By Mark Ziobro | Managing Editor
With the sheer legendary status that Christopher Nolan garnered from his “Dark Knight” trilogy, it’s often hard to think of Batman in a new light. Part of that lies, of course, in the pure method performance the late Heath Ledger placed into the role of ‘Joker.’
But since then we’ve seen several iterations of the Caped Crusader starring Ben Affleck, as well as several renditions starring different Jokers. It was time for a change. And with the March release of Director Matt Reeves’ “The Batman,” we’re confronted with a narrative and picture that creates a new experience, and that’s decidedly a good thing.
Probably what is most convincing about “The Batman”—and there’s a lot good to mention—is that it tries to feel like a comic book, dark, dreary, and episodic. We’re dealing with a young Batman (Pattinson plays a Bruce Wayne that has only been doing this for two years; he’s still new), and a city as rife with crime as any other iteration.
This time, though, we’re treated to a Gotham City that truly opens up to us and feels lived in, as well as a pace that—while slow—allows us to wade alongside Batman in its murk.
What’s different this time around is the film is shot mostly from The Batman’s point of view, and as such Bruce Wayne becomes the enigma, not the other way around as other films have done. Pattinson is adept in the role; he narrates morosely and without emotion. It’s a true representation of Batman from the comics, despite his critics that wrongly accuse he can’t act.
Batman is also more procedural than in previous movies. He utilizes less gadgets than in other “Batman” films, and works closely with Lieutenant Gordon (a good Jeffery Wright) to actually help solve crimes. The rest of the police force doesn’t trust him, and maybe neither does Gotham. But there’s one really well put-together scene towards the film’s end as he leads a rescue party that is one of the film’s best.
A “Batman” film wouldn’t be complete without villains; but what “The Batman” does well is limits them and uses them wisely. For instance, we have The Penguin (played well by an unrecognizable Colin Farrell), and The Riddler (played to perfection by Paul Dano). But unlike other “Batman” films, the film doesn’t link them. The Riddler is a sadistic serial killer who is murdering several politicians and Gotham higher-ups, while The Penguin is really just a mob goon who’s plugged in to the city’s criminal underbelly.
A large crux of the film is devoted to a) The Batman stalking the streets at night, looking for clues as to The Riddler’s whereabouts and deciphering his clues and b) the escapades of Catwoman (Zoë Kravitz), a seeming ally The Batman has made. Reeves puts a lot of effort into showing their camaraderie, and even though there is an attraction possibly bubbling at the surface, “The Batman” never rises out of its grimy, Gotham-esque atmosphere to really explore it—to its benefit.
The cast performs well here. My favorites had to be the aforementioned Farrell, Pattinson, Kravitz, and Dano; but we also see a great Andy Serkis playing Wayne butler Alfred, as well as Peter Sarsgaard (playing a D.A.) and John Turturro (playing a mob boss). They all grasp the tone of Reeves direction and the screenplay by Reeves and Peter Craig, and never do anything to betray it.
Being a crime film at heart, there is of course violence, and at times “The Batman” can be pretty brutal, especially with the Dark Knight’s hand-to-hand combat. And while early leaks showed that some of the The Riddler’s M.O. was to be very “Saw” inspired, I was relieved to see his killings weren’t overly barbaric, nor desperate or stomach-turning. Reeves and company handles everything with class, and it shows.
“The Batman” is not without fault, but its sole transgression is that it runs much too long at 2 hours and 56 mins. Yes, there’s a clear story to tell, but a trip to the editing room and shaving about 25 mins would have benefited the film. Though, it’s hard to see where Reeves could have done that, as the film is very thorough in its approach.
At the end of the day, “The Batman” is a solid film. It takes previous renditions and darkens them down, and makes its Gotham City feel like a place you could know. It’s crisply filmed and patiently paced. This truly feels, at times, as the sensation of reading a graphic novel. Reeves’ film is one that is fun to experience, and one that’s fun to wade through along with these characters. A bit of a trim and it might have been perfect; but as it stands, “The Batman” will entertain the casual movie-goer and should please die-hard fans as well.