Starring: Robert Pattinson, Zoey Kravitz, Paul Dano, Jeffrey Wright, Colin Farrell, John Tuturro, Andy Serkis, and Peter Sarsgaard.
Directed By: Matt Reeves
Where I Watched it: HBO MAX
English Audio Description Available?: Yes
Narrated By: Jedidiah Barton
The Plot: In his second year as a masked vigilante, Bruce Wayne (Pattinson) is struggling to clean up your rather run of the mill gang members, street thugs, and drug dealers. But, when a new serial killer presents himself, leaving riddles behind at his crime scene, Bruce finds himself struggling with the kind of vengeance he always imagined for himself, with the truths that slowly come out as a result of the Riddler’s (Dano) continued crime scenes. With the assistance of Jim Gordon (Wright), much to the chagrin of the Gotham police, Bruce follows the clues that seem more and more directly aimed at The Batman. In his quest for answers, he turns to the Penguin (Farrell) for answers, takes a good hard look at Carmine Falcone (Tuturro), and crosses paths with a very determined Selina Kyle (Kravitz). But there seems to be only one person Bruce truly trusts, Alfred (Serkis), and before The Riddler is done, Gotham and Bruce will never be the same.
What Works: There really is a lot to like here. Matt Reeves, who continues to be a very interesting and promising director, has chosen his first outing with the dark knight being a “in progress” approach. There’s no overdone shot of the Wayne parents being murdered, or an explanation of how Bruce came to this point. He just is. For whatever reason, Bruce has chosen to be Vengeance. And that’s where we start.
Reeves separates himself from the previous iterations of Batman by embracing them, and reinventing them from what you already know. He takes characters you’re familiar with, and shows a very stark contrast to how they’ve been portrayed on screen before. Paul Dano couldn’t be further from Jim Carrey’s performance if he tried. In some respects, he almost feels underutilized, as we see him very little in comparison to other Bat Villans of films past. When we do see him, most of the time it’s a fleeting moment. We are saving his big moments, but you wouldn’t know that his screen time increases. I kind of spoiled that, I suppose, but complimenting Reeves for managing not to keep an entire film revolving around The Riddler with as little screen time as he actually has is quite a feat.
And it’s the choices like that, the decisions to put himself on the other spectrum away from Burton, Schumacher, Nolan, and even Snyder, that causes The Batman to soar. Robert Pattinson is so unlike every version we’ve seen before. his take is much darker, and also less concerned with the opulence of Bruce Wayne, and far more focused on doing the hard work of hitting the streets and cleaning it up one by one.
For those who continue to see only Edward Cullen, this is so far from that performance, that even if you’ve missed all of Pattinson’s work since Twilight, you’d still have to finally resign to the idea that he actually can act. And he’s surrounded by massive talent all looking to defy expectations, and be a far cry from anything you’ve ever seen before.
Colin Farrell’s Penguin is much more realistic and grounded than Burton’s Devito version. Kravitz doesn’t attack her Catwoman with nearly the same level of sexual prowess as her previous feline fatales. She’s far more interested in achieving a very specific goal, and it’s one that doesn’t require her to flaunt any sort of feminine wiles to get what she wants. She’s smart, determined, and very much not portrayed as irredeemable. She could very well be Batman’s sidekick with just some slight tweaking.
Even Andy Serkis manages to have an entirely different approach to Alfred, though this is one where even though I love Serkis, he’s actually my least favorite Alfred to date. I appreciate what he was trying to do, but ultimately, of the reinvented group, his was the least efffective.
Reeves takes full use of the three hour runtime. I never felt like this film was too long, even though I was astutely aware of the runtime. It’s just how he chooses to lay the film out, every moment and every scene seems and feels so integral and important to the direction of the story that there’s nothing to take away. I’m sure there’s a slightly longer cut that was likely to get an R rating, but I’m not sure that’s a better cut. This is a very strong PG-13, and I would think twice before letting young kids watch this.
The frequent comparisons to Seven and Saw are fair, and maybe that takes a little away from the originality, but when you’re adapting one of the most recognizable characters, originality doesn’t come from plot structure, it comes from the approach, and Reeves chooses to approach his Batman from a very different direction than any other director.
