We have a Batman problem on this website and talk/write about it way too much. Obviously, we were going to do some stuff for this one.
Some highlights from previous writings on Batman flicks:
10 Hopes and Fears for The Batman (follow-up coming soon!)
Now, onto today’s feature.
1. To what extent is The Batman a fresh enough take to warrant yet another Batman reboot?
Mike: Despite me being neither passionately positive or passionately negative about the film, I do actually think the film is unique enough to warrant being made. There is no doubt that superheroes in general and Batman (and Spider-Man) in particular are taking up way too much of the oxygen in the world of Hollywood right now. One thing that seems to be happening more often with Batman though compared to many other favorite heroes is that filmmakers with something closer to a distinct vision of filmmaking are the ones making Batman films. The Batman is no different in that regard. Its freshness is in fact perhaps the highlight of the film.
Matt: Absolutely. I have been craving exactly this for years now, as you can hear during episodes of The Tape Crusaders with Mike. The aspect never captured in a (live action) film to date was The World’s Greatest Detective, instead going for the larger than life creature of the night armed with a myriad of gadgets and vehicles. Reeves’ first crack at the character pulls back on both aspects (he never even throws a Batarang!) and goes 110% in on solving mysteries. You still get the required dark alley confrontations and criminals running scared from the Bat Symbol, but you also get the intricate, relentless working of a case. It’s quite literally all this version of Bruce has going on in his life. On top of all that, the film is stuffed full of little flourishes that indicate Reeves’ earnest comic fandom. It’s both Big Boy filmmaking AND For the Nerds.
Ben: It’s hard to say that any take on Batman is ‘fresh’ at this point, but it’s certainly a take I’ve been waiting to see! For a character that debuted in a comic called ‘Detective Comics’ and is frequently referred to as “The World’s Greatest Detective”, live-action Batman has done remarkably little detective work (outside of that thing with the brick in The Dark Knight). So, The Batman patterning itself after Se7en and Zodiac is certainly a welcome interpretation of the character ⎼ even if not a wholly original one.
2. How did Robert Pattinson do as Bruce Wayne/The Batman?
Mike: As always, playing Batman means playing three characters: Batman, Bruce Wayne in private, and Bruce Wayne in public. One of the fresh things about this film is that it is essentially only interested in Batman. This is possibly the first first entry in a Batman series that fully expects the audience to understand the basics of Batman’s life, mythology, etc. As such, the film essentially spends essentially no time with the public Bruce Wayne and not all that much more with the private Bruce Wayne. Which is good because Pattinson did not really pop off the screen in those parts of the role. He was really compelling though as Batman though, and he did a great job of portraying the physicality of Batman and how ruthless he would have to be to do what he does.
Matt: He’s top two and he ain’t second place. I think that’s a thing people say. Anyway, he’s light years ahead of his predecessors in my opinion, and his legitimate enthusiasm to play the character shines through. As Mike says, there is minimal interest in the other aspects of Bruce’s life, because they don’t exist yet. He has no personal life, and he has yet to see the value in putting on a show for the public. Despite being so sedate and broody, this is the most emotionally engaging Batman performance I’ve seen. He WANTS things. He yearns for them. He aches. That Pattinson is able to convey that while spending 70-80% of his time in the Cape and Cowl is impressive to me. I’m of the opinion that more superhero movies need to be brave and show more of the character they’re making a film about, not the famous person paid a lot of money to play them. We KNOW the mask/helmet is coming off for the third act, it’s just what contrived excuse they find for it this time. Instead, this almost went full-Dredd. I expect that to change next time, and am intrigued to see Pattinson’s take on the playboy billionaire socialite given how overdone that’s become. But what we got here was fantastic, as he is still filled to the brim with rage, but mostly has a lid on it, conducting himself in a methodical manner, really taking his time to slowly walk around and examine a scene. Finally, while I’m not sold on the idea of an Alfred death fakeout for the opening of a presumed trilogy, Bruce tearfully admitting he is terrified of “feeling that way” again was a nice way of poking around at the emotional core of the done-to-death origin story without having to show the damn pearls.
Ben: At the very least, he’s certainly our first hot and horny Batman. Pattinson has always had a weird energy, even in the first Twilight movie (even if it’s sorely missing from the sequels where it’s obvious that he resents his casting), but it’s obvious he’s channelling that into making this Batman more of a performance than any previous actor in the role. This does come at the detriment of his Bruce Wayne performance, but it works for a movie where Bruce has no interest in being himself, and instead puts everything into fighting crime.
