigilante with a lust for inflicting pain on criminals?
Matt Reeves doesn’t worry about this question, because he allows the viewer to decide what The Batman is.
From the synopses and trailers, The Batman can be summed up as this:
Set in Bruce Wayne’s second year of being The Batman, he has been going around smacking the shit out of criminals in Gotham for months. But the more he does this, the more he asks himself if he’s actually making a difference in Gotham City. The same question most recent Batman movies have asked, or at least hinted at. Does The Batman make a difference? Well, it certainly does to WB’s bank balance…
This question is asked throughout the movie. But it’s not an easy question to answer, and for almost the entirety of the near three-hour runtime Pattinson’s Batman comes up with an answer. This movie pits Robert Pattinson Batman up against Paul Dano’s The Riddler. Despite there being a whole host of Batman Rogues in this movie. Riddler takes centre stage. We see The Penguin, played by Colin Farrell. As well as Carmine Falcone, played by John Turturro.
But without spoiling anything Jeffrey Wright’s Detective Gordon brings The Batman into a crime scene to help solve the gruesome murder of Gotham’s Mayor. Not because he needs help, but because there has been a card left addressed to the Batman. Gone are the days of The Red Bat Phone.
This first murder leads Batman on a trail to try and find and stop the Riddler from murdering most of Gotham’s most influential players. In order to do this, Batman must solve all of Riddler’s trophies, er I mean Riddles. Were you one of the ones who would collect all Riddler tokens? With the help of his trusty butler Alfred Pennyworth played by Andy Serkis, as well as Zoe Kravitz’s Catwoman, he doesn’t have to do it alone!
I’m not venturing too much into spoiler territory. The opening moments of the film were able to captivate me. The way the film looked is something that I noticed straight away. Matt Reeves and Cinematographer Greig Fraser have managed to put on film a Gotham that not only challenges Tim Burton’s Gotham but quite possibly surpasses it. It’s grim, grimy and soaking wet. Add to that that the weather in Gotham is constantly raining and you have an atmospheric wet-looking Gotham that mimics that of the Arkham Games.
Some have said that this is the best-looking Batman film and looking back at all of them, it’s hard not to see this. It ranks up there with Burton’s aesthetic and Nolan’s grounded style. But here we have a mix of a grounded Gotham pushed to the max of what a city so full and crowded could look like. It’s so full of people, that crime is able to grow and fester.
But Reeves has constructed a look that not only adds to the moody feel of the story but it could be seen as a character itself. You do feel as though you have stepped right into a Batman comic. It’s dark, it’s broody, and it feels grotty to the core. There are places in this Gotham that are Gothic, futuristic and downright dirty. It makes for a compelling idea of what Gotham is.
The use of darkness and some muted colours make Gotham a completely hopeless place, and yet there are glimpses of colour cutting through the darkness. Strong vibrant colours that pierce through the Night. This being what The Batman brings to Gotham, some hope. See the flare scene, where he leads the good people of Gotham to safety. Darkness is also used as a brilliant extension of The Batman, being able to almost deter criminals from their nightly attacks. If the Bat-Signal is shining, you’d better stay out of the shadows.
But I’ll touch more on that later. Robert Pattinson’s Batman is something that needs to be discussed. As with all new castings, especially in the Batman world, there was up raw that the sparkly vampire wouldn’t make a good Batman. But after having seen him in and out of the suit in this movie, I can safely say, he’s up there with the best of them. Again, some reviewers have said he is the best, and he is extremely good, having the runtime to delve deep into both characters, Batman and Bruce Wayne he does stand apart from the rest.
The film is able to show us a Batman who is still learning, still trying to see what fits at the same time as giving us a deeply depressed, and dare I say, disturbed version of Bruce Wayne who only knows how to invert his emotions. The memes of Emo Batman aren’t far off, but it goes a lot deeper and more detailed into his personal psyche than previous films. I do expect to see Playboy Bruce in later films, and I do believe Pattinson will pull that off.
Pattinson could go on to become one of, if not THE Best Batman we’ve had.
I’m not predominantly a Batman fan, and my own boredom towards the character put me off slightly. But even though I wasn’t wholly excited for The Batman, I can say that I was pleasantly surprised. It’s still just a Batman film, that doesn’t really venture too far from its routes, but it does push the boundaries and gives us an actual detective Batman.
I did however find it fairly funny that Pattinson’s Batman is closely related to the 60’s version. In the biggest fights, we see him have he is fighting identical foes. From the gang on the subway to the multiple Riddlers, even the cops who are all dressed the same. It was a funny reference that probably only I saw, but it made me chuckle.
He is the world’s greatest detective, so we should see him trying to solve some murders. And these scenes are excellent at showing how he listens, looks and even points Gotham PD in the right direction. Namely the scene of the first murder. The way Pattinson movies through the scene, he literally just uses his eyes to emote and it hooked me.
You do feel as though you’re watching a comic, as Bruce is also narrating. At points it does feel like he’s channelling Rorschach, but then what came first, the chicken of the Bat? But this narration adds to the noir crime thriller aesthetic that Reeves’ was going for. It was clearly Reeves’ intention to draw from that genre, and he really does succeed. The style of the film means it’s more of an adult version of Batman. But the violence shown does fit the tone of the film. You wouldn’t have been able to make this without having the violence any other way I’m not sure why it was a 15 in the UK.
This version of Gotham is dark, bleak, and full of crime and corruption. At points, it feels as though The Batman is drowning in crime. It is just that bleak and then we get the same question again, ‘Am I making a Difference?’ These themes are best seen in Fincher’s films and have not really been touched on in a Batman film. With echoes of Seven and Zodiac, it feels as though those films were a blueprint. I’ll even go as far to say the Saw movies maybe influenced The Batman also. Remember when the fans wanted Robin Williams to play a JigSaw style serial killer in Nolan’s third film?
Now we’re on the Riddler, Paul Dano gives us a Zodiac style killer, who does have a Jigsaw puzzle side to him. He’s menacing and creepy throughout, leaving clues, and leading Batman on a mystery through Gotham. It is a different side to the character, but one that has been hinted at for a long time. And he really loves to leave clues. Everything added to the film, the villains, the violence, the style, even Colin Farrell’s Robert DeNiro impression all make great additions to this Batman movie.
Michael Giacchino’s score is exceptionally good. And well over a week after, I am still listening to it.
The story kept me guessing, even if one part of the mystery was glaringly obvious. But again, that might just be down to me knowing these characters and their comic book/movie histories. Bad guys gonna be bad…
But other than some wonky CGI, that the darkness masks slightly it’s all very good. Could this be the best Batman film to date, do you think we will get a better Batman film sometime down the road? I have no real expectations, but Matt Reeves has been able to pull off an extremely competent and enjoyable thriller that happens to star The Batman.
It is a shame that we never got to see where Ben Affleck’s The Batman was going, but Matt Reeves’ The Batman quenches that thirst.
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