Starring Robert Pattinson, Paul Dano, Jeffrey Wright, John Turturro, Peter Sarsgaard, Andy Serkis, Colin Ferrell, Barry Keoghan, Zoe Kravitz
Written by Matt Reeves and Peter Craig
Based on the comic book character Batman, created by Bob Kane
Directed by Matt Reeves
Produced by Dylan Clark and Matt Reeves
Review by Matt Neufeld
Just how many derned Batman movies does the world need? Well, that’s not a straightforward, direct, inquisitive question–it’s a rhetorical question with a built-in direct answer: The world doesn’t need any more Batman movies, and the world certainly doesn’t need the latest Batman movie, the absolutely awful, horrendously horrible and terrifyingly terrible “The Batman,” an odd, failed experiment in filmmaking that plays out like one over-long, joyless, dark, depressing, devolving dirge.
Sometimes, it’s quite easy to just state directly a recommendation to wholly avoid a film, and in the case of the soulless, uninventive, unoriginal, cliched, scene-robbing, tired and outright downer of a movie “The Batman,” it’s easy to say: Avoid this movie.
“The Batman” fails at all filmic levels– production, direction, acting and writing.
The film is so over-done and under-done at the same time–like most of the comic book superhero movies from the last twenty-five years–it just ends up a confusing, boring, muddled, jumbled and bumbled mess.
The story is an outright, shameless rip-off; there’s nothing new or inventive about the plot, subplots, characterizations, characters, settings or conflicts; the direction is amateurish, unoriginal and even just embarrassing at times; the cinematography is moronically dark (literally), cloudy, fuzzy, claustrophobic and confusing–the camera work over cuts and under cuts and the lighting is so continuously dark, the action and blocking aren’t even clear-cut or easily explainable in many scenes; the acting is so off, so badly off, members of a preview audience laughed at scenes that were not meant to elicit laughs, and they were right to laugh ( that’s not being mean–it’s just true); the casting is so outrageously misguided, only one of the lead characters is well-cast–and everyone else is, well, mis-cast; the script Rob’s, cheats and steals incredibly from not only many previous Batman movies, but from an endless polluted well of cliched comic book superhero movies, detective and cop movies, murder mystery movies and gangster movies–and bad ones in all of these genres; and–seriously–even the hair, make-up, costuming, special effects and set, art and production design are amateurish, cliched, borrowed and stolen, unoriginal and just overly dark and depressing.
Did we mention that “The Batman” is dark and depressing? Just to make it clear: “The Batman” is dark and depressing–but negatively, annoyingly so. It’s one of those movies that when you get in the car to go home after seeing it, you desperately scan the radio dials to find a welcome happy, upbeat and positive song to cheer you up. Is that a tired cliche?! Of course it is; yes, that’s a cliche–noted–but it’s also a truism. Because that’s exactly what this viewer did as soon as the car was turned on soon after sitting through this thing.
“The Batman” is one of those big-budget movies that fails so spectacularly and oddly in so many ways, filmgoers will be left wondering just how such huge, obvious mistakes were made amid the production. First, why was this even green-lit so soon after Christopher Nolan’s hugely successful–and far better–trilogy from 2005 to 2012 that still resonates in popular culture? Just…why? There is no clear answer. That trilogy should stand alone for far longer than ten years after it’s conclusion. Second, who on earth decided that Robert Pattinson was the right actor to be cast as Batman, also known as Bruce Wayne? Just…who? Pattinson is so mis-cast for this role, he’s never believable, approachable or even likeable as Batman or as Bruce Wayne. You know any movie–and especially a comic book superhero movie–is in dire trouble when viewers can’t even connect on any conceivable level with the lead character.
Pattinson plays Bruce Wayne like a tired, drugged-out, under-fed, neurotic, chronically-depressed emo band member who appears to be either constantly in danger of jumping off of one of those poorly-designed Gotham skyscrapers or as, well, someone who seems ready to instantly turn into a crime-fighting vampire/human/crime-fighter creature thing. Lucky for “The Batman,” the filmmakers didn’t pursue that latter story angle. Besides, of course, that was “Blade.”
Actors are often overcast in big-budget movies, of course–that goes back to the literal beginning of film history and it’s happened thousands of times in thousands of movies–but it’s still a valid question to pose: With all of the advance planning, discussions and deliberations that occur before studio suits sign off on multi-million-dollar productions, it’s a continuing wonder that producers and directors can’t even correctly cast their lead character. It’s no offense against Robert Pattinson as a person, but it is accurate that Pattinson is not the best casting choice to play Batman and Bruce Wayne. As Batman, a crime-fighting detective who disguises himself in a bat costume–in case you haven’t heard–Pattinson never generates the type of energy, charisma and energy that the character should have. And as Bruce Wayne, a Richard Branson-style, incredibly wealthy businessman who has a cool mansion, a cool butler, cool James Bondian gadgets, cool amounts of endless money and cool good looks to boot, well, as noted, Pattinson never registers as Bruce Wayne on any relatable level.
Next, filmgoers have to wonder about how the script, by director and co-producer Matt Reeves and Peter Craig got approved, too. There are literal scenes that we already saw in Nolan’s classic “The Dark Knight” from 2008. There’s a rambling, psycho, non-sensical serial killer killing high-profile Gotham officials–that was in the 2008 movie. There’s too many scenes of that villain, known as the Riddler, blasting out videos with your standard evil villain riddles, puzzles, ciphers and codes–that was in the 2008 movie. There’s a fight between Batman and security thugs in a loud nightclub with flashing lights and loud music–that was in the 2008 movie. There’s There’s a continuing mystery about the identity of the main villain–that was in the 2008 movie. Batman fighting Gotham’s gangsters, who are nothing more than flat-out stupid Mafia morons–that was in the 2008 movie. And many other scenes–if they weren’t already in the 2008 movie, they were either in other, equally-morose, equally-depressing Batman movies or equally-depressing gangster-thug movies.
