Matt Reeves’ The Batman is almost perfect. Visually, it’s stunning. Performance–wise, it hits the nail on the head. Its soundtrack is immaculate and its action scenes are genuinely entertaining to watch. In fact, it falters where you least expect: the storyline. With a runtime of nearly three hours, the film is an over–glorified snoozefest, and it’s a real tragedy considering how much promise it shows.
The detective noir film follows Robert Pattinson’s vengeance–driven Batman as he uncovers clues left by Gotham’s latest serial killer: the Riddler. He finds himself at the center of the mystery and must work with Zoë Kravitz’s Catwoman and Jeffrey Wright’s Jim Gordon to uncover the Riddler's identity.
In the same vein as Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight trilogy, the film adopts a darker, more realistic tone than previous iterations of the franchise; however, The Batman is unable to emulate what made Nolan’s films, Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, and The Dark Knight Rises, such fan favorites. Nolan’s trilogy invested me in the man behind the mask; this film made me forget there was one. Robert Pattison’s Bruce Wayne isn’t the charming, suave alter ego of a man trapped by societal commitments. Instead, he feels emotionless, stiff, and just plain–out bored.
Now that isn't to say shirking the confident millionaire and playboy persona was a bad route to take—in fact, it makes sense given where the story begins (Pattinson's Bruce Wayne has only been Batman for two years). But, truth be told, effectively eliminating the Bruce Wayne character takes away from the movie's intrigue—it's an interesting artistic choice, but every time he appears, the film loses its spark. Without any natural wit or spunk to liven up his scenes, there's little to hold the audience's attention. Though this is an intentional decision by Reeves that does reinforce his character arc, it doesn't make it any less true.
In fact, in what perhaps is a side effect of Batman's own underdeveloped character, many of the film's characters are underused despite a lengthy runtime. The relationship between Bruce and Selina, for example, is a sudden development: Despite Pattinson and Kravitz's chemistry, it's almost cringe–worthy to watch the almost instantaneous progression of their teenage–like romance. Likewise, Bruce and Alfred have limited screen time together—their relationship just isn't fleshed out enough for me to care despite the significance of it. Jim Gordon, one of the best (and most iconic) characters in the franchise, feels like half of a crime–fighting duo in a buddy cop flick. Though he's not the central character, the film never delves into his personal life or ambitions, and it's a shame considering Wright's portrayal of the character may be one of the best to date. Every interaction between these characters not only feels forced but purposeless when their relationships should be the backbone of the film.
Now, the runtime in and of itself isn’t the problem. There exists a myriad of films with a three–hour runtime that keep you engrossed in the plotline such as Titanic, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, and more recently, Avengers: Endgame. In fact, as blockbusters have gotten progressively longer, I’ve nonetheless enjoyed them because of the emotional payoff. This film simply doesn’t warrant it. The old–school mystery just isn't very entertaining in a movie that hinges on a superhero character and, in this case, a character with very little semblance of a personality no matter how much sense it makes. The mystery is overly complex and dragged out for far too long to retain the audience’s attention. It’s excruciating to sit through, especially with such emotionally closed–off characters.
While a detective noir is a good approach to take for the character (the comic book accuracy of this film should not be understated), the style never quite realizes its potential. What the story requires often seems to be at war with the few conventions of the superhero genre that it aims to adhere to and its PG–13 rating. It's dark and gritty, yet lighter than it perhaps should be. Despite the length it takes to identify the Riddler, many of the clues left by him seem to be solved faster than they should be, there are far too many scenes that don’t quite pay off, and for the first two hours, there aren’t many moments that leave you on the edge of your seat.
The film doesn’t quite stick to the tone so meticulously handcrafted by its creative team. It just can’t seem to choose which route it wants to take. While it’s clear this is supposed to be a realistic approach to the hero's beginnings, there are moments that ask you to suspend your disbelief, breaking the magic of the film. There are multiple scenes in which Pattison’s Batman takes more than he should be capable of, such as what is effectively a bomb to the face. It’s not surprising that he comes out unscathed—this is a superhero flick after all—but in the context of the film, it’s a detail that seems wildly out of place, an incredibly unrealistic result in a movie that boasts a grounded backdrop.
It's an ambitious film, and one not hard to appreciate given its genuine positives such as the cinematography and performances—which, though understated, are some of the best in a long history of reboots. However, I was disappointed. Though it may intend to be a joyless film, one far too serious for its own good, and there’s little–to–no emotional payout for your time. From a nuanced perspective, the film is excellently crafted; however, for the general audience member, it drags on, requiring several rewatches to fully appreciate. Younger members of its target audience may not understand the themes it's attempting to convey.
That said, aside from some questionable writing, every creative decision shines throughout the film, and these are actors and a city I'm excited to see in the confirmed sequel. Hopefully, Reeves will complement his excellent creative decisions with writing that keeps you awake and use his arsenal of characters to create something truly memorable.