3. How did the nearly three-hour duration work out?
Mike: Perfectly fine! The film did not really feel artificially stretched out in any way. The structure of the film honestly most reminded me of what it would be like to watch a serialized three hour television show. I’m sure a second viewing could get me to crack exactly what I mean by that, but essentially The Batman seemed less like a cinematic experience and more like marathoning a very watchable television show.
Matt: It absolutely did not need to be three hours, but the first two and a half of it moved shockingly briskly. I was completely enamoured with everything up until the reveal of Riddler’s final plan, which led to an extended action sequence that felt more by obligation than necessity to me, going WAY bigger than the rest of the movie. In fact I had a comment in my head about how intimate it was by comparison to what we’d seen before, with nobody having any interest in taking over/blowing up Gotham, but then all those vans exploded and I went ‘lol, nevermind’. I would have preferred the movie simply ended with Riddler’s capture and to really drive home that point that he saw them as partners, to Batman’s horror. That obviously means you need a more exciting capture instead of him giving himself up, and you lose the genuinely nice sequence with him rescuing people at the end, triggering his realisation he needs to become the symbol previous movies were more interested in. I’m on record as hating long movies, so I’m sure those that know that about me will roll their eyes at my comments, but I genuinely felt let down by that final section, and would have preferred that didn’t exist, even if it meant having an identical run-time.
Ben: Surprisingly breezy. Certainly not as compellingly watchable as Drive My Car ⎼ a movie to which this has no similarities, outside of the runtime ⎼ but in an era of runtime creep, I wasn’t thinking about it until we got to the climax and its multitude of endings. I think there is a better movie that cuts what slight mob and Batman origin story trappings there are here, but ultimately it all ties together thematically and I was never bored.
4. How was Paul Dano as the big bad?
Mike: Part of me was thinking they did not give us enough Riddler, but I think the smarter part of me recognizes this is a really good example of leaving the audience wanting more was a truly great decision. Dano mostly knocked the crucial yet not overwhelming part out of the park. He’s never been a character I have ever been drawn to over the years (except for Frank Gorshin), but the characterization of him was fresh and a genuinely interesting way to make him make sense in a more grounded version of Batman.
Matt: When is Dano not good? Actually to be fair, the other two respondees probably have a better sense of that, but still! It’s obviously a very different take, wearing its Zodiac Killer inspirations on its sleeve and swapping the showmanship for a genuinely disturbing set of grunts, wails and other guttural noises as he goes about his shockingly grim business. He essentially takes over the role of The Holiday Killer in ‘The Long Halloween’, targeting various high profile figures while the heroes try to connect the dots… but with riddles! I had a similar feeling to Mike in that I noticed he had been absent for an extended period of time while Batman was going after Penguin and Falcone, but I don’t think it breaks the movie by any means. Props for finding an excuse for him to show off his singing voice as well.
Ben: Paul Dano has a wild career, where seemingly every few years someone remembers how good he can be and lets him go huge. Considering that for many of his scenes he has no one else to play off, Dano does a great job, but he’s at his best in the first half of the film. The mask is doing a lot of work here, as the Riddler becomes so much less interesting when he’s unveiled as just a guy, but that’s also the point. This movie isn’t shying away from their Riddler being inspired by QAnon, but sadly almost validates the conspiracy mindset by having the Riddler be right. It tries to walk it back by having him be right for the wrong reasons, but in the current polarised political landscape, it doesn’t feel all that well thought through…
5. Catwoman was arguably the main supporting character in the film. How did Zoe Kravitz do in the role and how well was the character handled?
Mike: Zoe Kravitz has a compelling presence but with a limited skill set (at least at this point in time). As such, I was kind of expecting a “less is more” situation with her in this film that I think may have been extraordinarily effective. As such though, I actually think she did quite well here and delivered probably her most impressive performance. She has never had such a big role in such a large scale film, and there was nothing wrong with what she did. At times, it felt like the film made Catwoman a bit more hiss than bite which seems wrong? Also, her being the long-lost daughter of Carmine Falcone felt extremely tossed in there to create artificial stakes in a corner of the film (Falcone) that was by far the least developed and least interesting.
Matt: I had heard some rumblings going in that she was the weak link of the cast, so was pleasantly surprised by her performance. She’s not doing as much capital-A Acting as Anne Hathaway or Michelle Pfeiffer, but nicely walks the line between both Selina Kyle’s sultry and serious sides. She and Pattinson shamelessly want to jump each other (a testament to their talent, given that if you watch interviews with the two, she (rightfully) seems to think he’s a massive dork), and she excels in the undercover scene at 44 Below (loved the line about eye contact). But she also never really hides her growing attachment to Batman, reassuring him everything is okay during the climax of the final action sequence. She manages both without ever straying from the down-to-business devotion to investigating her girlfriend’s murder. I think this is a great starting point to what I hope is a recurring character.
