I remember watching Superman (1978) back when I was a kid. It was one of my dad’s favourite films growing up, and had everything I considered to be “perfect cinema” at the age of 10; alongside films like X-Men and Spiderman, of course. A huge portion of us first seeing Superman in his suit is dedicated to him saving people. He catches a woman falling from a building and a helicopter in one swoop. He even saves a cat from a tree. It’s a stark contrast from modern superhero films where we rarely see superheroes directly save anyone. Sure, now days they all indirectly save the whole world by punching a baddie until his plot is undone, but we don’t often see the heroes rescue anyone who isn’t already a close friend of theirs. I mean, Tom Holland’s Spiderman sure as hell save’s his best friend’s asses a lot, but considering it was his actions, and those of other superhero-affiliated people that put them in danger, it’s not as meaningful or impressive when he saves them, as it is when Superman merely gives a girl her cat back because he happened to be in the area. Sometimes a five second sequence of a hero moving a person out of the way of falling debris is more powerful than the fake tension of a five minute one, consisting of the hero saving a notable side character we know won’t die anyway.
The Batman (2022) is, in many ways, an answer to this depiction of super “heroes”, which I think is one of it’s core strengths. The whole film is about a severely depressed Batman going from the typical “save the world by punching the bad guys” depiction of a hero to realising the most meaningful difference he can make in Gotham is saving people directly affected by the atrocities the villain’s wreak on the city. The finale of this movie caught me off guard as a huge flood begins wiping civilians off the street and into debris; I got not-so-welcome flashbacks to Man of Steel thinking about how meaningless it’s going to be for Batman to stop the baddies if this is the cost. But, to my surprise, Batman also realises this very same thing and spends the last moments of the film not in a big action set-piece (although that does admittedly prelude this realisation), but saving a child trapped under debris and leading lost people out of the water and to the high ground.
Although this character arc wouldn’t be as touching, were it not for the countless films of super powered people generally not caring about the individuals at risk in the moment, it is still a good one and one I appreciated. I mean up until now entire films had been made by studios to justify or explain why superheroes don’t save people as much as they fight – the likes of Captain America Civil War and Batman vs Superman. But for all their super elaborate plots, none work as well as Batman simply looking down at people in water and thinking to himself “I’ve made a mistake, I need to do something” in this movie.
Not only for this reason, but because Robert Pattison is a damn good actor and the Batman suit looks great, I think this film might have my favourite depiction of Batman in any media. And that’s saying a lot because I’m really not a huge Batman fan – I might be burned at the stakes for saying this, but the Dark Knight trilogy really doesn’t do anything for me, but that just meant I was more pleasantly surprised by how much I liked the character in this film.
It’s not all sunshine and rainbows, though. This movie is three hours long and I do not think it at all needed to be. There were long stretches of this film where it just failed to hold my attention and, even while sitting in a cinema with recliner chairs and popcorn, I found myself caught in the occasional daydream. This was mostly in scenes involving Cat Woman or the endless conversations about Bruce Wayne’s parents who, just like in Joker (2019), find themselves directly involved in the villain’s main plot. For the record, this films story does a much better job of integrating them than Joker did (by a long shot), but it is still corny to a level that seems to be at odds with the dark tone and style the film is going for. Maybe if this was a tongue in cheek film – in a similar vein to how Tobey Maguire’s Spiderman always coincidentally had some personal connection to every single super villain he faced – I could get behind it, but it just didn’t work for me. As for Cat Woman, her character just isn’t that interesting; she wants to avenge the death of a lady who had five seconds of screen time and has a rather forced relationship with Batman.
Honestly, cutting down on those two things to make a more concise back and forth between the Batman, Commissioner Gordon and the Riddler would have probably made me enjoy the film a whole lot more since those characters are all played by who I feel are the strongest actors in the film. Paul Dano always puts on a god show and is a very creepy villain (though he very nearly over-does it here), and Jeffrey Wright is well suited to the grizzly depiction of his character. Also, surprisingly, of note is Colin Farrell as the Penguin – a side villain who works for the mob.
