The evolution of the character Batman from campy to creepy has been quite curious to behold. Each successive Batman adaptation became darker, far removed from the frivolity of the 1966 film adaptation of the overtly comedic television series. The 1989 adaptation was dark and gritty for the times until it too devolved into camp idiocy. Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight Trilogy too went darker than before. Now, we get The Batman, where it is almost always raining, psychopathic criminal geniuses wander about, and despair is everywhere. The Batman is far longer than it should be, but with just enough to barely recommend it.
It is also far longer than it should be.
Two years into his vigilante crimefighting, The Batman (Robert Pattinson) finds himself a new adversary who calls himself The Riddler (Paul Dano). He too is taking the law into his own hands, enacting violent vengeance on the corrupt and shady politicians who have sold out Gotham for decades. The Riddler kills powerful figures such as the Mayor and Commissioner of Police, but there is more to his wicked schemes than he lets on.
The Batman's alter ego, Bruce Wayne, is a billionaire recluse, haunted by his parents' murder twenty years ago. His loyal manservant Alfred (Andy Serkis) cannot draw him out, let alone get him interested in Wayne Enterprises or Foundation business. The Batman, however, has taken an interest, not just in finding The Riddler's next scheme, but how it ties into the vast corruption Gotham finds itself in. That corruption also involves The Penguin (Colin Farrell), chief underling to mob boss Carmine Falcone (John Turturro). It also draws in Selina Kyle (Zoe Kravitz), who works at Penguin's Iceberg Lounge and the secondary, secret club Pengy runs. Selina has her own connection to Falcone as does Bruce, a connection he is unaware of.
As The Riddler continues his reign of terror, with only The Batman and Lieutenant Jim Gordon (Jeffrey Wright) to face him, the various machinations of all our villains soon form in an explosive finale.
Curiously, this plot summation does not sum up how sprawling The Batman is. At nearly three hours, it is longer than Dune (my current standard for long films). That in itself is not a terrible thing, if it can justify said running time. However, I do not think The Batman can. How many times can The Batman/Bruce go to the Iceberg Lounge and meet up with the same twin bouncers? Did we need such a long time with corrupt, weak and weepy District Attorney Colson (Peter Sarsgaard)?
Oftentimes, one of our four villains (The Riddler, The Penguin, Catwoman and Falcone) disappears and except for Catwoman you do not really miss them. The Penguin probably fared the worst in this situation, as I kept thinking he could have been eliminated from the film altogether without it affecting the flow of the story. It is almost like he was there because The Penguin is one of the better-known Batman villains.
To be fair, I can see the temptation to keep Pengy in given how good Farrell was in the role. Sleazy, under heavy makeup and curiously vague Italian/Nuw Yawk accent, Farrell is unrecognizable and puts in the very few remotely funny moments. He also is the featured player in one of The Batman's major setpieces: a mad chase that takes full advantage of the impressive cinematography.
However, I found The Penguin rather superfluous to where I forgot he was in the film unless he was literally in the scene. The same is the case for Serkis' Alfred, who was there just to be there.
It was the opposite with Kravitz's Selina Kyle, who not only dominated every scene she was in but whose absence was clearly missed. Selina's mix of assured self-confidence and deep vulnerability, coupled with a righteous albeit at times misapplied sense of justice made her the standout. Second to her was Turturro, playing perhaps an Italian stereotype (down to listening to Al Martino's I Have But One Heart when Bruce confronts him), but in his stillness and soft voice he makes Falcone menacing, arrogant and above all highly dangerous.
When it comes to Dano, I appreciate that we did get a chance to see his face versus the Zodiac/Unabomber mix he was shaped to be. While many compare The Batman with Seven in terms of visuals and sense of utter despair, I think a better comparison would be between Dano's performance and Seven's Kevin Spacey. One wouldn't blame people for thinking The Riddler was John Doe, Jr. I found Dano slipped between serious and silly, between being that menacing figure The Riddler was intended to be and being slightly goofy to camp.
I wasn't the only one: various audience members chuckled and laughed when Dano's Riddler slipped from soft to crazed.
I also was not impressed with director/co-screenwriter Matt Reeves' script (with Peter Craig). The Batman keeps to a tried-and-true method of having the villain's masterplan work exactly right based on hitting the exact circumstances needed to work. At a certain point, I thought The Batman would have done well to end, but we had another hour to go, and I despaired about how long all this was taking.
Finally, Robert Pattinson. I have for the longest time insisted he cannot act versus Film Twitter's assertion that he is his generation's Peter O'Toole, some titanic force of acting prowess to rival the likes of Stewart, Bogart or Grant. I thought he did will as The Batman, for which he was the majority of the time. I also did think that The Batman was genuinely bonkers at times.
It is when he is Bruce Wayne that I found him lacking. I do not know whether it is the character who was meant to be catatonic or the actor who was, but there was no Bruce Wayne here. Given that Pattinson was primarily The Batman for the majority of The Batman, I won't belabor the point.
The Batman has some exceptional visual moments and Michael Giacchino's incredible score. Both evoke the menacing, decaying, perhaps doomed world of Gotham, and are standouts in the film.
The Batman is not a bad film. It has some strong performances and elements that make it worth watching. However, it is longer than it needs to be and some of the performances do slip into almost cartoons. On the whole though, The Batman has just enough to make this Gotham journey worth the time.