Director Matt Reeves’ modest ambition for The Batman was to make ‘the best Batman movie yet.’
Well, he hasn’t done that – but he’s certainly made the longest. Weighing in at a bum-numbing two hours and fifty minutes, it brings to mind the conviction that while ‘less’ is often ‘more’, ‘more’ usually equals ‘less’ when it comes to movies. And, while this just about scrapes four stars in its present bloated form, it would have scored much higher with some judicious editing. I mean, like, excising fifty minutes.
What is it about Batman that makes directors keep returning to that oft-plundered well? The fact that this is a comic-book hero who doesn’t have any super powers is always appealing, and there’s that delicious interplay between the vigilante who takes the law into his own hands and those misguided fools who see him as a hero. In this regard, The Batman feels a lot more nuanced than many of its predecessors, but it’s also sobering to think that the best film of the franchise is the one that he doesn’t even feature in.
Joker, thanks for asking.
Mind you if you thought Christopher Nolan’s depiction of Gotham City was dark, prepare to turn the palette down several notches. Reeves’ Gotham (shot in studios all over the UK) is filmed in tones of obsidian and anthracite. In this Gotham, it never seems to stop raining and the city is ruled by corrupt public officials, who gleefully take bribes and exploit the working classes for their own enrichment. (Remind you of anywhere?)
It’s Hallowe’en and a masked villain called The Riddler (brilliantly played by Paul Dano, though we don’t actually see his face until late on in the proceedings) is gleefully murdering those in power, who have allowed their standards to slip. Batman/Bruce Wayne (Robert Pattinson), though hated by most of the police force, is invited to investigate the crimes by Commissioner Gordon (Jeffrey Wright), the only cop who trusts him.
The Riddler is leaving cryptic clues at the scenes of the crime and Batman is good at deciphering them. In the course of his investigations, he comes into contact with Selina Kyle (Zoe Kravitz), crime kingpin, Carmine Falcone (John Turturro), and The Penguin (an unrecognisable Colin Farrell, hidden beneath layers of latex and sounding for all the world like Robert De Niro).
As the proceedings unfold, it becomes clear to Bruce that his own father, whose murder initiated Bruce’s transition into the Caped Crusader, might not have been as innocent as his son has always supposed. Batman also comes to realise that there are many people out there who follow his vigilante tactics with relish – and who would really like to be him.
And, as loyal butler, Alfred (Andy Serkis) is quick to point out, Bruce’s father might have done the wrong thing – but for very sound reasons.
There’s a lot here that I really like. It offers a much more interesting vision of DC’s premier hero than we’re used to seeing – but too much time is spent wandering along dark alleyways that don’t advance the plot enough. It’s only as I’m starting to grow impatient with the film that it finally coalesces and ramps up the suspense, as it heads into a vaguely apocalyptic climax that is weirdly prescient and also, in a strange way, uplifting. Reeves has already proven his worth with the likes of Cloverfield and his astute retooling of the Planet of the Apes trilogy – but, inevitably, The Batman just feels too long for its own good.
This is a shame because Pattinson really works in the lead role (for once, I actually believe that nobody would suspect his Bruce Wayne of being Batman, since the two personas are so different). Kravitz is also compelling in the Catwoman role, and I fully expect to see her return to it. A nifty coda shows us exactly where Reeves plans to go next and, given the projected casting for the next lead villain, I have to confess I’m suitably intrigued.
But please, Matt, next time around… can we just have a bit less?