Much has been made of The Batman’s visual references to classic noir cinema and detective stories, as well as its rootedness in the neo-noir of the 1990s. While all of this is true, most importantly this film is steeped in the best thing a comic movie can be: comic books. Watching this film felt like a deeper immersion into the Gotham imagined by the likes of Grant Morrison (Batman Omnibus), and the city presents less like a teeming metropolis than it does a fever dream of shadows and vice.
Some of the casting in this film is truly fantastic. The Penguin for instance is reimagined here as a consigliere of sorts to Carmine Falcone played by Colin Farrell (not that you’d recognize him under all that makeup and prosthetic scarring). This iteration of the character brings a lot to the table; not so with Andy Serkis’ Alfred who, despite prior acting experience with Reeves fails to bring any of the life to the role that Michael Caine did. This is fine, until the film expects us to have an emotional connection to him that it just hasn’t earned.
Robert Pattinson’s turn under the cowl has certainly been a positive one. His performance presents his vigilantism as something between a duty and an unhealthy obsession; not necessarily a personal quest to conquer fear but an unhealthy expression of trauma. In one of the first scenes of the movie Batman encounters some thugs in a subway station, mid-robbery. Unimpressed by his get-up one of the criminals takes a swing. We’ve all seen this one before, Batman blocks his blow, and takes him down. Where this Batman differs is he doesn’t stop hitting the thug. He rains blow after blow on him long after the man would have stopped being a threat. Pattinson plays a man so sunken into his grief and anger that he’s become numb to it, indeed throughout the film his face hardly changes as he beats his enemies to a pulp.
This is a problem. The film wants to have its cake and eat it too. They’ve presented a villain with admirable motives, and evil means but in the desire to have an explosive third act given him a plan that doesn’t make sense. Riddler shouldn’t want to kill regular citizens, he should want to kill cops, politicians, Gotham’s elite. However the film needs an army of faceless goons for Batman to fight off and so we get snipers in the rafters of a stadium wearing riddler masks. Just for an extra dose of cynicism, one of the final scenes shows the Riddler behind bars meeting the Joker for the first time. I can’t escape the feeling that the cart is being put before the horse.
The Batman really is a solid offering, all things considered. Its got atmosphere in spades, and presents several exciting new takes on Gotham and its seedy underbelly. Nonetheless it feels lacking, in a way that it’s possible each Batman will from now on. It attempts to carry a thematic weight that it can’t shoulder and it often feels like the writers rely on our familiarity with characters from previous iterations to provide emotional stakes. This movie does a lot of things that are very special, and when it leans into them it’s great, but the third act grand finale feels corporate mandated, goes a long way towards souring the whole thing.