I was really hoping to get a second watch of this film before diving into a review of any kind, just to see how I felt about it one the next go around. I’m not at all concerned that I’ll like it less. I just want to see if I’ll like it even more. And I really like this movie already. I think this is the type of gritty Batman fans have been clamoring for. And while I do like seeing Batman interacting with Superman, Wonder Woman, Flash and the like, this film made me find a new appreciation in solo films.
This project seemingly began under the direction of former/somewhat still current Batman Ben Affleck and his possible desire to direct a Bat-film. But perhaps being director and Batman was too much or maybe the studio heads were giving him too many notes on what he could and couldn’t do or hell maybe he didn’t like the world Zack Snyder had created. I sure as hell don’t. That’s right, Snyder-verse fanatics. Come at me! Whatever the case was, Affleck walked away and the project was in limbo. Say what you want about the man, but I would’ve been interested in his vision of a Batman film. He IS a good director and a good Batman as well. Much like Henry Cavill, he was just in the wrong movie.
Eventually, the project landed in the lap of Matt Reeves, director of two of my favorite Planet of the Apes films as well as the co-creator of the popular WB show, Felicity. Yeah, I said WB, not CW. What’s that you may ask? I don’t have time to explain it right now. We’re talking about Batman so stay on point.
Anyway, hearing Matt Reeves was attached put my mind at ease. I knew the film was in capable hands under his direction, and I could sit back and watch the rest of the internet go ballistic about the choices he intended to make. It was going to happen and I knew it. We can’t have ANYTHING announced today without fan backlash of some kind. For once, it would be nice to see a film be beloved for EVERYTHING it did. Doesn’t have to be the greatest film ever made. Just a good film that all fans appreciate. I feel like Spider-Man: No Way Home would have fit that bill, but I know there are haters out there.
The hate machine kicked right off with the announcement of Robert Pattinson (or to the initiated Robbat Battinbat). Despite him proving himself as a very capable actor in films other than the Twilight saga, fanboys saw only Edward Cullen and cried foul. And if there was a problem after seeing his performance, then it’s nothing more than just wanting to hate on an actor for some weird bais. After watching my preconceived notions regarding Heath Ledger get obliterated by his performance as the Joker, I vowed never to make that mistake again.
Pattison is a perfect “early days” Batman. Unlike Christian Bale, he feels youthful which is not something we typically get in a Batman. And that’s pretty ironic when you realize that Pattinson is actually older than Bale was when he first played Batman. Bale felt like he had immediately filled the role. Pattinson feels like he’s still in the process of figuring out who Batman is, which is on point for this flick. This film works under the assumption that you are already well aware of who Batman is and foregoes any generic type of origin. We are dropped right in his second year as the caped crusader, and witnessing how Gotham itself sees him.
From the start, we see that Batman is perceived as a phantom-like being that terrifies the criminals of Gotham. Yet it only seems to be the IDEA of Batman. Once a gang actually lays eyes on him, they initially see him as a joke. Which is why Bruce had to put the beat down on one of them. It sends a pretty clear message to me, but one layered with fear that trickles down to the people he’s trying to protect. This immediately explains the journey the character is on in this movie. Because it’s not just the citizens of Gotham, but the police department as well. Sure, we’ve seen the police in Gotham chase Batman in other films. But here they seem to have utter disdain for him, having to get over the fact that Gordon is allowing him to examine crime scenes.
Since he’s been brought up, let’s talk about Lt. Gordon. Played wonderfully by Jeffrey Wright, this version was never really given a direct reason why he was working with Batman. At least, I don’t remember one being given. But I don’t feel like it was necessary for the plot. Under the wrong direction, this feels like a story beat that would be shoehorned in just because a producer asked the question, “why does he work with Batman?” I’m sure numerous producers have asked “why” Bruce Wayne becomes Batman, which has led to the multiple filmings of their murder. I mean we saw them die in a Joker movie, for god sakes! Thankfully, Reeves spared us another interpretation.