I can’t leave this section without praising Michael Giacchino’s score, which is just perfection. I had to sit through the credits in their entirety to get the audio description information, and the credits music was beautiful, piano centric, and felt entirely of its own existence and not feeling like it needed to replicate any previous Batman themes. It’s a gorgeous score that I hope is remembered at the end of the year.
And even though I’m a blind film critic, based on the audio description, I’d say this is a strong contender for Costumes, Hair and Makeup, Production Design, Cinematography, Sound, and Visual effects. I’d love to see this get any acting recognition, but we all know that’s not happening.
What Doesn’t Work: I already alluded to the fact that even though i respect the hell out of Andy Serkis, he’s now my least favorite Alfred. And not because of choices in the script, but just the portrayal. He never felt like Alfred to me, and felt more like a potential sidekick, or man behind the computer (like an Oracle) than Bruce’s one time caregiver, and now father figure, friend, and butler.
I also found it interesting that even though in year two of being Vengeance, Falcone seems very non-plussed about the existence of a vigilante. I suppose Bruce hasn’t been making as big of an impact as he thought.
And it was interesting to me to see Reeves clearly wanting to do something so different, yet still making choices because they worked well when another director or actor chose to do them. Pattinson still mimics that gruff Batman voice that Bale started, which is missing from the entries left by Keaton, Kilmer, and Clooney. That was something that Nolan and Bale started, and it’s still occurring here.
But probably the most glaring example of self indulgence is that cameo character that has that scene with Riddler. what an unfortunate decision. Not only was it completely unnecessary to the advancement of the current plot, it showed that Reeves was playing into this continued trope where audiences need some kind of end credits/post credits sequence in order to come back for a sequel. He had the opportunity to turn back time here and actually buck a trend, but instead he gave into something he clearly didn’t want to do. He doesn’t have an end credits sequence or post-credits, because he put what would normally have been in that position actually into the film. So instead of it being a tease he could always course correct, it feels much more like a direct promise.
And that promise is such a shame. What I loved about Reeves and his first take was that he took something we were familiar with and flipped it on its side. What he should be doing in the sequel, is not just finishing the loose ends left behind by the first film, but introducing us to one of the many Bat villains that has yet to grace out screen, instead of deciding immediately to tackle a very overdone selection. There are so many potential storylines to explore, and this was something that Christopher Nolan understood, which is why the first film in his trilogy centers around Scarecrow and Ras Al Ghul, two villains who had not graced the big screen.
Reeves had his shot to go after someone we hadn’t seen before, bringing them to the forefront. Instead, he’s decided to retread, making me far less excited about the sequel.
The Blind Perspective: I always get excited when I hear Jedidiah Barton’s voice on a film, because I know the audio description is going to be good. And this was. excellent audio description, and it faced many challenges.
We needed to be able to fully be immersed by the crime scenes left behind by the Riddler, so we could understand what clues to look for if we were going to assist Batman (which I think we all do in our heads to some extent), and there are multiple action and fighting sequences here that are richly described. Probably the best representation of how well the description works is that the car chase, which was magnificent, was very well described, so that even though there were multiple cars involved, we were able to follow what was happening.
On the slightly negative side, there is a sequence where many of the characters are, and the way the location is described is done in such a way that it slightly telegraphs to the audience something surprising might be just ahead, relevant to the specific needs of the location. It would be like if a character unknowingly walked onto a glass panel on a ceiling, if the description decides to include that, then of course that will be relevant. At some point, that character standing on glass will wish they weren’t. As an example.
I did feel like the film was a big of a mixed bag in terms of character description. I thought the description for Riddler and Catwoman were both stronger than the descriptions for Penguin or Falcone. And with the immense prosthetic makeup Farrell is rumored to be wearing, I would have loved an immersive description of his features.
Final Thoughts: I’m not sure anything will ever beat The Dark knight for me. I think it is a top 10 film for me, which makes it next to impossible to top. That being said, I loved a whole lot of what Reeves had to offer here. It’s certainly no less perfect than The Dark Knight Rises, and hopefully will lead to a strong sequel (if they can restrain themselves from activating that cameo character). Three hours will fly by, and Pattinson will change your mind if all you ever see is Edward Cullen. This is a very new and different Batman.
Final Grade: A-