In a world of stunted emotions, a strung-out, emo Batman (Robert Patterson) is called in by Lt. James Gordon (Jeffrey Wright) to help solve the gruesome murder of the mayor by a new costumed vigilantly, The Riddler (Paul Dano). The Riddler is a BDSM gimp merged with an insel, who somehow is very effective at killing people. To solve the crime, Batman—there is no Bruce Wayne, only Batman—with the help of his Butler Alfred (Andy Serkis) must confront the gangsters Carmine Falcone (John Turturro) and the Penguin (Colin Farrell), and dig into his own past. He also encounters Catwoman (Zoë Kravitz), who he uses for his investigation, but then she sticks around in the movie for no reason and the two kinda-sorta have a romance because the script tells them to (really, there is no other reason).
My god it never ends! Some movies are 3 hours because they have 3 hours of story to tell. And sometimes, rarely because studios know better, a movie is 3 hours because the director is unwilling or incapable of editing his film. This is the second case. Scene after scene is too long; each says all it has to say, and then says it again. And again.
But the length points to a second problem, which is this isn’t a movie; it’s two movies that don’t belong anywhere near each other, squished together. One of those is a gritty, intense, crime movie, where an off-putting private detective works with a hostile police force to find a serial killer in a very corrupt city. This is the good part of The Batman, which would have been much better if it wasn’t a Batman film. There’s no need for Batman to be in this movie. It would be more suited to Benedict Cumberbatch‘s Sherlock Holmes, but a new quirky detective would have probably been better. Everything Batman-like doesn’t fit and Patterson showing up wearing little ears is just silly. Focus on the mystery and make it a hard-R, and we’ve got a good thriller.
Then there’s the second movie; it’s a children’s, action, superhero origin story where an immortal being with variable powers takes mind-bogglingly stupid actions and laughs-off death over and over (oh god the bomb in the face was ridiculous) on his way to learning that vengeance is morally (or strategically) wrong. This movie was always going to be weak, but the real problem is how unnaturally it fits with the crime section. In this section, no one acts in any sensible way, physics doesn’t work, and nothing matters:
- Machine gun to the chest. No problem.
- Semitrucks exploding. No big deal.
- Bomb in the face. Minor inconvenience.
And it all ends in a big explosion-filled climax because that’s what superhero origin movies do.
Even saying all that, there are additional problems with the main character. Our Batman shows little emotion besides moping and rarely speaks in anything outside of a monotone. He also has boots heavy enough for Frankenstein’s Monster to suggest he go buy something lighter (it’s just funny; he can be heard long before he shows up in scenes, clomping along). And he has an unnecessary voice-over that blends in to his stereotypical 1950s teen girl diary. Yes, Batman keeps a diary. It adds nothing and turns the film into a comedy. And like many bad narrations, it vanishes for most of the film, only to return at the end when the filmmakers didn’t trust their images.
What bugs me with The Batman over other failed DC projects is that there’s a really good movie here. Even now if they cut it down to 90 minutes and trashed the action set pieces, you’d have something worth seeing. But director Matt Reeves and company had no concept of restraint or control, producing a mess.