And while I did mention this film being Batman’s journey of self-discovery, the film does pull heavily from the Batman limited series The Long Halloween. Having recently watched the animated adaptation on HBO Max, I saw several familiar story beats here which perhaps lessened my enjoyment a little. I like to be surprised by a film’s plot, especially when it comes to characters I know. And sure they took some liberties with characters. I really like the bit about Bruce’s mother being an Arkham and her having a questionable mental state. It really adds layers to Bruce, making us the audience question his mental stability. What he does is not normal. Furthermore, it’s almost a nice wink and nod to the fact that Martha became the Joker in the Flashpoint timeline. Like the seeds were already there, they just needed something to cultivate the crazy.
One of the bigger plot points from the Long Halloween relate to Bruce, Carmine Falconi, and Catwoman. Here, I feel like Selina Kyle has a purpose in the film, other than just “being there”. Her journey is just as important as Bruce’s. Zoe Kravitz plays Selina beautifully and hopefully she is grateful she wasn’t cast in the Dark Knight Rises. Being “too urban” for that role scored her a much better version down the line. John Turturro was an inspired choice for Falconi. Who else would you get to play a mob boss but a New York native, from Brooklyn no less. Much like Tom Wilkinson before him, he felt like he elevated the film.
But let’s talk about the other big bads in the film. The iconic villains if you will. I know someone will think I’m saying Catwoman is not iconic, but I don’t classify her as a villain. She’s moved well past that. We’ll start with Colin Farrell since his role here isn’t as big. Sure, he’s a prominent character, but he hasn’t quite reached “super villain” status. And I like that. He had to start somewhere, right? It gets me excited that we could see him grow into the iconic Penguin over the course of however many movies or HBO Max shows they want to make. Man, how times have changed. But damn wasn’t Colin Farrell amazing as the Penguin? The make-up alone was astounding! I truly wish they had kept his casting secret, so when it was revealed in the credits, all of our minds were blown. Because I would have never guessed it was him.
When I heard Paul Dano was cast for the Riddler, I was truly excited to see what the approach to the character would be. Dano is a very unique actor who has done it all, and Reeves knew this was the guy for his movie. Turning the concept of the Riddler into that of a sadistic serial killer reminiscent of the Zodiac killer was pure genius and a clever reinvention. AND it fits in line with the gritty realistic tone the film embraces. I’ve never considered the Riddler a terrifying villain… until now.
I haven’t touched on Andy Serkis’s portrayal of Alfred, and all I have to say is he’s fine. The fatherly warmth of the character has suddenly been sucked out of every iteration since Michael Caine, opting for a more tough as nails type. Not the Alfred I prefer honestly. I will say though, for a moment, I thought they killed him. It would have been a bold move. We’ve never actually seen that in a Batman film. We’ve come close, but never gone there.
While we didn’t get to see the usual swath of Batman gadgets, the Batmobile was honestly enough for me. This iteration may very well be my favorite. While it doesn’t have the size of the Tumbler, it’s equally intimidating. The roar of the engine screams, “test me. I dare you.” The chase scene pursuing the Penguin was just as exciting as the police chase from Batman Begins. Some might say even more so. If have to see it again to be sure. In any case, this might be my favorite Batmobile but only thing will tell.
Prior to the film’s release, selections of Michael Giacchino’s score were released online, and my initial reactions were lukewarm. After hearing them within the context of the film, I immediately fell in love with his composition. He brought something wholly unique that doesn’t attempt to replicate or pay homage to previous scores from earlier films. It fits within the Gotham presented and elevates the film to another level. Giacchino is a masterful composer who is a chameleon in the film industry. Seriously, compare his score here to his work on the Incredibles movies, or Dawn and War of the Planet of the Apes, the more recent Star Trek films and even the MCU Spider-man trilogy. Unlike legendary composers like John Williams, Jerry Goldsmith, Danny Elfman and so on, he doesn’t have a signature sound and for that I commend him.
The Batman was a film I wasn’t sure I wanted after seeing DC attempt a cinematic universe, but now am glad we got. In a world where studios clamor to create their own cinematic universes to make billions upon billions of dollars, I have to applaud DC and Warner Bros. for taking chances on unique takes and to hell with connective tissues. Sure, it would be cool to see other DC characters in this universe, but honestly, I don’t really want to see it.