One Liner Review:
A Batman movie that does two things no other Batman movie has done yet… it successfully incorporates tons of major villains, and it is by far the darkest Batman movie to date. Yes, it’s too long, but other than that, this one is pretty great.
The darkest (and easily the longest,) Batman movie yet, this one is packed to the brim with ideas and characters, and yet still manages to be very entertaining. The movie sets itself in the most realistic world of any Batman movie, complete with a Gotham that goes out of its way to resemble New York, and villains who mostly operate out of a night club. And then there’s the main villain, The Riddler, who is more of a serial killer than a comic book character. His murders and clues make this movie feel like more of a combination of Seven and Zodiac than any superhero movie. And it works. The movie does feel long, (at just about three hours, it would have to,) but what’s amazing is that they actually found a way to put an original spin on this superhero that has been practcially done to death.
The Batman is a gutsy movie, and that’s putting it mildly. This is a complete reboot of the character, and boy does it swing for the fences. For starters, this is by far the darkest Batman movie there has ever been. Now the Christopher Nolan movies were incredibly dark and gritty and realistic. But this one’s got them beat, in that department. Big time. The first Nolan Batman revolved around scientific inventions and larger than life locations and threats. From the temple in the Himalayas at the start to the microwave emissions in Gotham at the end, there was definitely some hyper-reality going on. Which is what we are used to from superhero movies… larger than life stakes.
In The Batman, there is none of that. Every single thing in here oozes with realism. There’s only one car chase, and it doesn’t involve the Batmobile jumping around from roof to roof (like in Batman Begins,) but instead, just gets down and dirty as cars slam into each other, try to get by each other, and Batman tries to catch his man, the Penguin. Then there’s the Batmobile itself, which by it’s nature is meant to be a stand-out car. Well, we only see it once here and it’s at night time. Now that’s very intentional. The Batmobile is meant to be a unique vehicle (although this is certainly the most realistic version we’ve gotten in any movie,) but knowing that it still might stand out, they don’t want to show it to us during the day, where it would be lit up, and we could see every detail. They show it once only and very selectively, at night time.
This movie is so dark and gritty, in fact, that it brings to mind the David Fincher films Seven and Zodiac. It’s actually more of a combination of those two movies than it is of any other superhero movie, (although it does have a bit in common with the Dark Knight.) This is a serial killer movie. It’s a detective movie. And it’s just barely a superhero movie. So the first way that the movie is incredibly bold and out-there with taking risks left and right, is in terms of how dark and gritty it is. This turns out to be a good thing. Batman seems to always be better when he is dark. The Tim Burton movies were great. The Christopher Nolan movies (well, the first two of them,) were even better. And you know which ones weren’t very good? The colorful ones. The light, poppy Joel Shumacher, everything’s a big joke movies. So making The Batman incredibly dark works out nicely. But the movie takes major risks in other ways too. One of these is in how many villains it includes. In this one, there are a ton. Way more than any other Batman movie. Up until a few months ago, with Spider-Man No Way Home, it would have been way more than any other superhero movie ever had, as well. But that movie kicked off the trend of including a ton of villains in one single film, and this one follows it up. The Batman throws everything it can at us in terms of villains and still manages to work.
The third way this movie takes a huge risk is in terms of its run time. Now this is the mistake. The movie is too long. At nearly three hours, it would have benefitted from a trim. Let’s put it this way, the final fourth definitely feels like it drags and is the worst part of the entire film. That’s got to be because audiences are tired at that point and are ready to be done. The movie literally catches the villain and solves the crime, and then goes on for a whole other act where it isn’t the villain actually doing anything, but instead is a bunch of his henchmen. What movie does that? Imagine if Jack Nicholson’s Joker was captured with thirty minutes left of Batman, and the last thirty minutes were just Batman squaring off against his henchmen? It’s a misstep, and part of the reason why it’s a misstep is because the movie has already been going on for so long. Maybe there were other things that could have been cut earlier to get to this point in the movie a little faster. But as it is, by the end, we definitely feel the length. Maybe that’s because the story here tries to do so much. There are literally two mysteries going on at once throughout the film. First, of course, is the mystery of the Riddler, but then there’s a secondary mystery about Bruce Wayne’s parents and what happened to them, and who ordered them to be killed. On top of that, there’s a red herring where Batman and Commissioner Gordon (played by Jeffrey Wright,) think they have the guy and go after him, only to find out they are completely wrong. And these things are all great, but together it’s a little too much for one movie. There’s definitely a point in the second half (probably the scene where Bruce Wayne sits down with a hospitalized Alfred to talk about his father,) where the movie starts to feel too slow. Where the length hits you, and you want this thing to move a little faster. But one thing you can definitely say about this movie is that you get a lot of bang for your buck. This covers so many characters and so much territory, that it more than gives you your moneys worth.
