THB #93: The Batman (no spoilers)
This film is fascinating to me on so many levels.
You have seen writing on the movie. It’s a film noir detective piece that happens to be set in Gotham City, as designed by Ridley Scott and Gaspar Noe (credit to Lawrence G. Paull and Alain Juteau, their Production Designers). The Dick in this one wears a mask. The Dame in this one wears a pussy hat. And the bad guy is in the way of the bad guys in the city that The Dick isn’t really proud to be protecting.
A classic detective movie like this would be about 90 minutes. But here, it’s almost 180… probably because the filmmakers are trying to do a movie inside a movie, having to solve one mystery to get to the other, and didn’t want to underplay either one.
I saw the movie a second time before writing about it because I’m not so sure about what I really think. I found all of it engaging. But I found there to be a lot of it. There are so many interesting ideas, in terms of storytelling, but then some of them become repetitious.
In comedy, 3 is a magic number. But - no spoilers coming - there is a club where Batman/Bruce enters 3 times. The second time is a call back to the first time, which is terrific. The third time is clever… but is it really adding something?
That, for me, is the riddle of The Batman. When is it too much of a good thing?
Again, don’t want to spoil. But the final giant set piece is complex, enaging, full of ideas, and leads to one of the most beautiful comic book movie images ever… but there is a part of me that feels it was superfluous.
If this was a story in which solving the key mystery seemed too easy to solve, demanding one more complex round of mystery, okay. We’ve seen that convention before. There is another shoe to drop. But after 2 full hours of movie (with another 45 minutes to come, pre-credits), even Imelda Marco’s closet might seem too empty for another shoe.
Then there is the central performance. If someone says to you that Robert Pattinson was great, they liked what the movie is. If someone says the performance was too low key and brought too little emotion to the party, they probably didn’t much like what the movie is.
It reminds me a little of Nightmare Alley, a film that is magnificent in many ways, but also fell a little too in love with the carnival to leave as early as it probably should have. The Batman may spend a little too much time on the drudgery of Gotham on its way to the end of the second act and the third.
There is an oddly flat moment when a character is finally shown dead after the characters in the film not being sure if they are. Why isn’t the audience more moved by that beat, emotionally? That strikes me as one of the keys here… this reveal doesn’t really change the emotional journey we are on. This is a problem.
I may also be reacitng a bit to the repetitions in the film. There are a bunch more than the one I already cited. I had a moment when I found myself musing on Eyes Wide Shut, in which 2 dreams over 2 nights make up the bulk of the movie. The film keeps coming back to the same places, back to similar turns of phrase, back to ideas we have already engaged before.
But this is also one of the things that is really cool about the movie. We know how the beat cop first reacts to Batman… then how he reacts on a second meeting… then how he sees Bruce Wayne… then how they engage a third time as Batman enters a crime scene.
I like that. I really, really like that. But are the storytelling benefits of pace undercut by this kind of side detail? Hard to really know.
It’s hard not to like Zoe Kravitz as Selina Kyle or John Turturro as Carmine Falcone. The magically unrecognizable (except as a sly swing at Harvey Weinstein’s head) Colin Farrell playing Oz (presumably a Cobblepot by birth). Great. Paul Dano gives what might be a career-changing performance. His turn reminded my a lot of young Dustin Hoffman, interestingly. Andy Serkis and Jeffrey Wright as Alfred and Gordon get the job of being Basil Exposition at a few steps along the way. Wright is particularly burdened by the silence of Batman, though he makes it work, as he always does.
Reeves has an interesting way as a director in how he manages the big set pieces. He has three in the film. In each case, the event at hand starts as one thing and becomes something altogether different. The last giant set piece, the biggest one by a lot, is the only one where the intention to make this flip is offered up before the event begins.
Reeves brings moments of intimacy to each of the big set pieces. But the smaller action moments have a higher level of intimacy. And you can see that in some ways, The Batman may have been a better movie with less freedom to destroy big stuff.
The darkness of the film gets its own monologue at the very start of the film. And I love the opening. It sets up Batman’s hyper-self-awareness in a way that the film will stay true to until the very end.
The thing is, I really do like the movie. As I think about it, scene by scene, idea by idea, I can’t really think about any moment that I didn’t like. And all that chocolate cake doesn’t make me sick to my stomach by the end. The first time I saw it, I couldn’t believe it had been 3 hours by the time the final credit rolled… not that I am unhappy watching 3 hour movies.
Part of me that just feels like it’s all too much. But part of me also feels like “too much” is what is so special about the movie. It’s the long time Bruce Wayne takes to get from his car to the church. It’s the care with which Batman surveys crime scenes. It’s the creepy stalker perspectives that don’t rush to the point. It’s Gordon and Batman just chatting. It’s Selina walking through the nightclub. It’s a clue that Batman and Gordon chew on for a while before a villain helps them without thinking anything of it. It’s the long shot that last 3x as long as most movies would let in in which The Penguin actually waddles.
Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera…
This is not only your parents’ Batman… this ain’t like any Batman movie we have ever seen. It has a lot of toys, but if you remember the first Batman movie (Burton/Keaton) trailer and the line, “Where does he get all those wonderful toys?” Not in this movie. He has toys, but they aren’t fun. They are utilitarian.
In the end, this may be the best Batman movie.
But it also may be the least entertaining Batman movie.
So I guess I’ll just have to revisit it again.