Over the past decade and a half, Matt Reeves proved he isn’t exactly no stranger when it comes to meddling with original properties, or if not just that, one occasionally experimenting with genre such as in his feature-length directorial comeback Cloverfield (2008) where the redux-effect of Steven Spielberg’s War of the Worlds (2005) and the extortionate glut of the found-footage era hits audiences familiarly, yet in that same space, differently from its intense reconstruction of their formulas. His (allegedly) bloody Let the Right One In (2008) American interpretation and Planet of the Apes “prequel sequels” (2014-2017) are undoubtedly where we do see that reboot-fueled perimeter of his craft though, and after the acclaimed success of those surprisingly weighty mo-cap chimp dramas in particular, it’s not too surprising to see him at the head of possibly the biggest superhero property yet. If anything can be verified of Reeves as of now, it’s that he’s one of the better Hollywood blockbuster directors working today, as what usually comes attached to someone with a crystal clear passion for intimate storytelling that ironically doesn’t abide entirely to its genre’s now outrageous necessities as seen in so much of what comes out from the market today.
I had “recency bias” issues in 2019 regarding when I first saw Todd Phillip’s Joker and gave it a positive score, and have now, however, succumb to being polarized by its content. Suffice it to say, I get a little too hyped up for any sort of live-action Batman property, and I’ll fair-warn all reading as of now that there is a chance this “bias” may be masked as of reviewing, because I must confess: I liked The Batman.
If Tim Burton’s Batmans were the epitome of the delusional fantasies one could extract from both Gotham’s absurd heroes and villains for which they miserably haunt over together, and if Nolan’s were to show the pushing point of no return for Gotham’s public mania through uncanny noir realism, then Matt Reeves’ are looking to be the b-rate versions of investigative David Fincher thrillers that are, however, set on the streets of a comparable noir and delusion-driven Gotham City, making them marginally more entertaining and rewarding of a watch than they would be otherwise in an environment less personal to us. Although, The Batman isn’t necessarily trying to break a lot of ground for the noir it takes from outside of the obvious that it’s now placed in the current superhero scene — if anything it’s trivializing the best of its capabilities minus its ambitions to at least attempt modern social / political climate parallels — but it is well put together enough to please people looking for elaboration to the live-action Batman mythos. If you ever want to test whether a mystery was truly spectacular or not, then the one-time watch shouldn’t feel like it was enough, and should therefore make you want to watch the movie again knowing the answers so that you can spot out all the neat clues, but Reeves and Peter Craig’s hints are pretty undemanding when glancing back from memory, and it doesn’t draw me personally with a dying need to see the film again anytime soon.
The action in The Batman may be set to a significantly lower pulse compared to your average superhero spectacle-fest, but there’s no question that when we do get action it’s usually great. The car chase sequence in particular is such a uniquely conceptualized use of minimal shot space and undoubtedly riveting if you can look past how insanely destructive it ends up being after suspending the disbelief that Bruce wouldn’t give a hoot about all those risk factors — although, one could tie that into his ego-driven ignorance as this obsessive early-stage Batman. Reeves also, as always, includes touching poetic moments to reconcile some humanity for the picture; one moving scene in particular made up for the third act climax it’s in, which was the flimsiest piece to this whole puzzle. Reeves knack really shines though from the tension he builds within The Riddler’s terroristic murders — that Kahoot live scene went harder than any moment from Spiral: The Book of Saw (2021), I can tell you that much.
As of now, Robert Pattinson is a compelling Bruce Wayne whether you like why that is or not; the entire movie has ambitions to prove that he isn’t wisely going about this caped crusader business by choosing one life over the other — The Bat to The Bruce. He’s still flopping (literally) a bit in this initial era of his vigilante career, and yet, this entirely new and refreshing addition to his life’s purpose seems to be something he’s bathing in with blissful ignorance like a game of lashing out more so than reinforcing it cautiously with also the power that his billionaire presence can have on the city of Gotham. You could even argue that this carelessness is what’s inspiring mayhem amongst Gotham’s spectators rather than mending them with the security they need.
What really ended up being my favorite element in the entire film though was the slow-burn of The Riddler’s intricate nature and the hike of learning that he is not as all-knowing as he sets out to be; we witness his own hypocrisies as he unconsciously gets parts of his banking “narrative” wrong; the tape-faced renegade seems representative of the radical clique from the poor of Gotham that assumes all immoral actions as only having one possible inception of equitable immorality, and in the ever-growing online cancel culture of today where people love to act *anonymously* as the morally authoritative and superior figures of society, it feels freakishly relevant — unlike Phillip’s Joker (set in the 80s…) which tries to accomplish something similar by having a man start killing people to simply say: “hey! That’ll happen cause of corruption: death!” and it’s essentially left at that degree of elaboration besides if you’ve seen The Batman already and know how DEAD similar that one reveal in the Riddler’s plan is to a plot point in Joker, and I must give Phillip’s credit for introducing it to the live-action outlet first howbeit. On the plus side, The Riddler’s interrogation scene in The Batman (as seen in the trailers) almost feels like a callback to The Dark Knight (2008) regarding the reason it comes up in the first place, and Paul Dano’s socially capricious presence and facial gestures alone are enough to make you as uncomfortable as you probably were in any given scene from Ari Aster’s Midsommar (2019).
Zoe Kravitz’s Catwoman serves as the premeditated antagonist of the story, essentially channeling The Riddler before “The Riddler” vibes, but really that’s there to give Batman a mind to tussle with and save in his eyes as per their usual relationship amidst the Batman lore. It was charming to see Commissioner Gordon and Batman so hand in hand, giving us slivers of that The Nice Guys (2016) comedic yet genuine electricity to grant the film considerable levity. Oh yeah, and Colin Farrell as the Penguin? What a solid visual take on the character so far that isn’t just some prosthetic gimmick for clout; there’s undoubtedly potential for his brief interpretation to sprout triumphantly in the hopefully near future of this saga.
Evidently, almost everything here is what we’ve come to expect from a live-action adaptation whether it be found in Bruce’s revelations or look at capital corruption; it just has one moderately huge microscope hovering over it this time and a modern-day mindset to help warrant it. Like Joker, The Batman wants to show us examples of the outrageously privileged rich causing the poor to combat corruption via anti-villain mayhem, but this time through heavy narration and intricately established or momentarily hidden crime connections / social hierarchies that create a picture wide and clear for the audience unlike Phillip’s misguided ambiguity. Maybe once the Marvel Cinematic Universe juice runs out, it‘ll be time to expect some more noir appropriations that the still dominating superhero genre will take the form of from there on forward.
“The Batman” will be released in theaters March 4th.