Matt Reeves’ “The Batman” begins with a father and son being watched from a distance by a figure a building away.
It gets much, much worse from there, as a politician is murdered by a bizarre killer known as The Riddler (Paul Dano). The Gotham City police department investigates the incident, with Officer Gordon (Jeffrey Wright) making the bold choice to bring along the controversial masked vigilante The Batman (Robert Pattinson) to the scene of the crime.
A twisty mystery leads Batman, who also exists as aloof billionaire Bruce Wayne, on a grimy odyssey in which he encounters the vile mobster known as The Penguin (a remarkably unrecognizable Colin Farrell), teams up with Selina Kyle (Zoe Kravitz) and uncovers the sickening world within the dark corners of Gotham City.
“The Batman” hits a lot of the same material and themes already explored in Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight Trilogy,” as well as moments and visuals right out of “Watchmen” (2009), “Spider-Man 2” and “Saw” (both 2004).
What makes this special is how the actors bring an original spin to their roles. Everyone here is playing iconic characters, who have been previously interpretated on film, and no one is doing what is expected of them. With every cast member making their characters feel fresh, there isn’t a bad performance here.
Pattinson taps into Wayne’s psyche and (for the first time) had me really worried about the character. Because Wayne has become a nocturnal creature, it appears Wayne and The Batman aren’t getting much sleep.
I’ve never found the character to be more vulnerable. I hadn’t considered before that Wayne, in addition to being in a perpetually haunted state, is also an insomniac; his lack of sleep is, perhaps, visible in his manner of speaking and in the aloof way he acts around people. His eyes must feel like fire every time he takes off the cowl and tries to sleep.
Pattinson’s film work of late has been consistently excellent and that is the case here as well.
Farrell is amazing, fully embodying a character unlike anything he’s done before. Had the actor gone uncredited, like Edward Norton did for his vanishing act in “Kingdom of Heaven,” it’s likely that no one would have known he was even in this. Despite how flamboyant Farrell is playing the part, he gives a nuanced, twisted and always inventive turn.
Kravitz is phenomenal as Selina Kyle and Paul Dano’s The Riddler is upsetting for all the right reasons (though his home movies are nowhere near as terrifying as The Joker’s in “The Dark Knight”).
Likewise, Andy Serkis plays Alfred Pennyworth in an entirely new way and, in what will likely become the film’s most underrated turn, John Turturro is superb at making a neighborhood monster a plausible, layered figure.
It’s always a pleasure to get lost in performances this good.
The best “Batman” movies aren’t wall-to-wall action but steeped in character. Here, the action scenes are widely spread out and many of the best moments are simply involving conversations. That said, the introduction to The Batmobile and the chase that ensues is one of the best scenes of 2022.
Gotham City visually resembles modern-day New York but mostly comes across like a Batman adventure is taking place in the world of David Fincher’s “Seven” (1995). The color palette is washed out and bleak, aligning it with either modern film noir or even Todd Phillips’ “Joker” (2019), which is only slightly more off-putting than this movie.
“The Batman” is unsettling, dour and, while always eventful, very slow. The film is three hours long and reportedly cost $200 million dollars, an indication of what an overindulgence this is. There aren’t any scenes here that I’d eliminate entirely, but many sequences could and should have been shortened.
Two editors are credited, and I wonder if they just looked at the dailies, fell in love with the performances and just decided not to cut enough.
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If the film moved like the Batmobile, the length wouldn’t be an issue, but “The Batman” feels even longer than “Zac Snyder’s Justice League” and has so many endings, I honestly lost count. The overblown big finale is visibly where a large portion of the budget went, but it comes after the film’s emotional peak. It’s similar to “The Dark Knight” (2008) in that there’s enough here for two movies.
There are so many concluding scenes that I grew frustrated with a film that seemingly refused to wrap things up. At one point, Batman looks right at the camera and says, “This isn’t over.” He isn’t kidding, as the movie felt like it was near finished, but there was at least another hour ahead.
Some will say Reeves has made too much of a good thing, but the nonstop pileup of yet another closing scene undermines how strong most of this is.
Finally, parents: please don’t take your kids to see this. If you have teenagers or even pre-teens, fine, but this is not for children. The PG-13 rating isn’t just a joke but entirely wrong: this ought to have been rated R. If the desire is to share a great Batman movie with your kids, I highly recommend the animated but gritty and fantastic “Batman: Mask of the Phantasm” (1993).
There’s a way to introduce them to this troubling world without scarring them, which is something I suspect no less than Batman himself would appreciate.