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The Nerd Side Of Life

“The Batman” is Most Beautiful Well-Made Mess [Spoiler-Free Review]

After watching “The Batman,” I spent the majority of my night in a constant state of unrest, trying to capture all my thoughts to review the film properly. The problem is, I have gone back and forth between masterpiece and good-but-messy, teetering between the two extremes moment to moment. I believe this will easily be the most polarizing film ever made for the titular character, and that’s before anyone goes after “The Batman” for having Robert Pattinson in it.

Empire Magazine’s cover

On that note, let’s just get that ridiculous bias out of the way first. Anyone who harbors some unwavering hatred for an actor’s performance in a film 15 years ago needs to see a professional. I’m not saying you have to like him, but holding “Twilight” against Pattinson indefinitely is ridiculous.

Al Pacino is a legendary Hall of Fame-worthy actor who starred in “Jack and Jill.” The idea that one franchise somehow dictates his entire career (especially when he has literally spent the last decade working tirelessly to prove himself as an incredibly versatile actor) is simply unfounded, unfair, and cheating yourself out of incredible cinema. Not to mention, he does a helluva job as a year 2 Batman/Bruce Wayne. So put that baby to bed right now. Trust me, the film has plenty of problems and none of them are Pattinson channeling a sparkling vampire.

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End Rant.

Robert Pattinson, “The Batman,” photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

The Batman” is a spectacle to say the least; a masterclass in filmmaking, cinematography and scoring, the film is dazzling in its visual composition and performances. Michael Giacchino’s score is almost a character unto itself, fueling the tension and atmosphere with perfection. Add to that stellar performances all around, and you have one of the best looking and well acted Batman films we’ve had in a while. Which is why it is so frustrating that the entirety of the film almost crumbles under the weight of its own ambition. It wants to be so many things, and pulls on so many threads, and all of them individually are intriguing and interesting.

However, the sprawling narrative paired with the slow burn crime thriller and the unabashed borrowing from other entities in the genre make it hard to place the film in the Batman canon. It all holds itself back from greatness right as its own the cusp of being so. Even as I write that, I want to argue with myself. I want to take it all back and tell you that I loved “The Batman.” And truthfully, a large part of me actually does because there is a LOT to love about it. Reeves clearly has a vision, and I’m completely on board to see more iterations of that vision. I think you can feel my conflict even as you read through this. “The Batman” is a film, a masterpiece of cinema that will stick with you no matter what side of the spectrum you leave the theater on.

Directed by Matt Reeves and written by Reeves and Peter Craig, “The Batman” uses “The Long Halloween” and some of the elements from the Arkham games to compose its overall story. Bruce Wayne has been Batman for two years, and while his city rots he is still young and full of rage, unable to really know who or what he’s actually suppose to be. As a new serial killer in Gotham emerges calling himself the Riddler, Batman is forced to reckon with not only his place in the world but also how deep the corruption and seedy underground actually goes. What transpires is a game of cat and mouse via crime thriller procedurals, with strong elements of “Saw” and “Se7en” permeating the story as it the mystery unfolds and time begins running out.

“The Batman” Warner Bros. Pictures

I’ve said there’s a lot to love and I mean that. So calling this a mess isn’t as much of an insult as it reads. Let’s unpack that a little bit first before we get into the good of the film, as there’s much more there than here. Most of my issues with “The Batman” all stem from the narrative. I already mentioned that the film is sprawling storytelling wise, and I can’t stress enough how deep the rabbit hole goes here. For such a slow burn thriller, with a lot of people standing around in dark rooms over crime scenes, it is astounding how many subplots Reeve’s tries to cram in here. And it is inextricably tied to things like “Se7en” and “Saw,” with the Riddler feeling like a strange hybrid of Jon Doe and Jigsaw. That’s not a knock on his performance by any means (which we will talk about in the good), just that it continuously feels like Reeves watched both of those movies and said, “You know what these need? BATMAN!” And then literally did it here.