The last thing I want to touch on is the action. There isn’t a lot of it because, as you’ve probably already read, this is a very slow paced movie more concerned with being a murder mystery/detective story than a traditional set-piece after set-piece superhero film. For me that’s fine and it was a nice change of pace. But the action sometimes deviated from gritty to traditional superhero silliness: There’s a lot of grounded, hard-hitting and well choreographed fights here that work well to show that Batman’s vulnerable, but a force to be reckoned with nonetheless. As far as I’m concerned these are all damn good action scenes. But then there’s a few that add weird CGI shots into them that just don’t work because of how overtly fake they are. In the final fight scene, for instance, Batman jumps around on his grapple hook a lot and it’s so jarring watching what is obviously a CGI Batman go from quick, flawless and fluid movement into a real disorgansied struggle as the actors take over. It’s a let down to see the superhero silliness in otherwise grounded action scenes that would have worked well without it.
Overall the Batman was a mixed bag for me. It’s the first Batman film I can say that I liked, so that’s good. It’s got mostly good action, an excellent cast and unique story with a kind of meta-narrative on how superhero movies aren’t really so much about “heroes” anymore as they are about super people punching other super people. I guess it’s also nice to see a dark superhero film by DC that isn’t just depressing for the sake of being depressing, but one which actually ends on an optimistic and hopeful note. But on the other hand it’s needlessly long, with the characters who are given the most subplots being those that actively switched my brain off from the movie for extended periods of time.
I personally wouldn’t sit through it again, even though I did enjoy parts of it, but I can definetly see why it’s doing so well because it does genuinely feel at least a little fresh in the stale and formulaic state previous DC films and, indeed, Marvel ones have left the genre in. So if you’re more of a superhero movie buff than I then I’d recommend it to you, as it might surprise you.
Awesome review as always. For me, “a mixed bag” pretty well sums it up. It was a well-made, entertaining work of art, although I left feeling just a little disappointed overall. I appreciated the ending as much as you did, and I loved the costume — although I wasn’t sure that jingling sound when he approached someone in slow motion was particularly conducive to blending in with shadows. Seems like the World’s Greatest Detective would have remembered to empty his pockets. Otherwise, great costume — the best cowl we’ve ever seen, the way the batarang recessed into the cuirass, all of it. Everyone in the supporting cast gave an outstanding performance. The Batmobile was the best ever seen on screen, I would even venture to say that this may have been my favorite version of Catwoman ever. (Someone’s going to have to explain to me at some point why she’s a martial arts expert?) I didn’t think I’d like the “grounded” take on the Riddler, but the actor won me over, and his breakdown when he realized Batman wasn’t his “buddy” was wonderfully disturbing. It was refreshing to see a Batman film beginning with the hero working WITH local police, instead of being hunted by them for a change.
While I enjoyed Pattinson in costume, I was disappointed that either he or director Reeves made the decision not to differentiate between Batman and Bruce Wayne. Pattinson walks about glowering through his widdle bangs in broad daylight at the mayor’s funeral and seems to be daring folks to guess his barely-concealed identity. Even a relatively inexperienced Batman would know better, in my opinion, than to behave that way in public. I was also struck by the fact that the Riddler is never defeated by Batman. He merely completes his plan and then turns himself in, otherwise he’d presumably still be at large. Nothing was accomplished that the police department couldn’t have done themselves regarding the Riddler; Batman was a by-stander. And the length? I don’t mind a long film if it’s engaging throughout — no one complains about “The Sound of Music” being too long, for instance. But this definitely had some Zach Snyder-esque problems with pacing, starting with the opening scene (a Riddler murder that plodded unnecessarily).
In the end, this one will stick in my memory because of the hopeful ending, which as you said is something that differentiates this installment from every previous one, and I’ll be curious to see where the franchise goes from here.
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Thank you for the kind words!
