I instinctually recoiled at the brah spectacle of all that, and found myself hoping our twinkly lil' RPattz would give us the goth kid with painted fingernails and the half-mile stare of angsty ennui that bat boy Bruce Wayne has always had coming... so it's with great and terrible dismay that I must report to you today that The Batman's a howler. Halfway to the bad sort of camp that hurts your brain, there's no so-bad-it's-fun Joel Schumacher or Adam West Bat-theatrics (Colin Farrell notwithstanding, and I'll get to him) to save our spirits from the crushing weight of this unwieldy thing that's trying so hard every single second until it suffocates every inch of life from itself. This movie is endless, it's got one bat-foot in the door of being entirely humorless, and it's one of the single most exhausting movie experiences I've had in quite some time. Please change the Bat-channel!
Things start out smart enough, with the film dropping us straight into the middle of Bruce Wayne's career as the Caped Crusader under ye olde cowl -- we hear about his long-passed gazillionaire parents' murder on the news, but we're not forced to sit through any soggy alleyway origin stories for the ten thousandth time; an incredibly decent choice on the filmmaker's part. But unfortunately for all of us the filmmakers didn't stop cutting things there -- I mean, why get to know who Bruce Wayne is at all? Or any of the characters, for that matter? Pattinson must spend a good 90% of this movie in the suit, and remains a cypher either way, inside and out. Apparently The Batman decided that what the people actually want instead is nearly three hours of the most glaringly obvious "detective story" noir nonsense since Kevin Spacey walked into a police station and screamed "I DID IT." (Not this time; the other time.)
Yes I bring up David Fincher's Seven because Matt Reeves has, judging by this movie, apparently spent the last nigh on thirty years doing just that to anyone who will listen -- after watching The Batman I feel as if there might possibly be a long line of triggered therapists and/or exes in his life who shudder at the mere mention of that 1995 serial-killer film. The Batman plays like one long (so so long) riff on it all. See here Jeffrey Wright giving us Morgan Freeman realness as Detective Gordon! See there, Paul Dano giving us the most watered-down PG-13 Jigsaw-tinged Riddler as John Doe nonsense ever put on-screen! Whereas Seven's devious games left marks scratched onto my psyche to this day, the riddles of The Riddler, with their dime-store greeting-card histrionics, are about as frightening as a frown drawn on a detached baby-doll-head.
And the worst part about it was they did all of this while pretending they had something profound to say about government and police corruption, only to, like Danny Torrance cleaning up his footprints in the snow behind him, obliterate anything interesting about any of that every step of the way. The film doesn't just want to have its cake and eat it too -- it wants Zoe Kravitz (an electric performer reduced to a haircut and a hip swivel amid several reenactments of scenes that Michael Keaton and Michelle Pfeiffer did leagues better in Batman Returns three full decades ago) to pop up every so often, speak the words "white male privilege," and then disappear again until they need somebody to wear a micro-mini and gesture towards off-screen implied bisexuality.
The only person having any fun whatsoever in this dour soul-excavating exercise is Colin Farrell, once again as he did with Daredevil in 2003 strutting through and sparking life where superhero dreams have otherwise gone to die ignominious deaths. It's tempting to say that Farrell must have felt freed under all the latex they slather him in to play Oswald "Oz" Cobblepot née The Penguin, all of which renders him entirely unrecognizable. But Farrell's never been a performer who needed such affectations to do his magical thing before, and instead this performance becomes a testament to his skill despite the pointless obstacles the filmmakers have thrown in his way. There was no need not to hire an actor who wouldn't have needed a scarred-up fat-suit for the role -- I could name you twenty actors who would've relished the opportunity to bite into the only fun role in the whole damn movie. But Farrell, bless him, makes his every moment count nonetheless.
And (let's say some good things) despite the secondhand nature of the movie's look there's still a lot to love within DP Greig Fraser's artful frames; the one action sequence that stands out amid this self-serious slog of a film involves a car-chase with Batman in his Batmobile (now souped-up to give it some serious Mad Max Fury Road energy) and it's a ballet of bonkers red lights and fire and rain-streaked highways that are almost worth the price of admission. But no, that's five minutes dropped down in the middle of one-hundred-and-seventy-six of them. And while the sequence looks great it still manages to feel like an echo of things that we've seen before -- not just the similar chase sequence in Batman Returns (just without any of the delightful goofiness of Danny DeVito's Penguin bouncing around in a kiddie quarter-ride) and not just the Joker's legendary night-time joyride in Nolan's Dark Knight. But also the aforementioned Fury Road itself, and woe be unto the filmmaker that dares to summon up nods towards George Miller -- you will always come up looking small in comparison, and The Batman's certainly not the one to undo those expectations.
The thing is in theory all of Reeves' choices seem like good ideas to me to reintroduce the character in a fresh way -- leaning into the hard-edged detective noir angle of the comics is a good idea! But when your mystery can be unraveled by everybody just looking up one time instead of looking down, well then maybe you should recalculate. Batman's just allowed to blunder through obvious revelation after obvious revelation played to the absolute back of the room -- hell it's played for somebody watching the movie on their phone across the room during a lightning storm. The puzzle pieces add up because they're all exact squares -- every character a boxed-in bore, edgy as a Happy Meal.