Other lead actors are miscast, too. Colin Ferrell makes no sense as the Penguin. And after Danny DeVito’s classic performance as the Penguin in 1992’s “Batman Returns,” even after thirty years, there’s still no need for any other Penguins. Danny DeVito, in a great, tragic, Gothic performance, was, and is, the Penguin. That was a role and performance of a lifetime, and that’s enough. In “The Batman,” the character and portrayal of the Penguin is so un-needed and so underwhelming, the filmmakers should send polite notes of apology to DeVito and Tim Burton, who directed DeVito in that film.
Paul Dano, a fine actor, tries his best to inject the right level of frightful psycho-ness in the Riddler in “The Batman,” but even Dano and the character of the Riddler in this context, just fall flat in this movie. And poor Jeffrey Wright doesn’t register as Lt. Gordon. And the unfortunately miscast Zoe Kravitz for some reason plays Catwoman as some emotionally-stunted, irritable, charmless, perpetually angry and oddly detached woman with not one, but a thousand fragile chips on both shoulders. Reeves and Craig even give her a cliched, offensive, somewhat-racist comment that doesn’t exactly help her likeability factor.
And this movie is so confusingly and poorly constructed, the one, sole, singular actor and character that actually stands out and actually works–Andy Serkis’ smart, stately and stylish butler and confidant and father figure Alfred–is amazingly under-utilized, mis-used and, for much of the movie, utterly forgotten! Yes, the one actor and the one character that actually works is horrendously cast aside in a ridiculous plot point that, like everything else in “The Batman,” just brings down the energy to the off button. Alfred, the character, and Serkis’ Alfred, should have been a primary character and plot point in this movie–much like Michael Caine’s excellent Alfred in the Nolan trilogy and much like Michael Gough’s also-excellent Alfred in four Batman movies from 1989 to 1997.
It’s interesting–the only real character that has generally, consistently worked and been well-cast through most of the Batman movies has been Alfred. Michael Caine, Michael Gough and Andy Serkis should all be praised for their performances as Alfred. Hmmm…does that, should that, could that, possibly be an idea for an actually-original stand-alone film? If someone steals that, you read that idea here first.
It’s time for Warner Bros. and DC Comics, and its film division, to just…simply…give…the…whole…Batman thing a long, well-deserved rest. Just give it a break.
There have been a whopping twenty-two movies that have featured Batman/Bruce Wayne–going as far back as 1943, when the first movie called “Batman” was released. There have been two more movies that were also called “Batman,” in 1966 and 1989. Two movies were called “Batman and Robin,” in 1949 and 1997. One was called “Batman Returns,” in 1992, and one was called “Batman Begins,” in 2005, if you can believe this. One movie was actually called–and this is true–“The Lego Batman Movie,” from 2017. There was a “Catwoman” in 2004, and there is a “Batgirl” set to be released in…2022. Really. There was “The Dark Knight” in 2008, and, yes, “The Dark Knight Rises” in 2012.
There have been a whopping sixteen television series featuring Batman/Bruce Wayne. Holy Television, Batman! This amazing list includes the popular, classic “Batman” series from 1966 to 1968; another series called “The Batman,” from 2004 to 2008; “Batwoman,” which started in 2019; and, believe it or not, “The Batman/Tarzan Adventure Hour,” from one incredible year, 1977 to 1978.
Holy Over-Exposure, Batman!
And, yet, still, after all of this, the best, the best-executed, the most fun, funny, entertaining and enjoyable versions of Batman/Bruce Wayne remains, to this day….the 1966-to-1968 television show and it’s attendant 1966 movie. And that’s not a joke. These remain the best versions of Batman because Batman is, above all else, a comic book. Bob Kane created Batman for a comic book, and that is Batman’s true home. And nothing else–nothing–has captured that true-blue original comic book spirit than the Adam West-rooted Batman television show and movie. Forget the darkness, the depression, the deconstructing–BAM!–WHAM!–KAPOW!–lets just have some fun! And that’s what comic books–and comic book television shows and movies– should be: fun.
“The Batman,” and most of its modern-times movie brethren, just aren’t much fun. And they barely register as homages to Bob Kane’s original foundation of the character in comic books.
The ’60s series and movie, starred (for some actors, in differing years and mediums) the great Adam West as Batman; Burt Ward as Dick Grayson/Robin; Alan Napier as Alfred; Neil Hamilton as Commissioner Gordon; Burgess Meredith as the Penguin; Cesar Romero as the Joker; Frank Gorshin and John Astin as the Riddler; Julie Newmar, Lee Meriwether and Eartha Kitt as Catwoman; George Sanders, Otto Preminger and Eli Wallach as Mr. Freeze; Cliff Robertson as Shame; Vincent Price as Egghead; and Milton Berle as Louie the Lilac.
Holy Great Casting, Batman!
Then, as now, the world needed, and needs, some laughs, some fun, and some true comic book spirit. What the increasingly wayward Warner Bros. and DC Comics need to do is shut down the over-exposed Batman assembly line of television shows and movies for a good, solid fifteen years–and then finally come back with a feature-length movie similar in spirit, fun and enjoyment as the Adam West-anchored series and movie.
Holy Great Idea, Batman! That’s right, Robin, it is a great idea. Back to the Bat Cave Writing Room! And hopefully we’ll see a new, fun, funny and enjoyable Batman–and Robin–in fifteen years, and not a second before then. After all–right now and for the next fifteen years, the world just doesn’t need any more Batman movies.