There’s a lot to love about Matt Reeves’ take on The Batman.
The character’s introduction is one of the best onscreen portrayals of him yet, as we see how two years of dwelling in the shadows has bred fear into the criminals of Gotham, with some chilling shots of them staring into dark alleyways, fearful of what will emerge. And there is a fresh arc to the Batman’s role in Gotham, evident by the end of the film, a take on the character we haven’t really seen highlighted for some time. Gratifyingly, it’s an arc earned both plot-wise and emotionally.
His relationship with Jeffrey Wright’s excellent Jim Gordon (though really, when isn’t Wright excellent…!?) is a highlight, though doesn’t pay off as satisfyingly as we might expect. Perhaps they’re saving that for the inevitable (and bluntly teased) sequels.
And finally, after decades of being ignored in the various cinematic versions of Batman, ‘the World’s Greatest Detective’ (as he’s known in comic books) takes to the screen, and very welcome he is (albeit set against a typically convoluted film noir plot).
Noir is a major touchstone here, and Jake Gittes would be at home in Reeves’ Gotham as much as he was in Polanski’s Chinatown (I almost expected someone to pull Gordon aside and say “Forget it, Jim, it’s Gotham”).
The other influences are strong: Scorsese’s Taxi Driver weighs heavily on Pattinson’s Batman/Wayne, and Fincher’s Se7en and Zodiac loom close at hand in numerous ways, while the dynamic between Selina Kyle/Catwoman and Batman here could easily be traced back to Sutherland and Fonda’s in Pakula’s Klute. Meanwhile, comic book series such as Batman: Year One and The Long Halloween also make their presences keenly felt (Zoe Kravitz’s winning take on Kyle/Catwoman has its DNA placed firmly in the former).
These textures make for a far more refreshing version of the character than I was expecting, and while the distinctly non-frenetic pace is to be applauded, a tighter edit could easily have trimmed fifteen to twenty minutes from the bloated three hour running time without any detraction from the overall film.
While Robert Pattinson’s Bruce Wayne occasionally veers a little too close to being a moody emo boy under his floppy locks, he nevertheless brings a fine vulnerability to the role, gifting the character with liberal (*cough*) doses of white guilt and a couple of touching revelatory moments for both of his alter-egos. Happily, the actor/director/studio choice not to make Wayne growl absurdly as Batman pays dividends, as that has been too much of a diversion in recent iterations of the character.
The film’s main villain never feels quite as present or chilling as he should be. Despite some truly grisly crimes he tends to get a little lost in the story’s mass of convolutions, and his final confrontation with Batman ultimately suffers when compared to, and yes, that is an elephant in the room, Ledger’s Joker. Indeed, The Batman is unable to escape from the long shadows cast by the far-too-recent Nolan Dark Knight Trilogy (or, to a far lesser extent, the Snyder Batfleck efforts), and perhaps expects audiences to have moved on too quickly from that cultural juggernaut. It’s a sure bet that Reeves’ outing with the Caped Crusader would have felt fresher with a little more distance from those films.
Having said that, Reeves should be applauded for his almost stoic anti-blockbuster approach, deftly juggling elements of noir, horror, and mystery, for resolutely refusing to spoon fed audiences yet another version of the Batman origin story, and for leaving the character in a place that bodes well for his next outing.
Though maybe next time Reeves could bring some sharper scissors to the edit suite.