There hasn’t been a ever-glowering, awesome car-driving handsome boy in a little animal costume, constantly varying among near silence, romantic gazes, and an explosive rage that mushes so many skulls since Drive. Until now. Let’s talk The Batman.
Man, what a deliberate thing. Every footstep is so deliberate; every glare is so deliberate; every performance is so deliberate; and I sure hope director Matt Reeves was deliberate in how just-enough-over-the-top his noir-meets-comic book voiceover went.
Consequently, for as much as this movie is darker in every sense than any Batman outing to come before, it’s also at a level the most camp since Joel Schumacher’s outings. You can’t somberly intone, “I am the shadows,” without it being a little goofy. But it’s perfect for this stage. People keep making their little chuckles about The Batman being “emo” and “gritty,” but as we said in our proper review, it’s mostly just “moody.” It’s going for a real mood, and Reeves strapped that mood to a camera, to a motorcycle, to a car, and to a winged-suited man, and he let it ride.
It’s funny, while Christopher Nolan has cited Blade Runner as a central visual reference text for Batman Begins, Reeves actually gets much closer to that frame here with his ever rain-drenched Gotham filled with neon lights, shady streets, and constant silhouetted sunrise meetups. Nolan ended with his Dark Knight high-point generously resembling Michael Mann’s Heat, but Reeves ends up with his take (again generously) edging closer to Mann’s Thief. It’s a good thing.
That said, it’s surprising that the director boasted that Warner Bros. didn’t interfere with the creative process, because jeez, that final act. Reeves went on record saying “this is the version of the film that [he] wanted to make,” but it very much seems like it’s the thing he wanted to make with a studio-demanded big-stakes finale tacked on.
Riddler’s Dark Knight Rises-derived sports stadium terrorism kicks off, and the ensuing flood washes away so much of what made the first two-thirds or so feel like such a refreshing superhero movie. Until that point, it’s a superhero movie that feels (mostly) like a proper film that takes place in an actual place, rather than the intangible sludge that runs down the mountain of the MCU.
The abrupt turn into flooding a city of millions while a group of Riddler’s surprisingly adept, fit Twitch subscribers gun down thousands in an arena leaves a too familiar superhero aftertaste of genocide in what was prior a pretty straightforward detective case (as investigated by the most brutal dick on Earth). Catching or not catching the guy is a fine ending to a detective story! No need for a Biblical event!
The film’s other major set-piece much better fits the tone but is likewise sort of insane in its grandiosity. I’m talking now about the Penguin’s big, long car chase.
To sum it up: Batman, Catwoman, and Gordon have a little faceoff in some remote drug warehouse, and upon hearing the revving of Batman’s newly-awesome car, Penguin drives off—Batman in pursuit.
Now, at this point, Batman is well aware that Penguin runs this nightclub and he is there literally every night. He could probably just search the guy’s home address and head him off there, too. Can’t imagine there’d be a ton of results for Oswald Cobblepots in the great Gotham area.
Instead, Batman decides that, in order to possibly save the life of whatever corrupt asshole is next on Riddler’s list, he has to do some Fast & Furious shit and chase Penguin down. It’s like the craziest, most destructive thing to catch this chubby little fella. The chase definitely kills several people and does untold amounts of costly damage that will shut down a highway for a month.
And there are no repercussions! Doesn’t come up again. Not a big deal. Just a fun romp that ends in an excuse to make a visual gag about a legs-bound Penguin waddling.
Still, all said and done, pretty decent little Batman. While this isn’t an original thought, it probably would have gone down better as a three one-hour-episode miniseries that would help in swallowing the tone shift of the Big Finale. But it’s a pretty solid little dual-genre exercise.
Some other stray thoughts:
- Is Selina Kyle ever actually called “Catwoman”? I have no memory of that happening, yet she drops lines like, “Don’t worry: I’ve got nine [lives].” That must have been when Batman’s quiet, pensive stare was just him pausing to ponder, “What the fuck does that mean?”
- Michael Giacchino’s score is very good—especially in contrast to the Marvel Cinematic Universe of rarely-memorable superhero themes.
- While Riddler’s incarceration gave us Barry Keoghan’s Joker introduction, let us not forget to thank Peter Sarsgaard for his service in opening up a Gotham DA spot for a certain someone.
- I spray-painted my first draft of this on my nice wood floor. It’s the only way I can think!