It all starts with watching a voyeuristic view of a child in costume playing with his dad. The view is from another building, across the street, and through a window. It’s also through a pair of goggles as well. The whole thing feels very Rear Window. We even hear the breathing of the character whose point of view we are seeing. This would be the Riddler (Paul Dano.) Next we see the mayor, Mitchell, talking in his office, with the skylight open, above his head. And then we are in his office with him, with the lights out and TV on, as we see the Riddler’s eyes light up in the background, lit by the TV. It’s a haunting moment, where the Riddler is dressed in black that blends into the background, to the point where you don’t even know he’s there. And then he’s right up in your face, walking forward out of the shadows, attacking the mayor, and beating him again and again with a metal carpentry tool. What an opening. We cut to the police investigation inside the office, as detectives and forensic specialists comb through everything they can find. And then we see the Batman, in full costume, walking through the halls. He’s led by Gordon, who gets a lot of flack from his fellow officers, for letting Batman into the crime scene. The current Commissioner, Savage, is the man who finally tells Gordon to get Batman out of there. But that’s not before we can hear about some gruesome ideas, like the way the killer cut off Mitchell’s finger while he was still alive. Very Seven. So are the writings on walls and on top of hanging pictures, that were left by the Riddler. And then there’s a Zodiac-like puzzle that is left at the scene with cyphers and codes and different symbols that need to be broken. The first riddle comes in a card. What does a liar do after he’s dead? Batman has the answer… he lies still. This helps them begin to break the cypher, matching the letters of that phrase to symbols.
Next we see a montage set to a great and grim Nirvana song, showing the streets of Gotham at night. This is accompanied by Batman’s voice-over talking about how he can’t be everywhere at once, but he uses the Bat Signal so that he doesn’t have to. When criminals see the signal in the sky, it’s a warning that he’s out there on the prowl that night, and that they should be scared. We see as one guy with a very scary mask, in the shape of a melted drop (A Drop Head, which is a reference to Drops – the drug of this movie, that is the number one seller on the streets,) commits a robbery. We see as thugs who spray paint on walls drop their can and watch it roll into the shadows, afraid to go and get it for fear that Batman might be there. And then we see where Batman actually is, as he approaches a gang of punks dressed like skeletal clowns who are about to beat on a commuter. The scene takes place on a subway platform and is executed perfectly, to let us hear Batman’s footsteps as he gets closer and closer, before he steps out of the shadows of a black doorway, and enters the scene.
The shadows and night are a major theme of this movie. In fact, Batman is only seen at night. Now, consider that there is very little Bruce Wayne in this movie (only a small handful of scenes,) and that it’s mostly Batman here. And he’s only out at night. That should tell you how much of this movie takes place at night time. There’s even a bombing situation at the daytime funeral for the mayor, where Bruce Wayne is there, but Batman doesn’t show up to the same location until night fall. During the daytime service, a car pulls up with the District Attorney, Gil Colson (Peter Sarsgard,) strapped to a bomb. And he stays that way until Batman arrives. Now, maybe the funeral was around sunset time, (and that’a being generous,) but we clearly see the outside of the building go from day to night before we see Batman’s cape around his feet and hear his footsteps, walking into the Church. The night time theme is important because a big part of this movie is Batman wanting to be feared by criminals and realizing by the end that he needs to be more than that. It’s at that point, at the end of the movie, that Batman is seen during the daytime for the very first time.