And none of that is necessarily bad, just that “The Batman” also borrows heavily from previous batman entries which results in kind of cacophony of ideas all forced together into one long film. Correction: one VERY long film. Fans hoping for an action packed thrill ride are going to be extremely disappointed. That is not what this is, AT ALL. This is detective David Mills Batman, and the film primarily focuses on solving the criminal conspiracy above beating the shit out of thugs in the shadows. Don’t get me wrong, that most certainly happens, but it is very important that you go into it expecting a crime drama and not a superhero action flick. That’s not to say it doesn’t work, just that “The Batman” really struggles to match the identity of the visuals and performances with the story at hand. It all works, it just doesn’t all work together.

The Batman (2022) Robert Pattinson and Matt Reeves on set. Photo by Jonathan Olley/Warner Bros.

Reeves is a competent director, one who excels with incredible visually storytelling and getting the most out of everyone on screen. But the ambition here is what really holds “The Batman” back from greatness. The desire to do everything all at once nearly overshadows all of the great, individual things the film is comprised of. This is a lot, and for all its slow paced brooding and dark alleys and dirty, gritty crime scenes, it is narratively overwhelming at times. Despite very little happening as far as actual visual action, there is always something going on and the story never, ever stops. This isn’t always a problem if it a bit more concise and everything seeks to move the main story along. But “The Batman” feels incredibly disjointed, constantly bouncing back and forth between subplot to subplot, and I’m not entirely convinced that the reveal of how it’s all connected is the lynchpin Reeves was hoping it to be. It is a ton of great ideas that never come together to make a complete, meaningful film.

That being said, “The Batman” sports on of the best Gothams I’ve ever seen on film. The city feels lived in and real, and its lack of definitive inspiration and time stamp makes it feel darker and grittier that it’s ever been. Additionally, the visuals and atmosphere are absolutely stunning and brutal, with Reeves utilizing every film trick in the book to create a consistent, haunting atmosphere. While I did make a negative comparison to “Se7en,” the positive is that it recreates some of those classic visuals to damn near perfection. It serves the film’s overall tone really well, and adds a unique layer to an already well established character. There is real brutality and darkness here, and everything that happens only seeks to serve that and it works. “The Batman” opting for detective work over action is a smart take too, even if it gets a little lost along the way. We rarely see a young Batman, and even more rare do we see Batman actually trying to solve crimes. It is wholly refreshing to watch him work things out and utilize his own mind and friends to try unravel the dark, gritty mysteries.

And he’s not perfect, either. Not yet anyway. This is truly a young Batman/Bruce Wayne, a boy becoming a man who hasn’t quite figured it all out yet. The decision to use The Riddler in this space is a smart move, because this Batman can be and does get outsmarted. Pattinson portrays the capped crusader as a young man full of unprocessed trauma, who has yet to understand why he truly does what he does and who he is truly is. More than every, Pattinson gives us the truth: Bruce Wayne is the mask. We’ve seen this concept before, but Pattinson brings this to life onscreen in a way no one else has. Of course young Bruce Wayne is a dick and a recluse. Of course he doesn’t trust anyone even when those people are just trying to help. Of course his Batman is brutal and unrestrained and unidentified. I am here to tell you that Pattinson fucking nails it. I don’t know that I can confidently say he’s the best Batman, but he makes a strong case to be ONE of the best to date. And I don’t say that lightly.

While Pattinson is giving it his all in “The Batman,” so is everyone else. The cast and performances are enough to almost completely overshadow my narrative complaints. There isn’t a single cast member that slacks here. Jeffrey Wright’s Gordon is a bad ass, who proves that he is a competent police detective and a partner, not a pawn to Batman. He’s bit every man, but Wright brings his tried and true gravitas to a sometimes thankless role. Zoë Kravitz as Catwoman continues her incredible run as an amazing actress. She is the most independent Selina Kyle we’ve seen so far, and her chemistry with Pattinson and their relationship is the perfect pairing since Tim Burton’sBatman Returns” and the “Batman: The Animated Series.” It perfectly captures the dynamic and complexity of their relationship, and “The Batman” never paints them with a broad, punctuated “this has to happen because” brush, allowing all the nuances of the on again off again diverging paths to take shape organically.

