The most interesting scene in The Batman takes place right near the start of the movie. The Mayor has been murdered and Batman is visiting the crime scene.
This is the sort of situation we have seen play out in countless Bat-comics over the years, quite a number of cartoons, and here and there in the movies. The way that usually plays out is that there are one or two cops around and Batman steps out of the shadows to have a chat with Commissioner Gordon. "Has he been there the whole time? How does he stay undetected for so long?" the audience are left to wonder.
But that's not how it goes with this new Batman - he enters through the front door with Gordon, walking down a passageway lined with cops at the scene of the murder of a seemingly well-regarded Mayor. The cops stare down menacingly at Batman. They don't want him there. The disdain is palpable. It's also weird that this guy is there in that bizarre suit.
This Batman, as played by Robert Pattinson, is a weird guy.
And he'd almost have to be. What is great about this scene is that it plays Batman as he would be in real life: an outsider; a bizarre oddity that makes all the normal folk uncomfortable.
The Batman, as a movie, is strongest for the first third of the movie which leans in to Batman as dangerously weird. As an audience, director Matt Reeves throws us off balance - we are introduced to Batman pretty early on as he does Batman-y things, but the expected iconography of Batman has been stripped away. He doesn't return home in a Batmobile - here he strips off the costume before riding home on a motorcycle. And his home isn't at stately Wayne Manor 14 miles out from Gotham City - he's living in the middle of a run-down, dangerous Gotham City in a large Wayne family apartment building. His Bat-cave, if you can call it that, is a hidden space behind a garage door that looks like a long-forgotten subway train station (a cross between New York's Central Station and the lair from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2: The Secret of The Ooze).
It's all dark, creepy, and unexpected. And that section of the film absolutely rules. Where the film starts to get a bit unstuck is when the film trades its edge for a more expected, traditional Batman story. Bring in Catwoman (the awesome Zoe Kravitz), Gotham's crime families, and a plot involving the narcotics trade in the city and the film gets bogged down in the business of expected plot mechanics. It too-often forgets to revel in the weird.
The 1984 Steve Martin comedy The Lonely Guy introduced to cinema the idea of weird guys. This is the notion that if a guy is single for too long, left to his own interests, guys start to get weird. This bears out in real life - it's never women with obscenely large comic book collections, or women interested in model trains. It is always guys. Weird guys.
When Pattinson's Batman first meets Catwoman, he, and by extension the film itself, starts to get less weird. He starts to engage more with the world as it actually is and is seen more in daylight, helping folks out. Counter to this is the Zodiac-wannabe The Riddler, a terrorist who for most of the film is an unknown entity. But as the villain is unmasked, revealing actor Paul Dano, he isn't just seen to be a weird guy. He's incel-weird. And what more, he spends time online talking to like-minded weird guys. It culminates with Batman, now less weird, taking on an incel army.
Nobody going in to The Batman expected the film to serve as a remake of The Lonely Guy, but 2022 has proven to be full of surprises.
Audiences leaving The Batman will be exhausted, but also disappointed. Perhaps unfairly so. The film is so strong and confident in its youthful 'f--k it all' energy at the start of the film, with Matt Reeves clearly keen to have his Batman grow-up. The film takes place over just a week, but the Batman who emerges at the end of the movie is a Batman who has stepped out of the darkness. While that makes for a satisfying arc, it creates a Batman and a Gotham City that is less scary and oppressively dark than where we entered the story. In doing that, it strips the film of what felt so fresh about the film in its opening act: we say a too-soon goodbye to the hero this city deserves. A creepy, weird guy.
Embracing the spirit of The Riddler it seemed appropriate to work through a few questions. Riddle me this...
Does The Batman really go for three hours?
It sure does.
Does it feel like three hours?
It sure does. But also, while you will certainly feel all three of those hours, the film has so much going on in it that you'll be mostly forgiving of that runtime.
Is there a post-credits sequence?
Not really. Sort-of. But no, not really. Don't sit through those very long credits unless you're especially keen.
Is there a good reason to cast Colin Farrell as Penguin and hide him under all that makeup with a fake accent, rather than just hire a character actor?
Why even ask that question? We all know the answer...
Does The Joker make an appearance in the film?
How is Jeffrey Wright in the film?
As you would expect, he's the best thing about the movie. His James Gordon is fully realised and an absolute joy to watch on screen.
Some reviews have called this the best Batman movie. Is it?
Yes, it's long. But it's also a very good Batman movie. There is a strong case presented here that it is the best of the Batman movies. The Dark Knight was incredible with a number of fantastic set pieces, but this couples those with some exceptional visceral sequences that will thrill and delight you in your cinema chair. It is certainly the most like the Batman comics of any of the movies to date.
Batman is playing in cinemas now. It streams on HBO Max in the US in 45 days.