The Batman, which opens today in theaters, is an exquisitely produced and full realized Batman tale. But good golly is it long.
For the most part, that 176 minute runtime is a pleasurable experience and we’d be hard pressed to find a good place to cut something from the film. Just about every moment is essential, even the elements we didn’t engage with. Set sometime in the Batman’s (Robert Pattinson) second year of his mission, Gotham is still a raging cesspool of crime and inequity. A close mayoral race is the news of the day until the Riddler (Paul Dano) arrives in town to test the Batman and expose a long-festering corruption in the upper echelon of Gotham City.
Now, you might be wondering how a film can take that premise and fill nearly three hours. The Batman does so by finally allowing the Dark Knight to be a detective — something he’s rarely been in live action. Indeed, an opening shot featuring a child in a ninja costume seems to set the stage and let the viewer know the Batman of previous film cycles will give way to one less interested in fighting than in following the clues. Although, make no mistake, Batman still beats up the bad guys but good. And yet, in another departure from previous Batman movies, the film gets through its fights with a stunning brevity. We’ll freely admit this might be a letdown for those who expect Batman to be more action oriented. Drama is at the forefront with characters like Selina Kyle (Zoë Kravitz), Oswald Cobblepot (Colin Farrell), and Carmine Falcone (John Turturro) getting a lot of time as characters.
Also at the forefront is the mystery of why the Riddler is doing what he’s doing. Downplayed in a lot of the promotional material, it is the real driving force of the film and quite a pleasing ride through a shockingly well-realized Gotham. Adopting elements of all its previous screen appearances, the city feels familiar while also offering a new spin on its Chicago and New York inspired aspects. As for the Riddler himself, he is a curious mix of the Frank Gorshin Riddler from the 1960s TV series and the Zodiac Killer. Dano does a pretty good job navigating the vocal modulation required for the part, although he does lose some of his bite as the film enters its fourth or fifth act.
Yes, the film breaks the traditional three act structure of screenwriting, resembling a construction more akin to Batman: The Long Halloween even if it only takes place over a week or so. To an extent, that is very much to the film’s credit. It feels more like a long-form Batman graphic novel than a blockbuster movie — which is a truly surprising thing to witness. Nevertheless, your appreciation of that will depend on how ready you are to see a talkier, weightier Batman movie. It’s theme of inevitable corruption and exploration of what it means to walk the path of vengeance go further than even The Dark Knight trilogy while also criticizing the popular perception of Batman in a very refreshing way.
Provided, of course, that you’re not fidgeting in your seat by the end of the second hour.
We keep coming back to the length because it is a peculiar aspect of the film. In terms of pace, The Batman is not slow. There’s plenty of story happening at all times with Pattinson offering a very compelling title character both in and out of costume. Kravitz’s take on Selina is so right on that we want her to star in a feature film adaptation of Selina’s Big Score (although, we have to admit the Bat and Cat chemistry was lukewarm). Jeffrey Wright‘s Gordon, Andy Serkis‘s Alfred, and Farrell’s “Oz” are so lived-in that it feels like they’ve been playing their parts for ages. And even the dialogue creeks here and there, the performances are very strong as Batman discovers just how deep the rot in Gotham goes. Nevertheless, for good or ill, you will feel time passing as the investigation continues. At the same time, we’re willing to say that sensation is part of the point.
Visually, meanwhile, The Batman is freaking gorgeous. Director Matt Reeves and his team created a beautiful looking film that will recall things like Batman: Year One, The Dark Knight, Batman: The Animated Series, and the Arkham video game series. But as no single reference dominates, it becomes its own look. Also, it needs to be said, you never second-guess the film’s sense of reality. The Batman never looks out of place among a group of police and crime scene analysts, for example. Some may recall the concerns voiced when the costume was first revealed, but we have to say the cowl looks great in motion and offers the best Batman silhouette of any of his feature film outings. Or to put it another way, it just seems right in the way Jim Aparo‘s Batman felt right in the 1980s and 90s.
So, is The Batman worth sitting through? We think so. It may not be as exhilarating as The Dark Knight was on its first viewing or as much of a revelation as Batman was in 1989, but for those familiar with who Batman has become in the 21st Century, it offers an interesting challenge to your assumptions of the character and his city. And the thoughts it leaves you with about Batman may be the most rewarding element of your extended time with the film.
The Batman is now in theaters.