Ben: It certainly helps that they pitch the character right in Kravitz’s wheelhouse. Kravitz has been no stranger to superhero fare, having previously portrayed Catwoman and Mary Jane Watson in animation, and played everyone’s favourite X-Men character, Angel Salvadore in X-Men: First Class. But this is the first time a superhero movie seems interested in utilising her well. There’s a lot to say about the intrinsic sex appeal of casting her against Pattinson, and it’s nice to return to the sensual side of the character after Nolan and Hathaway’s portrayal. But sadly, one of the weaker parts of the movie is Catwoman’s role in the climax, which basically becomes a checkbox for antihero tropes, right down to her saving the hero at the last minute ⎼ despite their apparent conflict over ideals. It doesn’t derail the good work she’s done up to that point, however, it does bring home that The Batman’s climax was not playing to its strengths.
6. How did
Gold Mine Owner Jeffrey Wright do as Jim Gordon?
Mike: He’s fine. The interplay between him and Batman is pretty solid and leads to good humor. He’s a bit too wide-eyed though given at what point this story is existing in the world of Batman. It seems like he should be a bit more cynical about the systems and people around him. I’m not sure if Wright not really popping off the screen here was more deliberate or more just a failure, but either way I found him to be more a non-presence despite how much screen time he is literally present for in the film.
Matt: There is only really one way to play Gordon in this century, and that’s the ‘Year One’ version that Gary Oldman perfectly embodied. Wright’s performance is a little more understated, injecting a touch of naiveté as he seems genuinely shocked at how many corrupt city officials there are in Gotham. I loved how he and Bats come across as buds, with Wright frequently calling him “man”, and investigating crimes together shoulder to shoulder. My favourite moment was them putting on a show for the other cops while formulating an escape. Overall, he’s solid, but there’s room to grow.
Ben: In my opinion, Wright is probably the performance that’s able to differentiate itself away from Nolan or Burton’s movies the most. Gary Oldman embodied a certain interpretation of Gordon incredibly well, so instead The Batman leans in to make this more of a buddy cop dynamic between Batman and Gordon. It works, and some of the little humour in this movie comes from scenes like them whispering to each other in the GCPD. Sadly, putting Gordon into as prominent a position as he has in this film also comes with some pro-cop propaganda (that is almost unavoidable in most Hollywood movies at this point). The movie tries to have its cake and eat it by pointing out how corrupt the GCPD is, before making a hard pivot into a ‘not all cops’ message.
7. Did the film make good use of the rest of the classic Batman characters?
Mike: Farrell does get a good deal of fun to do as The Penguin (though why didn’t they just cast one of a million weird looking middle aged guys as him, I will never accept a justifiable reason for). Alfred is such a non-entity in the film, but in a way that feels positive as this film was much more about Batman than about Bruce. The actual mob stuff with Carmine Falcone felt kind of phoned in and obligatory. Speaking of obligatory, it kind of feels like we really do not need the Joker in this world at least right now. So, I don’t know. On one hand, the one or two villain per film route feels extremely played out in superhero films. On the other hand, the teases here did not leave me aching for more.
Matt: Colin Farrell is having the time of his life as Penguin, leaning into the mobster aspect of the character instead of the more literal freakshow that Burton (and Gotham) made of him. His over the top energy was needed at times, and I’m thrilled he’s still very much in play. I didn’t expect to see Carmine Falcone, but thought John Turturro was good, and it allowed them to invoke more aspects of ‘The Long Halloween’. But if I were looking to chop away at that runtime, I’d look in this direction. I thought Andy Serkis was perfectly fine as Alfred, but Michael Gough’s shadow looms large. He and Pattinson have good chemistry, but his role was much smaller than I expected, so I remain optimistic about him in the future, as he will surely help craft the public version of Bruce Wayne.
Ben: Mob Batman is always my least favourite flavour of Batman, but it’s always a necessary evil in the early days of Batman’s crime fighting career (before the more colourful characters make their appearances). However, John Turturro is about as good as a Falcone as you can hope and makes the most of every scene that he’s in. As for Andy Serkis’ Alfred, he feels a little bit of a wasted opportunity. Hurting Alfred in this movie feels like a lazy shorthand, based on audience knowledge of what the character means to Bruce Wayne, rather than our investment in this interpretation of the character. It’s also cut off at the knees by James Gordon playing a far more central role in this film. Cutting back on Pattinson’s screen time as Bruce Wayne doesn’t help, and just means Batman is leaning more on Catwoman and Gordon than previous iterations. However it’s Colin Farrell’s Penguin that really shines. Near unrecognisable under layers of prosthetics, Farrell has always been a character actor in a leading man’s body. It’s so obvious that he’s having the time of his life in this role, and it’s a shame he really only has the one action set piece to truly call his own. But it’s obvious from how this movie ends that Reeves has big plans for Penguin in the future movies as well as his HBO Max prequel series.
