Three hours does not an epic make is the definitive statement the hotly anticipated The Batman delivers, a disappointing realization that comes a little under halfway through this superhero detective thriller that nonetheless oozes with atmosphere and rocks to a mesmerizing vibe.
Director and co-writer Matt Reeves (Cloverfield, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, War for the Planet of the Apes, Let Me In) clearly believes he has something special on his hands here, to the degree that no moment is left on the cutting room floor.
But as much as I wanted to believe, as much as I wanted to love it—I have been a huge Batman fan since I was a kid and Reeves has landed several stellar films over the years—there just isn’t enough substance here to justify the running time.
As awesome as the movie looks at times, it increasingly becomes a grueling exercise, desperately clawing and scratching for something unique and incredible. Reeves’ take on the Riddler (played by Paul Dano) is intriguing—unlike Jim Carey’s take on the character in Batman Forever, he is a dark, brutal serial killer here, a man clearly twisted by psychosis and anger into a monster hellbent on bringing justice (vengeance?) to the corruption of Gotham. And playing up Batman’s detective skills—the movie, at least for a while, is an investigate noir, not an action film—is a pleasant change of pace that quickly establishes how different this movie is going to be from Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight trilogy.
The thing is, an investigative noir thriller should be a lean, mean, contained experience, not a three-hour long whatever-it-is. Reeves loses sight of the Riddler at times and the movie suffers as a result; as much as Zoe Kravitz is a worthwhile Catwoman, for example, the subplot surrounding her seems more about filling time and adding complexity than actually doing much of value.
The Batman largely goes off the rails in the third act; Reeves, his core story complete, acknowledges that a Batman movie needs some big action so he shoehorns a lengthy climax onto his detective film. Too bad the climax is both unearned and unimpressive, a somewhat cheesy or at least unremarkable effort that clashes with the rest of the movie’s style.
While it’s nice that The Batman doesn’t reenact the death of Bruce Wayne’s parents yet again, Reeves also misses the mark with his titular character. Robert Pattinson is an inspired choice, but he spends nearly all three hours in his batsuit looking angry that he has a super massive wedgie. Wayne clearly has some major psychological issues and Pattinson has the chops to put them on full display, but the movie is largely uninterested in exploring this side of the character.
Paul Dano is also a terrific actor given the right material, but once he gets to show his face Reeves botches his remaining scenes. He plays like an evil doppelgänger to Bruce Wayne/Batman, but Dano’s big scene falls flat, evoking more laughter than terror. We have seen Dano do similar scenes before to great effect, but the writing—or, ironically, legitimate screen time—fails him.
Despite all its problems, there is a really solid 100-minute Batman movie in here. The Batman looks fantastic, and while Reeves gets distracted by pretty camera shots and the like, it’s hard to deny the talent off camera. Coupled with entrancing musical composition, The Batman operates with a confident vibe that makes you feel like you’re in a David Fincher movie. Some of the smaller action scenes are satisfyingly brutal (for a dark PG-13), and the Penguin car chase scene is a fun, exhilarating watch.
The Batman has the right pieces, but it has a thousand other pieces, too. As much as I enjoyed elements of this movie, it’s ultimately a disappointing slog, a piece of filmmaking that tries to do too much and fails to hold true to its identity.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.