Yes, I do now recall thinking how strange it was to see Robert Pattinson just approach the mob and start antagonising them at a funeral. I do agree with you that Pattinson worked better in costume than out – I know it’s part of Batman that he never let go of his parent’s deaths, but seeing adult Bruce be unable to accept that his father wasn’t the most wholesome man in the world who never once did anything that even slightly could have benefitted himself fell out of my suspension of disbelief. Have him shocked at his father’s dirty hands? Sure. Have him suffer a mental breakdown that would consume at least 3-4 scenes only for it to be resolved when Alfred says “your daddy loved you” (or something to that extent) and I just find it unfitting for the tone the film was going for. I wouldn’t blame Pattinson for any of that though, seems like a script problem.
As for the future, I think I’ll remain happy as long as we don’t get a Pattinson vs Phoenix movie. I mean I know we got a deleted scene released confirming Phoenix isn’t this Batman’s Joker, but I just know some executive sees the cash even a single poster of that would pull in. DC definetly seems better at these more focussed movies than the big universe one’s like Marvel, so I hope they keep Batman’s story contained.
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I’d say that this is the greatest depiction of Batman on film as a real, genuine hero and not just a vigilante, or at least the closest there is to that. The scene you mentioned of him saving the civilians from the flood is probably my favorite scene from any Batman film ever for how it conveys the ultimate point of the film alone, even if there’s other films in this franchise that I prefer as whole experiences.
I wouldn’t say I loved this movie — in many ways it does sort of feel like another retread on familiar material — but I did like it a lot and I’m intrigued in seeing where this version of the character goes. Still, you ask me, James Gunn’s Suicide Squad is probably going to remain the best DC movie to ever come out since 1992.
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Haven’t seen James Gunn’s movie yet, but I’ll certainly get around yo it one day.
And I’d agree – Pattinson really does well in the roll and the writing (at least while he’s in costume) does the role justice too. Also you can tell more effort went into Reeve’s directing than you’d see in more formulaic superhero movies.
This movie certainly isn’t immune to the same traps those movies fall into, but it does a better job of avoiding at least some of them.
Pretty good movie, I just personally wish it was more concise.
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I think superhero movies (and really movies in general) would greatly benefit from just being their own things again and not being tied to any specific “shared universe”. It might have been a novel idea when Iron Man came out and I was admittedly intrigued when DC first announced they’d be having a cinematic universe of their own, especially since they only ever seemed to pay attention to Batman in media outside of comics, but I think a lot of people are burnt out on it by now.
Movies didn’t need to build up to an epic crossover to be successful before, and just because Marvel made it popular doesn’t mean they all have to now.
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Yes, a big part of why I liked this is because I didn’t need to play catch up on 30 other 2 hour movies. The mcu is a lot of fun but i have been alienated by it after endgame and since I exited my teen years I’m not motivated to watch every single entry unless they’re the big event ones.
Supriaingly the Monsterverse is doing okay – the godzilla vs kong bunch of films. Don’t know how or why as they’re little more than dumb fun, but there you go.
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The MonsterVerse is successful because they generally treat each entry as its own thing, and even the stuff that carries into the other movies is done in a way where you won’t feel that lost. DC itself has been taking it even further to the point where the only real connection the films have is that they share the same actors and are said to take place in the same universe.
That’s what made something like the 2017 Mummy movie fail more than anything; there was no faith that a standalone story would be enough and that audience interest would determine where it’d go from there. Batman v Superman had entire scenes that were nothing more than disguised teaser trailers for the (at the time) upcoming slate of movies, but they were at least brief. At least of Mummy’s entire second act was exposition and set-up for projects that are now long dead in the water.
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Well, here’s to more movies like The Batman and less like Batman vs Superman.
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I was interested in seeing Farrell. I get the sense he’s not really in it that much or very important though.
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He seems comicbook villain-for-another-day character, but does still have role in the story and a pretty big part of one notable scene. He does a good job too – I didn’t even know it was him in the role to be honest. The only other thing I’d seen him in was Alexander, ages ago.