After first learning of Matt Reeves’ The Batman the obvious question to ask is why? More specifically, why reboot this franchise again so soon? What does this specific instalment do to stand out in what is by now an overcrowded genre of film? The movie itself appears to spend its runtime trying to find an answer.
The first we hear of Robert Pattinson’s caped crusader is a rather long narration of the character reflecting on his crime-riddled city as well as his role as its protector and the only thing preventing it from descending into complete chaos while wondering if what he does is even worth it. It is rather jarring to see something so cliché being played straight and leaving one waiting for a subversion that does not come. It would appear that the audience is expected to find Bruce Wayne questioning if it is right for him to be the Batman engaging, which it very well could be if it were not for it always being in the back of the mind that the future of this highly valuable Warner Brothers intellectual property relies on that question having a very clear answer. Attempts to call out systemic corruption within Gotham’s’ institutions, deconstructing the image of Batman as a shrouded embodiment of justice rather than a rich man that calls himself a detective to live out a violent vigilante fantasy without bringing about systemic change, and the suggestion that Bruce Wayne would not be a great person in real life would appear brave seeing as how they could challenge the core of a huge franchise. However, it is ultimately hollow as these threads are unresolved outside of the promise that there are still good cops and politicians to absolve the city’s corruption and the revelation that Bruce should just be a nicer violent vigilante because Batman is cool and you want to keep up with this franchise.
Indeed, there is a lot about crime, wealth and power that is raised but left untouched. It is as if the movie is desperate to be seen as serious and complex while being too afraid to actually say something, or being held back from doing so. That being said there is much to enjoy, along with perfectly serviceable action sequences, one can appreciate a great score including a new theme by Michael Giacchino that could easily become iconic in the future, as well as all-around solid acting. Pattinson is up to the task of the title role, even if his Bruce Wayne is a little ill-defined. Paul Dano is suitably eerie and threatening in his modern reinvention of The Riddler. Zoë Kravitz vanishes into her role, as does an unrecognisable Colin Farrell (an award for make-up would hardly be undeserving).
Altogether there is enough to make for an entertaining two-hour blockbuster. Shame that what is presented is a drawn-out three hours that feels more like binge-watching the first series of a show rather than a stand-alone film when considering its unfocused subplots within subplots, narratives that do not naturally flow from one to the other and plot points being resolved just scenes later. If this interpretation of Batman is to continue it may not be for the worst considering the talent involved, one just hopes that it may return with something to say!
Ethan Manley – Film & TV Writer