Does ‘The Batman’ justify its existence? — Ultimate Movie Year
Directed by Matt Reeves
Now playing in theaters
It’s hard to eat pizza every day. As delightful as pizza time can be, shoveling down nothing but slices is pretty unhealthy. And eventually, you’ll wonder what’s unique about this particular pizza versus all the rest.
Superhero flicks are the pizza of modern movies. They’re popular, frequent, and a source of comfort for many. The latest is “The Batman,” another reimagining of the Caped Crusader (the sixth or seventh, depending on whether you think the Joel Schumaker movies represent another reboot) for the big screen. This time Robert Patterson dons the cowl (the seventh live-action actor) as he encounters the Penguin (Colin Farrell), the Riddler (Paul Dano), and Catwoman (Zoe Kravitz), each character making their third live-action appearance in theaters (although if you want to get into the background of the television series spinoff “Batman” from 1966, there were two other actresses who also played Catwoman).
It’s… a lot. So the biggest challenge for “The Batman” is to justify its own existence as being worthwhile enough to go see at the theaters instead of staying home and watching the countless hours of other adaptations available on HBOMax instead. Does it succeed?
Mostly! Working from a screenplay by Peter Craig and himself, Reeves builds this version around Bruce Wayne and his place in Gotham. Still, the city has an entire life beyond the Wayne family. This version of the Riddler is a murderous anarchist, doling out puzzles as he slowly reveals the historical corruption of Gotham City to the public. Still only two years into his life as a vigilante, Batman has formed a tentative alliance with Lt. Jim Gordon (Jeffrey Wright) of the Gotham Police Department to examine the clues of these murders and discover the identity of the Riddler. The case leads Batman into the orbit of the Penguin, the proprietor of the shady Iceberg Lounge nightclub, where he meets Selina Kyle, an amateur cat burglar with her own agenda.
“The Batman” is a good film that rates in the upper tier of the genre, and thus, movies that feature Bruce Wayne frequently leaping off buildings. Much of that has to do with Patterson, who manages to accomplish the arduous task of making Batman the coolest and most interesting character in his own movie, which is usually not the case considering his rogue’s gallery. This is a Batman with experience, but wonders whether he’s changed anything about the culture in Gotham. Patterson often conveys they silently both in and out of the mask as he enters crime scene after crime scene, hunting for leads but constantly haunted by reminders of his past.
Another key is how impressively Reeves stages encounters with Batman. This is a vigilante who can walk out of any darkened corner in the city, and everyone knows it. The fear is palatable. Michael Giacchino’s score adds to the menace, as his brooding theme stands as one of the best for the character since Danny Elfman’s iconic theme in the 90s. And then there’s the car. Patterson’s Batman rides in a goosed-up muscle car, an unrelenting beast that races the Penguin in a chase setpiece that’s a movie highlight.
Wright, Farrell, and Kravitz also deliver strong performances, bringing memorable versions of these well-worn characters to life. So much of the movie wouldn’t work if the Batman/Catwoman relationship felt off. Still, fortunately, Patterson and Kravitz have enormous chemistry together, creating a duo as distinctive as Michael Keaton and Michelle Pfeiffer did in 1992’s “Batman Returns.”
But “The Batman” is not perfect. Reeves’ interpretation of the character feels similar to Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy. While it does many things better than that trilogy, it lacks the purposive power of the 2008 sequel. “The Batman” is three hours long and absolutely feels like it. Additionally, it doesn’t have a game-changing protagonist like Heath Ledger’s Joker. Dano goes for it as the Riddler way too much and comes off as a cliched version of one of his other characters.
That’s the difficulty in going down the same road many have traveled. Audiences can’t help but compare “The Batman” to what came before, and when you weave your tale so close to the previous versions, it dulls the impact of what you can do.
But there’s a lot to admire about what Reeves and his star Patterson have done here. “The Batman” might be flawed but worth watching multiple times because of its vision and complexity. Superheroes may be pizza, but this is high-end wood-fired cafe quality.
TL;DR Verdict: See it, but you can wait for streaming
Originally published at https://www.ultimatemovieyear.com on March 4, 2022.