Fincher has finally infected the superhero genre. This alone feels like an object of rejoicing; the same way “Joker” copped to Scorsese, “Batman” now has a legend of his own to imitate. Coming in way over-long (have editors become a casualty of the pandemic?) and dark bordering on dreary, Matt Reeves “The Batman” aims to be taken seriously and won’t have it any other way.
Look at Robert Pattinson for example. The dude refuses to smile or do anything but brood for most of the film. As Batman, he’s both consumed with and utterly devastated by the act of superheroing and as Bruce Wayne, he’s terribly reclusive and looks like he needs a drink, or 12. Is Batman making a difference? This question will tantalize fans. For me I wondered if this would be the first film where Batman slits his wrists.
This Batman is the product of parents who were savagely beaten to death- he lurks through the shadows now, his voiceover narration a guttural whisper of exasperation that he’s unable to be everywhere in a city that’s a cesspool of crime. And these are just early days- the bat signal is in its infancy and Gordon (Jeffrey Wright) is not even Commissioner yet.
He is called in to investigate the murder of the city’s Mayor- the crime scene a Fincher extravaganza of dim lighting and ritualistic death meant to prove a point. The murderer has left a cypher to solve and soon we learn the murder involves the mob, its right hand man The Penguin (Colin Farrell) and slinky cat burglar Selina Kyle (Zoe Kravitz).
I hate to make it sound like “The Batman” is a dirge because it’s not. Reeves still makes Gotham feel like a city whose very soul is teetering between goodness and anarchy and the rain, darkness and the grime add texture and there’s a great car chase featuring all three. And speaking of cars, the introduction of the Batmobile is a great thrill.
Another fun aspect is Colin Farrell; covered with latex flab and pockmarks, his Penguin harkens back to the old comic strip Dick Tracy villains while the gravel-tough delivery (and again the make-up job) reminded me a bit of DeNiro in the later stages of “Raging Bull”. It’s an interpretation of the character with some edge and I hope we haven’t seen the last of it.
Unfortunately he’s not the main villain, that would be Paul Dano’s Riddler- here made into an incel who hates lying politicians. Reeves tries to make a correlation between Batman’s vigilantism and Riddler’s “capital-rioting”, for lack of a better word, but it doesn’t stick- Dano plays him as too much of an overblown fringe psycho to ever make us think Batman is a danger of falling prey to the same element.
Kravitz is another problem, though much less of one. She looks nice in black leather and has her own little origin story of sadness and vengeance but together all those feelings seem to overcome her and Batman- if Reeves is trying to hint at something sexual, which I believe he is, it’s never anything more than tepid.
And I hate to pull the comparison card out but this movie’s snail-like pace and its said delusions of grandeur leave a lot of time to think. There’s no performance here that really stands out, no psychological nuances like what Nolan and Fincher do so well, no connection between hero and villain, no introspection between the thin line between hero and villain, and no real deep dives into the nature of psychopathy. And that we get none of the zaniness that Burton brought to his series should go without saying. The result is far less fun or interesting than a movie like this really should be.
That’s the problem with trying to take on a beloved character or imitate a beloved master- we know those characters and movies by heart and can also easily figure out what the imitator is missing. Unfortunately for Reeves it’s a bit too much.
His film takes on political corruption and centers around the Detective noir; there’s some reference to Bruce’s family in the past- but mostly this feels like an overlong episode of “Gotham” or “CSI” whereas I’m wondering why it such a meager entry as far as Batman storytelling goes. It works up to a point but mostly this feels like lesser Batman, lesser Fincher, and considering the wonderful “Planet of the Apes” films that came before it, also lesser Reeves.
Rating: 6 out of 10