8. We have seen Gotham depicted in a variety of ways over the years, with the two extremes being Tim Burton and Christopher Nolan’s visions. Where does this land on that scale, and how do you feel about it?
Mike: Much like the answer to the first question, I thought this film presented a fresh enough take on the setting to feel unique and justify its existence. The LED screen background shots were fucking hideous though. Just shoot on top of a fucking building.
Matt: I thought it struck a really nice balance between the two. I know some people love the heightened camp factor of Burton’s vision, but for me it was always a touch too far and always felt like a movie set. Reeves’ Gotham is more of a real city, but still enjoys the pathetic fallacy of perpetual rain, the anachronistic gargoyles and is quintessentially dirty, claustrophobic and glowing with neon. It felt like a real location, but not any that we actually know, if that makes sense? I particularly loved that horseshoe street that Bruce speeds around, and the high octane travel across Gotham was one of the many areas where Greig Fraser’s cinematography shone.
Ben: After Burton’s highly stylised take and Nolan just throwing his hands up in the air and making his Gotham into Chicago, it’s nice to see someone make a Gotham that feels like a real place but still has some level of stylisation to it. Obviously, an awful lot of that stylisation comes from Greig Fraser and the way he shoots the city, but the look of Gotham really does fit with the rest of the film’s tone. The amount of rain was perhaps overdoing it, but it certainly complemented the feeling of oppression over the entire course of the movie. Plus it adds an interesting level of foreshadowing into a Gotham that could be so massively affected by flooding in the third act.
9. What would want from sequels to this Batman?
Mike: I think I would want the next film to feel different. After a three-hour, slow burn detective story, let’s have a sequel feel different in some manner. I’m not sure what kind of film I would want it to be perfectly honest. I do however know that one of the best parts of The Batman is that it felt fresh and different. Feeling fresh and different each time out would be the best trend for Batman films going forward.
Matt: Unlike our overall opinion of the movie (looking forward to that podcast recording!), I agree almost entirely with Mike. For as much as I desperately wanted Detective Batman and wouldn’t want to see that go away entirely, the style of the film felt indebted to its villain. I would like to see each film in the presumed trilogy lean into a different genre, if possible. In terms of specifics, we obviously got the eye-rolling Joker cameo. I think Barry Keoghan is a good casting, but my personal preference would have been to hold off on the Murder Clown for a while. To that end, I’m sure he’ll be in the sequel, but I hope they keep him in Arkham until the third part, and he ends up breaking out Riddler and whoever Batman captures next for a grand finale. As mentioned earlier, I hope Catwoman recurs and they end up in the vein of Tom King’s Bat/Cat pairing (that I know a lot of comic fans hate, but I love), and I am curious to see how they carve out a different style of Bruce Wayne, public figure. In terms of next villain up? Why not Court of Owls? Reeves is clearly a fan of Scott Snyder’s run, and it’s by far the most popular new addition to the mythos since Harley Quinn’s creation in the animated series. I’d also like to see Hugo Strange running Arkham, though that seems more likely for the GCPD-focused spin-off. No clue what the Penguin series ends up looking like. I’m unclear if the animated show Reeves is producing is simply going to vaguely match tone, or be treated as ‘in-universe’, but given my weekend posts, I’m obviously excited for that.
Ben: Not the Joker. Much like a certain other overly long DC pandemic movie, the Joker scene is probably the worst thing in this movie. My main reasoning behind this is because it has nothing to do with the movie we’ve just been watching and only exists to feature the character that has somehow become a merchandising icon. But I do hope that the future movies dig into the detective elements and the psychology of Bruce Wayne as a character, rather than falling back on the playboy, lothario version we’ve seen countless times before. In terms of villains? Hugo Strange feels like an untapped well on screen. Calendar Man could be fun, but potentially hews too close to the Riddler in this movie. But they have a good foundation to build off and I just hope we don’t go down the obvious ‘Crown Prince of Crime’ route immediately.
Mike & Matt have reviewed every live action Batman film (and a handful of the animated ones too) for their podcast, The Tape Crusaders.
Matt also presents a weekly column dedicated to Batman the Animated Series, The Matt Signal. Having completed the original run of BTAS, he’s nearing the end of Batman Beyond, with reviews of the final two episodes of the show dropping this weekend. Then it’s on to The Return of the Joker and a dip into the Beyond comics.
Ben & Matt will also be reviving their MCU podcast in the near future to take a look back at Marvel’s 2021 offerings.