Paul Dano’s Riddler is terrifying, and embodies our worst fears of recent radicalization among fringe groups (Which he absolutely uses to his advantage, controversially I’m sure). Dano’s electric weirdness is allowed to run unencumbered, and he transforms the Riddler into a formidable foe for anyone, including Batman. While he looks stupid and I will never, ever get over how dumb his costume looks, “The Batman” is the first time I have ever thought of the Riddler as being a real person that could exist in a real city. Though a staple of the rogue gallery, he’s always been kind of laughable to me as an actually villain, and a majority of adaptations have played him that way. Not here. From the moment he shows up (once you get over how stupid he looks), you are immediately terrified by him and haunted by his actions.

Colin Ferrell as Penguin, “The Batman” Warner Bros. Pictures

And lastly, we come to the unrecognizable Colin Farrell as The Penguin, a man who does not get enough screen time and I still don’t believe is actually him. Farrell disappears into this role in a way I don’t think anyone else ever has, and that’s saying a lot considering every single person is at the top of their game here. I don’t even understand how that’s him. No just the prosthetic transformation, but everything. His body language, his delivery, his presence. Every single bit of his Penguin is transformed, and I found myself trying to find the Farrell under the makeup and simply could not. It is, dare I say, one of the best performances of the year, and if Reeves wants to make a sequel and insert Penguin back in, I’ll buy my ticket right now.

Overall, “The Batman” has a lot of great ideas, and most of them work. The characters are meaningful and deep, and everyone is firing on all cylinders. The score is Oscar worthy, and beautifully fuels the atmosphere created by some truly stellar visuals. This is a very different Batman, but one I think we don’t see enough. He is vulnerable and quick tempered. He is smart but not brilliant yet. He is capable but unrestrained and undefined, and it is refreshing to watch him become the hero we know he will be all without the need for an original story retread. For all my narrative misgivings, I have to give Reeves credit for creating a different way to introduce us to the character. He never gives us a prologue; the whole film from start to finish is an original story. And for that much, it works and achieves what it set out to do.

“The Batman” Warner Bros. Pictures

The Batman” struggles with its overall narrative composition and its length. I’m not one to complain about long movies often when the story necessitates it, but I’m not sure it does here. There is just too much going that never quite matches with the overall tone that is being set, and this constant conflict holds the film back from being as great as it can be. I truly believe that this is going to be one of those films where the critics love it and audiences are mixed on it. It has all of the makings of masterful filmmaking, but that seldom resonates with general audiences, and I can’t image the majority of casual or even die hard Batman fans clamoring for an introspective, morally ambiguous, philosophical commentary of crime, radicalization, corruption and vigilantism. All of that is baked into the longstanding lore of Batman, but “The Batman” hinges its entire premise and narrative on all of these concepts. For that I think it will be refreshing for some and a deterrent for others.

On a final note, I don’t ever want to see the Waynes die onscreen again. “The Batman” proves you don’t need it, you never have, and I think its time to permanently table the pearls and popcorn. I am literally going to give “The Batman” an extra star simply because Reeves never once shows them die and starts the story where we’ve always wanted it to begin. I need this moving to make a gazillion dollars for two reasons: more Farrell Penguin, and Warner Bros. Pictures getting the message loud and clear to stop killing the goddamn Waynes.

Paul Dano as Riddler, “The Batman.” Photo by Jonathan Olley Caption: PAUL DANO as Edward Nashton/the Riddler in Warner Bros. Pictures’ action adventure “THE BATMAN,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release.

The Batman” is a good film foiled by an all too ambitious narrative, which holds it back from greatness. It is packed with potential, and executes on almost all of it, but where it fails really hurts the films and puts more in the middle of the road than over the top magnificence. I recommend to see it, but implore you to set the right expectations for what kind of experience you’re going to get here. That’s really important, and going in with the wrong ones will only highlight the films missteps.

Oh, 4DX can get bent. I paid to see a movie, not try to drink water on a rollercoaster. It’s not immersion if I need a seat belt to watch a car chase. No thank you.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

The Batman” is in theaters March 4th. You can watch the trailer below.

70%
Masterful but Messy
  • Solid
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