It’s been a while since we last saw Batman in a standalone movie. 2012 to be exact, when Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises was released. Since then Warner Brothers have worked hard to create their own Cinematic Universe (DCEU) taking a cue of Marvel’s success. But without having a clear vision and strategy they failed to replicate that success. There was no room for a standalone Batman movie and Ben Affleck’s Batman was mostly delegated to a driving force rather than a developed character. Where Wonder Woman, Aquaman and even Superman got their own standalone origin stories, Batman was just already there for the sole reason to bring together the Justice League.
And when all this was failing something strange happened. Todd Philips’ Joker was released and went on to becoming both a financial and critical success even winning two Academy awards. But while Joker was a DC movie, it wasn’t part of the DCEU. This signaled to Warner Brothers that audiences didn’t really wanted these large shared universes perse when it came to superheroes. This is one of the reasons why a standalone Ben Affleck movie was shelved and a Batman movie with no ties to the DCEU was greenlit:
Matt Reeves’ The Batman.
In this version of Batman, Bruce Wayne (Robert Pattinson) is a recluse who rarely makes a public appearance. His alter ego Batman on the other hand has been out on the streets for two years acting as a vigilante facing of mostly against street thugs. His work has made him a few friends among the police, most notably Lt. Gordon (Jeffrey Wright). When a sadistic serial killer starts murdering people and leaving the crime scene with riddles, Batman will have to face his most challenging opponent yet.
Taking a cue from the Nolan movies, The Batman tries to ground the character in realism as much as possible. Even surpassing Nolan’s movies by removing much of the high tech gadgets and big schemes featuring stuff like made-up chemicals. This is basically David Fincher’s Seven but with Batman as the detective. I will go even as far as saying that you can easily take Batman out of this movie and replace him with someone like Matt Damon as a smart detective who can also throw a punch or two.
Of all the Batman movies that have been released so far, this is the movie in which he does the least of the usual Batman stuff. For once he’s actually working a case and living up to the mantle of the world’s greatest detective, instead of constantly gliding of buildings or driving up against them in the Batmobile. Speaking of the Batmobile; this incarnation is nothing more than a muscle car with a customized engine. You can take it out of this movie and put in the first Fast & Furious movie and it wouldn’t feel out of place. It’s a refreshing take on an element of Batman we have already seen in so many shapes and sizes.
Robert Pattinson is the latest actor to don the cowl and his Batman is one of the most brooding takes on the character. A man of few words as Batman, but who does bookend the movie with a voiceover which adds to the noir elements of the movie. He also only has a handful of scenes as Bruce Wayne, as the movie mostly follows him as Batman as he tries to find out the identity of The Riddler.
He has a stellar supporting cast with actors like Zoë Kravitz, Jeffrey Wright, Colin Farrell and John Turturro. His loyal butler Alfred is played by Andy Serkis who also only has a handful of scenes. Zoë Kravitz’s Selina Kyle is a much more gritty and realistic take on the character then both Anne Hathaway’s and Michell Pfeiffer’s versions in The Dark Knight Rises and Batman Returns respectively. Paul Dano’s The Riddler couldn’t be more further away from Jim Carrey’s take on the character. This version belongs in a David Fincher movie and reminded me of Kevin Spacey’s John Doe with some elements of Heath Ledger’s Joker thrown in. Once unmasked he resembles a very creepy real life cabbage patch doll.
With a running time of almost 3 hours, the movie does derail a bit in it’s final act. Because comic book movie conventions demand it, the finale consists of a big set piece in which Batman has save a group of people from drowning and electrocution while fighting of a whole group of Riddler fanboys. This sequence felt like the scene with the baby Godzilla’s in 1998’s Godzilla. It feels like a tacked on segment for the sole purpose to give the movie some more substance or to pad out the running time, something which this movie didn’t need anyway.
I would have loved a decent showdown with the Riddler, maybe even throw in a twist instead of an almost mindless action set-piece just to please the fans of loud noises. If this movie would have ended on a similar low key note as Seven, it probably would have been the best Batman movie ever.