The new noirish Batman reboot from Matt Reeves is one of those frustrating instances when I can’t decide if the movie’s strengths win over its major flaws, or vice versa. There’s a lot to admire about it, but it’s also overstuffed and punishingly long.
I always had a special soft spot for Batman movies, whether they’re grounded and serious or outrageously campy and goofy. The news of yet another Batman movie admittedly made me go oh no not another bloody Batman movie is there any originality left in Hollywood anymore etc. etc., but secretly I’m always more open to be won over by the positive reviews when it comes to the Caped Crusader (in comparison, no amount of hype is ever going to make me watch another Spider-Man film, sorry Spider-Man). I was also intrigued by the reviewers citing David Fincher’s Se7en and the idea that this Batman movie had something new and different to offer.
The comparisons are certainly justified: Matt Reeves’ movie casts Batman as a detective on a hunt for a masked serial killer taking down Gotham City’s prominent public figures and politicians, who keeps leaving creepy and perplexing notes for Batman himself. In a process, he’s drawn into a murky underworld of crime and corruption festering at the heart of the decaying city. While most of the police force is uncomfortable with the idea of some vigilante weirdo in a bat suit being involved, Batman has an unwavering ally in lieutenant James Gordon (Jeffrey Wright), a rare voice of decency and idealism.
I have nothing but good things to say about the movie’s technical and visual aspects: everything looks and sounds great, from Bruce Wayne’s marvellously gothic mansion interior to the sound of Batman’s boots as they pound the pavement and put fear into the hearts of the unrighteous. Though Gotham City is instantly recognisable as New York, Reeves’ vision recasts it as a grimy, nightmarish metropolis from a 70s crime drama. The score may not stack up to Hans Zimmer’s iconic work for Christopher Nolan’s trilogy, however the main foreboding theme fits the mood perfectly and Nirvana’s Something in the Way is a cool grungy touch.
While a mainstream superhero blockbuster can never get as graphic and gruesome as Se7en, there’s quite a bit of inventive nastiness in the story about a serial killer who enjoys games and riddles. I couldn’t always keep up with the busy plot and its multitude of villains and victims (who at times were the same person), and the many hushed, whispery conversations at times had me wishing fervently for subtitles. These issues never stopped me from being a massive fan of intricate noir procedurals like LA Confidential, though, so I could overlook them and enjoy the movie even while feeling lost at times.
I saw The Batman with a group of co-workers and their partners, and judging by the pre-movie banter poor Robert Pattinson still can’t live down his Twilight days as far as some guys are concerned, though to be fair they were all willing to give him a chance. I can never tell if all you really need to be a good Batman is a decent physique, great costume design and a right kind of chin, but regardless, Pattinson acquits himself admirably as the masked vigilante.
It is Bruce Wayne who is a problem, with Pattinson hamstrung by the script into a one-dimensional, mopey, woe-is-me performance that made me miss Wayne’s billionaire playboy facade from the other movies. Just like Christian Bale, Pattinson has a knack for making his handsome features look unsettling and hint on an inner darkness – a quality that also made him a natural choice for Stephenie Meyer’s Edward. He doesn’t quite have Bale’s ability to elevate the somewhat trite dialogue and convey a sense of inner life. Perhaps Reeves’ decision to portray Wayne as an empty husk of a man barely able to function in daytime society was deliberate, but it doesn’t work when the movie simultaneously expects us to be emotionally invested in the character, and feel for him when he’s facing emotional hardships. It’s just as well that the movie ultimately belongs to Batman rather than Bruce Wayne.
As you’d expect, the supporting cast is full of seasoned rock-solid performers like John Turturro as the menacing crime boss Falcone, though some choices felt strange or misguided to me. Andy Serkis is an excellent actor, but he feels rather too young to play Alfred and lacks the classy polish and gravitas you’d expect from Bruce Wayne’s loyal butler and father-figure. While Colin Farrell is enormously entertaining as The Penguin, it’s a puzzle why they went to the trouble of casting him and then burying Farrell under layers of prosthetics and make-up – was he really the only person in the world who could do the character justice?
On the upside, Zoë Kravitz’s sexy, slinky and feral Selina Kyle might be my favourite thing about the movie, and comes very very close to unseating Michelle Pfeiffer as my favourite Catwoman. She has a believable chemistry with Pattinson and it’s nice to have a romantic kiss in a superhero movie that doesn’t make you roll your eyes for once.
For all its merits, the movie’s runtime came dangerously close to undoing the goodwill created in the first couple of hours or so. I had an inkling we were in trouble from the unnecessarily protracted opening scene, shot from the perspective of the killer stalking his upcoming victim (the rather pretentious use of Ave Maria didn’t help either), and while I enjoyed most of what followed, many of the scenes were likewise guilty of dragging things out. Without spoiling anything, there’s a point somewhere past the two-hour mark when I expected the story to wrap up… except that it went on, for no good reason other than delivering an obligatory big-scale action finale… and then it went on still with what felt like three different endings. Instead of being on the edge of my seat, I simply felt checked out.
Despite these frustrations, I still thought that the movie was a solid launch for a new series that I would be interested in watching, with a hope that they’ll tighten things up in the future and cut down on the bloat. Considering how little I’m interested in the superhero genre these days, that’s saying a lot.