A hot mess.
… as in: this movie looks amazing, but its storytelling is somehow both 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‘s hushed tone is an interesting point of contrast from Nolan’s and certainly Snyder’s visions before it, romanticising not its action or violence but instead the humanity of conversations, gestures, and details. Its pace is languidly ponderous and contemplative, but this only highlights how little beyond its cinematography and sound design it offers to ponder or contemplate. The Batman is a tossed salad of references to films like David Fincher‘s Se7en and Zodiac, but with no setup or follow-through, no thematic or narrative substance, and no cumulative statement. The first-draft dialogue does’t trust the viewer to follow a narrative that is both overly simple and needlessly bloated. 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 pseudo-intellectualism?
The soundtrack oscillates between Michael Giacchino‘s score, which may be in breach of John Williams‘ Imperial March and Nino Rota and Carmine Coppola’s score from The Godfather, and needle-drops from Nirvana – both ends of a spectrum which pulled this viewer, at least, right out of the film. The ’90s emo-grunge vibe extends to this interpretation of Bruce Wayne, whose mopey “Dear Diary” voiceover narration is matched by his long floppy black hair and grease-painted eyes, and literally says things like, “You’re not my father”. Like an emo teenager, The Batman seems to be earnest, and to show an awareness of at least its lineage, but perhaps not of itself.
So it’s interesting, but unclear as to how deliberate, that The Batman is willing to show its title character in (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: its visuals lend 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 like Colin Farrell – but he also doesn’t look like he belongs in the same movie with everyone else.
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):