Throughout the movie, the Riddler continues to kill and continues to leave clues and riddles. After the mayor, he kills Commissioner Savage. Then the DA. With Savage, it’s very much like a Saw situation, as we watch a home video of the man strapped to a rat cage that is stuck to his face. Pretty gruesome and horrific. And the Riddler’s home video showing this definitely reminds us of the Joker’s home videos in the Dark Knight. So does the funeral scene where the Riddler attacks here, by way of car and bomb, much like how the Joker attacked the mayor’s street funeral procession in the Dark Knight. But this movie is clearly influenced by a bunch of others, and for the most part it makes those things work. Like Batman Begins, one villain leads to the next in the underworld of the mob. Here, it’s stories about Sal Maroni and how he was taken down, and it’s the new crime boss who replaced him, Carmine Falcone, (John Turturro,) as well as his number two in charge, The Penguin.
There’s also Selena Kyle as Catwoman. She has a story of her own (actually a couple of them,) where she’s trying to find her roommate who went missing. And she and Batman join forces to investigate, using some pretty cool eye camera recording technology. Zoe Kravitz plays the character, and she’s pretty great. In fact all of the acting in this movie is great, with Colin Farrell as Penguin in particular, stealing every scene he’s in. And there’s fun to be had here, including the twins who always answer the door of the club, the way Batman / Bruce gets into the club in three different ways during three different visits (from fighting his way in, to just walking in as Bruce Wayne, to sneaking in as Batman.) There’s also the cool idea of the club within a club, and how there’s a second club for the real power players, called 44 Below, inside the main club, The Iceberg Lounge. But there are also things that don’t work quite as well. Gotham is clearly just another version of New York. There is a Times Square here that looks almost identical to New York’s Times Square. There is a huge arena called Gotham Square Garden, which is written in a font that looks exactly like the font of Madison Square Garden. Even the colors that outline the building (orange and blue,) are the same as the Madison Square Garden colors. All of this makes for a strange collection of choices. This might be the least creative version of Gotham yet, (with Burton’s being the most creative.)
The Gotham design might not be ultra creative, but that’s clearly intentional and not a mistake. If their goal was to make this movie as realistic as possible, then this take on Gotham does the trick. It literally feels like New York. But the mistakes do come with the storyline towards the end of the movie. First, there’s Batman stopping Selena from killing twice, in two different locations. First it happens on a rooftop, and then just minutes later we are in a whole other place experiencing what feels like the exact same moment with the exact same result. It literally feels like we are just watching the same thing and like Batman should be saying to Selena, “do you remember what I told you five minutes ago, because I’m about to tell you the same thing again?” The other issue involves the Riddler’s weapon and how conveniently it appears in an apartment, (when it should be locked up in evidence,) not to mention a cop just happening to say the exact right thing about it that would lead to Batman making a huge discovery. What would have worked much better to accomplish this same goal would have been if Batman was studying pictures and images of the weapon in his Bat Cave, pondering over it, figured out what it was used for, and then made his discovery that way. The convenience of the cop and what he says is just a little too simple. And it’s out of place for what is otherwise a very smart movie.
So there are definitely some mistakes here, and they mainly come in the later parts of the film (the only mistake in the first half is how easily Colson gives up information to a woman he just met at a club. But we can excuse that due to the fact that he is clearly on drugs… um… drops.) Other than that, the first half is pretty flawless. The action is realistic and great. No fancy choreography here, just straight to the point. That being said, the point of view work we see for the one time Batman flies is impressive, as his cape turns into a version of a flying squirrel suit. But other than that, every bit of action, every punch he throws on a bad guy, is direct, simple, and real. The same can be said about the music. Michael Cimino’s score is composed of just four notes, however they are repeated and presented in so many different ways that it really characterizes the movie. Again, simple and straight to the point. Even the Nirvana song, which is used not only at the beginning, but also at the end to bookend the movie, is great. So is the way that Batman teams up with Gordon for one investigation, following clues around the city, but then also teams up with Selena for another investigation. The detective story definitely works here. In fact, this is the movie that really shows Batman as a detective more than any other Batman film (even if he does make some mistakes along the way, like the El Rata riddle.) This is a very good movie, that is just a little too long. And because it’s a little too long it does come apart at the seams a bit toward the end. But other than that, it’s very smart, very well-done, and quite an experience. Director Matt Reeves (Cloverfield and the last two Planet of the Apes movies,) has clearly got smarts and talent under his belt, and hopefully he stays with this franchise to build what he started here into a full trilogy. Before any of that, though, we’ll get that Penguin series on HBO Max, and based on how Farrell did with the Penguin here, that one is sure to be a blast.