Review by C.J. Bunce
Director Matt Reeves’ experimental superhero movie The Batman arrived earlier this year with little fanfare and quickly faded away. It’s the rare superhero movie that doubles as a Halloween flick, taking place in Gotham around the holiday, so you may be tempted to give it a try this week. Its real-world horror, sadistic killings, and vile characters certainly qualify it for the slasher genre. But despite some real acting talent, out of the hundreds of adaptations of Batman’s origin story, The Batman is one of the worst. The first hour may leave you holding out hope that something big is coming, but its plodding, painfully slow narrative, empty plot, and poor execution leave this as one to pass on. Take my advice and that’s three hours I just saved you.
But even bad superhero movies must have something good, right? In this case it’s the actors that make the movie almost worth watching, but only for the first hour. Top of the list is Zöe Kravitz (Fantastic Beasts, X-Men: First Class), who is promising as an against-type well-intentioned Selina Kyle–a Catwoman in-the-making trying to find the killers of a friend. She’s great, despite the bland script, but her character is under-utilized in the second half. The James Bond movies’ own Felix Leiter, Jeffrey Wright steps into the role of Commissioner Gordon, and he is the best at the role on the big screen so far, especially in scenes where he partners with Batman–just like in the comics. As Carmine Falcone, one of the movie’s many bad guys, John Turturro delivers some of his best work, a believable mob boss of the Robert DeNiro school. But he gets lost in another DC movie stuffed with too many villains.
In the title role, Robert Pattinson (Harry Potter series, Twilight series) makes a good effort at Batman. He’s almost as good as Ben Affleck, but doesn’t cut it compared to any other actor who has donned the cowl. It’s not the actor’s fault–it’s the script. He’s better in his batsuit scenes, but fails completely as Bruce Wayne. The actor is 26, but he could still be cast as a teenager, and this story calls for someone older and of a stature that could take all those body punches and falls. In the cowl he almost pulls off the role–but a good costume might make anyone a good Batman. As butler Alfred, Andy Serkis delivers yet another incarnation of the British character. It’s not memorable because the script is so formulaic. As an audience, we’ve just seen this all before.
The worst of the movie are the two overdone classic bat-villains. The plot mirrors much of what was going on in the 1992 movie Batman Returns (that movie, although not thought of as a great Bat-flick, did it all better). An unrecognizable Colin Farrell may not be as goofy as Danny DeVito’s attempt at the Penguin, but he’s just as absurd. Even worse is the bland and poorly cast Paul Dano as the Riddler. Any promise the story holds is ruined by the unsatisfying back half of the story, especially Dano’s over-the-top, over-acting (it’s reminiscent of Andy Robinson’s real world-type psycho in Dirty Harry, and that’s a bad fit in this movie). A better, more interesting actor might have had a chance at saving this one.
That recurring common problem of Batman movies is back, this time not only with Batman but with his arch-nemesis, too: Pattinson whispers his dialogue in that throaty smoker’s way we’ve seen from Christian Bale and Ben Affleck. If you thought nobody could have a worse masked voice performance than Tom Hardy in The Dark Knight Rises, just wait until you hear Paul Dano, whose dialogue screeches as if he was fighting a sore throat. It will probably make you wince more than once.
The film is joyless. It simply has nothing fun to comment on. For a superhero movie, it’s sad you can’t take your kid to it. The expletives are extreme for any type of film. When in doubt, Matt Reeves’ atrocious writing uses either “Jesus” or “Jesus Christ” whenever he doesn’t know what dialogue to give a character (The Batman could be the latest excuse to play the drinking game “Hi, Bob!”).
The mystery, riddles, and action scenes are extremely boring. The best scene has Kravitz going undercover with a contact lens “wire” working with Batman to gain intel from a nightclub of mobsters. Beyond that, expect the typical explosions for the sake of explosions, a long car chase for no reason, and poorly lit choreographed fight scenes.
Michael Giacchino, who has provided some of this centuries’ best film scores, phones in his first musical score here. It’s so minimalist it’s completely unmemorable. So many scenes seem to limp along in part because Reeves simply chose not to use music to create intrigue or emotion.
DC Entertainment continues its underwhelming delivery of adapting DC Comics to film. If Batgirl is this bad, we all should be ecstatic they pulled it from distribution.
The Batman is available at discounted prices via Vudu, and it’s also streaming on HBO Max. Save yourself the three hours and skip this one. Any previous Batman movie is loads more fun and would be a better choice this holiday weekend.