By: Sam Bennett
The Batman was directed by Matt Reeves and stars Robert Pattinson as the movie’s namesake in this latest rendition of the caped crusader. The film follows a Batman that has only been on the job for two years and still is struggling to find out who he needs to be for Gotham. But, as a new enemy presents itself in the form of the Riddler, a zodiac-killer esque villain who is murdering the city’s most important people and leaving ciphers behind as clues leading to his next actions, Batman is forced to confront a variety of different foes, perhaps none more difficult than his own demons.
There really isn’t anywhere to begin with this film other than its outstanding cinematography and production design. When it comes to crafting Gotham, Reeves and his crew are able to create a city that not only feels real and lived in, but one that feels absolutely horrible, disgusting, a place that nobody would want to live in. Everything looks like it has a layer of grime over it, the lighting only enhancing that feeling. Purely with visuals, the movie is able to make the audience feel that this is a place that needs someone like Batman to help fix it. Another amazing part of the cinematography that has to be discussed is the use of darkness. In one of the first scenes in the movie, Pattinson delivers an internal monologue about how Batman puts fear into the criminals of Gotham, and this is shown visually by criminals looking into dark areas that Batman may be in, and running in fear. And scenes in which he comes out of the shadows are even more satisfying, as for the first time there is a film Batman that really seems to embrace that darkness, both visually and character-wise, which I’ll get into later. Not only does darkness work with Batman, but the first time we see Riddler he is in the darkness until he is barely illuminated, and we see his outline standing behind an unsuspecting character, giving the audience a sense of dread and fear as to what is about to happen. Along with these points, there are countless other scenes that just look fantastic and use lighting and angles in ways that enhance the film. Along with Dune, which features the same cinematographer Greig Fraiser, it’s refreshing to see that some big movies are going away from the idea that just because it’s a blockbuster, a movie can’t be stylistic and have more visually than just a grayscale and CGI. This is definitively the best superhero movie from a cinematography standpoint in recent years, and maybe ever.
Similar to the visuals, the use of sound in this movie was far superior to your average superhero flick. The original score by Michael Giacchino is absolutely haunting and intense. The harsh piano, the eeriness of the strings, and the almost angelic female vocals deliver a certain atmosphere to Gotham that contributes, along with the visuals, to the feeling that you’re never really at ease, something is going to go wrong. It may be early, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see this score either win or at least be nominated for an Oscar at next year’s academy awards. This is brought to the forefront most when you don’t see Batman at all, but hear him. Before he leaves the shadows, his footsteps are audible. As he is beating the goons he faces to a pulp, the impact of his punches, though often offscreen, feel brutal as we hear the impact of each blow.
Story and Characters
Moving onto the meat of the movie, the plot, this film does a lot right, but it also does a lot wrong in my opinion. Starting with the good, the Riddler is tremendous. Not only the creepiness and greatness of the scenes he is in but the whole plot around him, the mysteries that Batman and Jim Gordon have to solve. He feels like a completely realistic and terrifying serial killer, not because of his physical strength like a character such as Bane, but through the fact that he feels like a character that is invincible and unstoppable due to his intelligence. He’s a character that gives off the sense that he could do anything, kill anyone he so desires, and barely has to lift a finger to do so. The next great part of the story itself is Robert Pattinson’s Batman. First, I want to get out of the way that I’m not going to declare him “the best Batman” or “superior to Christian Bale’s Batman” because he is a completely different character. In this universe, Bruce Wayne is completely isolated, not the billionaire that is throwing lavish parties and flaunting his wealth. And that works extremely well for this version of the character. He is brooding and angry and dark even when he is not in the costume. In fact, there isn’t really a point where Batman ends and Bruce Wayne begins, they kind of just feel like the same exact guy, which, again, works for this rendition of the character. That being said, it is refreshing to see a Batman that cares just as much about preserving life as stopping crime, something that has been mostly or completely absent from almost all cinematic versions of the character. Batman’s internal conflict in this movie is very interesting and unexpected as well, as this one takes certain characters in different directions than what is normally seen, causing Bruce Wayne to question himself and his ideals. Other very good characters include Jim Gordon, who seems like more of a partner to Batman than ever before, and Catwoman, who plays her part as a gray character perfectly, being against the darkness in Gotham but also is somewhat selfish and impulsive, things that lead her to making decisions that are morally toeing the line. And while there are many other characters that I would consider solid, this is where the main problem of the film comes into play. There is simply too much going on. I haven’t even mentioned Penguin and Carmine Falcone, two of the other main villains of the story and have parts of the plot of their own, along with Alfred, who, I think was one of the most interesting characters and was the real heart of the movie, and could have been even better if he had been given more screen time and interactions with Bruce Wayne. This contributed, along with some unnecessary and drawn-out scenes, to the film’s rather poor pacing. This is a three-hour movie that really felt like it. There were times during the movie where I caught myself thinking, “So this has to be over soon right?” And I think that that is one of the biggest sins that a movie can have. If the film had just cut out a few of the plot points, maybe focused just on the Riddler and Bruce Wayne/Batman’s relationships with Jim Gordon and Alfred, and his growth as he tries to become what the city needs, I think the film would have felt a lot more focused and would have been all the better for it. A two and a half hour movie that doesn’t feel all over the place will always be better and more impressive than a flawed three-hour experience. Additionally, this could have let Catwoman and the mob be more of a focus for the next movie, giving Batman a reason to question what he learned in this one and further developing his character.
Conclusion and Rating
Before I end this review, I would be remiss not to mention how great Robert Pattinson is in this role. Those who have followed his work over the past few years probably aren’t surprised by this, most notably with his performance in The Lighthouse in 2019. However, many still remember him as just the actor from the Twilight movies, and it’s refreshing to finally see him “step out of the shadows” of that franchise. Moving onto my final rating, technically, this film is absolutely marvelous. If I were rating the visuals and sound, it would be pretty much perfect. However, the poor pacing, overcrowding of characters and plot threads, and underutilization of certain characters force me to bring my score down from one that could have rivaled The Dark Knight and stood as one of the greatest superhero movies of all time.