Before I proceed any further, this is a spoiler-free review. That means I won’t be discussing any specific plot points related to The Batman.
Once upon a time, we were supposed to be getting Ben Affleck’s take on the solo Batman film. I was actually looking forward to his cinematic interpretation, particularly given his prior experience in directing notable crime dramas in Gone Baby Gone (2007) and The Town (2010). If Affleck’s version actually happens, the film would feature Batman pitting against Deathstroke (Joe Manganiello). Too bad that didn’t happen when Affleck first chose to step away from the director’s chair and then, subsequently exited the project altogether.
When Matt Reeves took over The Batman instead, it’s all back to square one as the solo film is served as a reboot and even takes place in a self-contained universe (i.e. not connected to the existing DCEU whatsoever). With Affleck already hung up the cape and the cowl (although he would make his final Batman appearance in The Flash), The Batman introduces Robert Pattinson as the younger version of Bruce Wayne/Batman.
Frankly, never in a million years did it ever cross my mind that Pattinson would up playing the aforementioned title role. Sure, his decade-ago past as the infamous sparkly vampire in the dreadful Twilight Saga (2008-2012) was long gone and since then, he did improve a lot in his acting seen in the likes of Good Time (2017) and The Lighthouse (2019).
But Matt Reeves’ decision to choose Robert Pattinson for the role instantly reminded me how Tim Burton made an unconventional choice picking then-primarily-comedian Michael Keaton in Batman back in 1989. It turned out to be surprisingly a good choice after all and Keaton was undoubtedly among the best Batman I’ve ever seen. I was hoping the same for Pattinson too.
The good news is, Pattinson does look the part as the young, inexperienced and reckless Batman. But his overall emo-heavy performance no matter as Bruce Wayne or Batman feels strangely hollow. I get that he’s very angry and vengeful and so determined to clean up the city of Gotham reeked of crime and corruption. And yet, the way he acts is kind of one-sided, lacking the necessary emotional depth that could have delved deeper into his otherwise surface-level characterisation. It was a waste of opportunity because The Batman also features Zoe Kravitz as Selina Kyle/Catwoman and the film explored the complicated romantic angle between the two of them. And while Kravitz brings an alluring quality to her supporting turn, there is little chemistry to be found with the strictly and stubbornly morose Pattinson’s Batman character.
As for the rest of the supporting cast, Jeffrey Wright delivers solid support as James Gordon while Colin Farrell, looking all unrecognisable in a heavy latex make-up and a fat suit is having a great time channelling the Robert De Niro-like acting style of a mobster as Oz/Penguin. It’s just that too bad he never gets to do much to make him a memorable villain. John Turturro, who plays Carmine Falcone seems like an inspiring choice but upon seeing his performance on the big screen, he comes across more as a disappointingly dull mob boss.
Paul Dano’s potentially memorable portrayal of a mentally deranged The Riddler is initially creepy at first when his character is introduced in the film. But as The Batman progresses further, Dano’s serial-killer character that echoes the respective antagonists from David Fincher’s Se7en (1995) and Zodiac (2007) with a dash of Tobin Bell’s Jigsaw from the Saw franchise, looks like he’s trying too hard to make his Riddler a standout.
The story — credited to Reeves himself and co-writer Peter Craig (The Town, Bad Boys for Life) — is structured like a hard-boiled noir, complete with Pattinson’s moody voiceover narration and a police procedural-like mystery angle that we finally get to see the other side of Batman as “the world’s greatest detective”. The latter is something that he has been long known for in the comics but the previous big-screen adaptations always sidelined his particular expertise in favour of a more action-oriented crime fighter. So, I’m actually glad that Reeves addresses Batman’s deduction skills in this film.
It all looks good on the surface but his intricate connecting-the-puzzle storytelling method that involved everyone in the mix feels like he’s cramming too many stories into a single film. Even with the nearly 3-hour running time (easily the longest solo Batman film ever made so far), there are times the whole thing feels plodding and eventually overstays its welcomes by the time the third act rears its ugly head. Let’s just say instead of a satisfying or shocking payoff, The Batman increasingly loses its edge with a surprisingly anticlimactic ending.
Visually speaking, this is where The Batman excels the most. Reeves has certainly gone all out to make his film looks meticulous with the help of Greig Fraser’s stunning nighttime cinematography. No doubt the film is heavily indebted to David Fincher’s visual playbook seen in his two aforementioned movies and even 1997’s The Game to the point it was as if Fincher himself served as an uncredited co-director in The Batman. The fight scenes are brutal, even though it lacks the visceral punch seen in the tunnel fight scene between Batman (Christian Bale) and Bane (Tom Hardy) in The Dark Knight Rises (2012) and the warehouse scene in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.
Then, there’s the nighttime and rain-slicked car chase sequence (love the souped-up Dodge Charger of the Batmobile)– easily the most memorable moment in The Batman. It’s all thrillingly staged equivalent to an adrenaline rush in mostly POV angles from the driver’s perspective and side of the car, coupled with the respective close-up shots of the Batman and Penguin. It sure gives me the goosebumps watching the car chase unfolds on the big screen.
Overall, I have a mixed feeling about The Batman. It wasn’t as great as I thought it was going to be, given the calibre of Matt Reeves’ mostly impressive filmography (his 2008’s Cloverfield and 2014’s Dawn of the Planet of the Apes were the prime examples). And it wasn’t a bad film either. Just passable enough with flashes of cinematic brilliance in between.