Written By Hayden Claborn, Entertainment Writer
Since the release of Batman in 1989 we’ve had eight live action films featuring the character. It makes one wonder what an eight could bring to the table. One of the many delights of Matt Reeves’ The Batman is that it neither strives for realism while nor excessively stylizes. Despite the heavy themes of police corruption and the question of what really is justice, the film never forgets that it’s a comic book movie crossed with serial killer thriller and touches of a gangster picture. It is a glorious collage of influences and ideas, oftentimes working in darkness and genuine unsettlement framed by the great Greig Fraiser. We finally have a comic book movie that shows audiences what can be done with superheroes.
It’s Halloween night in Gotham city and mayor Don Mitchell Jr. is brutally murdered by a serial killer named The Riddler (Paul Dano); duct tape is wrapped around his head with the message “No More Lies” written on it in red. Along with Commissioner Gordon (Jeffery Wright),Bruce Wayne (Robert Pattenson), a vigilante known as “Batman,” who has been operating in the shadows. Along the way in his detective work, Batman encounters the seductive Selena Kyle (Zoë Kravitz) and mafia boss Oswald Cobblepot, played by Colin Farrell in unrecognizable makeup.
The specifics in the plot are hard to discuss in a brief review–every element is masterfully laid out over the course of the film’s nearly three hour runtime. The Batman is a detective story with a compelling mystery at its heart. The question isn’t really who the Riddler is, buto why he’s committing these acts of violence. To find the answer, Wayne has to investigate the upper echelons of Gotham society and finds that its system is utterly broken. It’s the type of story that not only challenges our main character but the audience as well. It begs the question: “is any of this really worth saving?”
The Riddler is a terrific villain– Paul Dano is legitimately terrifying but never absurd. Matt Reeves and his co-writer Peter Criag have mentioned in interviews taking inspiration from the Zodiac Killer, who terrorized California in the late 1960s, in how the Riddler leaves tantilzing clues for Batman to chase. However, the character also function as an incel type, spreading his message through social media and underground networks. The utterance of the line “Hey guys, thanks for the comments” made my blood run cold in it’s real world banality. If there is one aspect that surprised me the most it’s how the Riddler represents this male aggression.
Pattenson delivers the most introspective Batman depicted on screen. His fractured psyche isn’t portrayed upfront, but the audience understands his mind through his actions and analytic process, namely his hesitancy to kill. Throughout his whole career, Pattenson has specialized in playing weird characters, so he’s a perfect fit for the role of Batman. You get a tangible sense Bruce is using Batman as a front to struggle with the trauma of losing his parents. In a way, he believes he has to be a vigilante.
One problem with The Batman is that it almost has too much going on. While the runtime is steep, Matt Reeves and crew never really balance out the character work with the film’s internal politics. In a world where many people are distrustful of police, I really loved seeing a 200 million blockbuster tackle this head on. This is shown as Batman distrusts everyone who isn’t even Gordan. In a way Gotham is colored as a world with no hope in terms of justice. However, so many plates are spinning that it can only go so far and a few times pulls it punches on the corruption angel. Despite enjoying the action set pieces, I wonder if instead of less pondering we could get more of it in exchange for less action.
Though, is it a bad thing for a film to have a lot on it’s mind even if not all of it lands? We rarely get a film of this size that matches technical proficiency with buzzing concepts and crowd pleasing thrills; accompanied by a beautiful score composed by Michael Giacchino.To quote the great Roger Ebert, “I prefer to evaluate a film on the basis of what it intends to do, not on what I think it should have done.”