The Batman is an entirely overlong and overextended affair, but otherwise delivers gorgeous imagery, thoughtful mythos, and playfully brooding emo inflection.
The Dark Knight is moodier than ever in The Batman, which is really saying something. Director Matt Reeves’ new iteration of the superhero (here played by Robert Pattinson) finds the brooding, anguished young man only two years into his campaign of vengeance, and he’s saddled with a case of PTSD and anger management issues. When Bruce Wayne isn’t wearing a costume and pounding the crap out of Gotham City’s criminal element, he rides around on his motorcycle, listens to Nirvana, and keeps a journal. Far from Christopher Nolan’s iconic, glossy treatises on the ethics and semiotics of Batman, this is an altogether emo affair, ultimately the movie version of that “men will literally X instead of going to therapy” meme. Meanwhile, elsewhere in the metropolis, someone calling themselves The Riddler (Paul Dano) is elaborately murdering the city’s power elite and leaving behind mysterious puzzles addressed the Caped Crusader. It’s safe to say, this version of the character is a far cry from Jim Carrey’s irritating prankster. Indeed, the sections of the movie devoted to him crib heavily from the Fincher oeuvre, specifically Seven and Fight Club and, of course, Zodiac, with Riddler making grave pronouncements on social media and dropping cipher codes.
Around this new Batman narrative, Reeves fills his placid frames with darkness and monochromatic reds, blues, and greens, and when he does opt to move the camera, it’s with some impressive deliberation. This Batman operates best when nobody can see him, and that leads to an abundance of arresting images, like a hallway fight lit entirely by machine gun muzzle flashes. We’re also treated to some exciting formal gymnastics, like the finale of a terrific mid-movie car chase that sees the camera flip upside down — if nothing else, it’s a distinctly terrific looking movie. Also welcome here is a bit of downright eroticism with the addition of Catwoman, Selina Kyle (Zoe Kravitz), who’s in possession of her own agenda but still finds herself strangely attracted to Bats. Their relationship is tentative, but they’re nonetheless drawn to each other, and their scenes together have the closest thing to real sexual chemistry that’s existed in one of these movies since Burton’s Batman Returns, which until now has been maybe the last (and certainly the best) time any of these characters were portrayed as haunted but violent, emotionally driven psychotics.
Unfortunately, the whole thing is simply too damn long. Stretching to nearly three hours, The Batman bogs down in a monotonous, predictable plot. It probably won’t surprise anyone to hear that the villain is a would-be mastermind tying together corrupt politicians, law enforcement, and organized crime, or that his ultimate plan is going to escalate into cataclysmic violence. Batman is meant to be a great detective, but most of his actual detecting here is just standing around explaining things to people while poor Jeffery Wright (as not-yet-Commissioner Gordon) looks bewildered. Despite this overextended runtime, the whole enterprise is nonetheless engrossing, and makes nearly uniformly excellent aesthetic and tonal choices. Still, it’s all caught straining under the weight of serving so many characters — why exactly is Colin Farrell here, unrecognizable under prosthetics as The Penguin? Right, it’s to set up a streaming show — and picking its way through a perfunctory story. Ultimately, it’s hard not to long for the looniness and breakneck pace of The Dark Knight Rises, even while The Batman is its own, mostly very effective, strain of gorgeous and thoughtful blockbuster filmmaking.