Review: The Batman (2022)

A hot mess.

… as in: this movie looks amazing, but its storytelling is overloaded and undercooked.

Who needed another Batman movie? Still, this being helmed by the director of the beautiful and ultimately moving War for the Planet of the Apes (2017) lent this movie at least some promise. And certainly, The Batman proves that Matt Reeves‘ painterly eye is a perfect match for both cinematographer Greig Fraser‘s low-key backlighting and Zoë Kravitz‘s diamond-cutter cheekbones. The degree of abstraction in both sight and sound almost situates this superhero film in art house territory.

The aesthetics are striking. The storytelling, however… woof.

The Batman is a tossed salad of references to films like David Fincher‘s Se7en and Zodiac, but with none of the setup or follow-through, much less thematic or narrative substance. The Riddler (Paul Dano) is given a timely and potentially interesting character detail in being propelled by his 4chan-celebrity-status; but this is cancelled out by Batman (Robert Pattinson) and Commissioner Gordon (Jeffrey Wright) solving clues with all the campy “logic” of Batman ’66 TV series, just with ASMR delivery. Loving reference, or embarrassing psuedo-intellectualism?

The soundtrack oscillates between Michael Giacchino‘s score, which may be in breach of John WilliamsImperial March, and ’90s emo-grunge, both ends of a spectrum which pulled this viewer right out of the film.

So it’s interesting, but unclear as to how deliberate, that The Batman is willing to show its title character is (perhaps occasionally unintentionally) laughable moments: from his flying rat (the Batcowl-cam shot is… bold) taking a tumble, to Mr “I am Vengeance” just kind of walking around mundanely in a weird suit, in clear and unmysterious view, a stark choice given the underlit palette of the entire city around him. Sadly, this is as much as The Batman offers to add to the myriad film versions we’ve already had.

It’s not that the beauty of The Batman distracts from its story – quite the opposite: it lends cohesion to a story struggling to articulate what little it has to say, and which takes so. bloody. long to say it.

Oh yes and Colin Farrell doesn’t look recognisable – but he also doesn’t look like he belongs in the same movie with everyone else.

Further Viewing

The Batman‘s deleted scene, in which the Dark Knight interviews an unnamed Joker (Barry Keoghan) in Arkham Asylum, is a microcosm of the film itself – it looks dark and mysterious, and is clearly a reference to better films like The Silence of the Lambs, but, like its villain, takes a long time to say nothing at all:

“If the audience… is saying, ‘It’s beautiful!’ but they’re held at arm’s length, and they’re not drawn into it, then somewhere we have failed.” This comment from Batman’s supervising and Lead Digital Colorist, David Cole, is as painful in its irony as this conversation is otherwise fascinating (via Dolby):

Thomas Flight delves into the genuinely fascinating techniques behind Why The Batman Sounds Incredible:

Mark Holtze, an editor and photographer who has long championed adapting cheap vintage photography lenses to video cameras, looks at the use of Soviet lenses in The Batman:

Here are scenes from other films which do it better: