Dark, moody, with some excellent performances and stellar sound design, this is a whole experience. However, it isn't without issues.

Disclaimer: This is a review, and as such will contain opinions, spoilers and (often) general shit talking. (If you talk about what you don’t like about a work, you learn a lot. When you think through a work with the stakes presented to you by the creator, by the context of the work, you learn a lot. I review things, not because I love to dislike things, but because dislike contains rich and vital information for the process of experiencing something, but I cannot access it without interrogating it.) So, if you don’t want to have this thing spoiled for you, or don’t know how to behave when a person on the internet, that you don’t know, has opinions that don’t line up with yours, this review is not for you. It’s also not for the author/creator of the work. Please and thank you.

This latest instalment in the Batman franchise is a neo-noir character study of Bruce Wayne and his alter ego unlike anything we’ve seen before. This is a close inspection of trauma, guilt, anger and fear, as well as how different people cope with loss.

It’s intimate and perspective driven, which I absolutely love, but unfortunately that came at the expense of a poorly constructed plot.

The cinematography and sound design absolutely live up to the hype in The Batman, and Robert Pattinson does a spectacular younger, broodier Bruce/Batman, but the story is dragged down by trying to cram in too many story arcs into one feature film.

And that was a bit of a contradiction.

Because while the cinematography and sound design create an incredibly immersive experience, making me feel like I was in the environments and the action — sometimes even in the characters heads — I was rolling my eyes way too much to be able to properly stay in it.

Okay, let’s start by examining the good.

The sound design is unlike anything we’ve seen in a long time. The ambient sounds, like rain and traffic sounds, are used in such a way that the sound almost becomes a character in and of itself.

We’re all familiar with a dramatic moment in film being punctuated with dramatic music, which exists solely to tell you “this is an emotionally significant moment”. When done well, that score or music amplifies amplifies what you’re already feeling or suspecting.

Poorly done, it intrudes on your immersion in the story; the music starts up and you roll your eyes, “Oh, I’m supposed to be sad now”.

What I love about The Batman is that it takes this sound design a step further and strives to get me, the viewer, to hear as the characters hear. The ambient sound directs where my focus should be in incredibly subtle ways, nudging me along without ever being too explicit.

This works really well hand-in-hand with the cinematography, which also relies on a lot of design that may feel haphazard, but is intentional. This film relies heavily on “dirtying up the lens”, a technique in film-making whereby the shot is rendered more imperfect by introducing clutter.

Dirtying up the lens can mean physically dirtying the lens, such as when water or blood splatter hits the camera, or by introducing a lot of clutter into the shot to draw the viewer’s eye to something specific. The point of this technique is to make the viewer feel more immersed.

Let me explain: let’s look at some examples from the very start of The Batman.

At the very start, Batman is following Lieutenant Gordon through a corridor full of cops on their way to a crime scene. During this transition, the camera rides as Batman’s eyes and we see what walking through that crowd feels like.

At the door to the crime scene, Gordon passes by but Batman is stopped by one of the officers guarding the door, who is incredulous that Gordon wants to let Batman into the crime scene:

We see this shot from over the shoulder of Batman himself, placing us “with Batman” in this shot, amplifying the feeling that we’re being denied entry. We can see Gordon, who was already admitted into the room.

The suspicious atmosphere also tells us that the police, other than Gordon, doesn’t trust Batman and views him as a vigilante, not a legitimate part of law enforcement. This is where The Batman swims in the same waters as The Watchmen and I like it.

Amidst all the superhero movies and the marvelisation of cinema, we haven’t seen enough films or shows that turn a critical eye on the superheroes and their effect on society at large. Yes, I know that the superhero story itself hinges on that basic premise that they’re only a force for good, but if something like Teen Titans Go! can examine their own legitimacy as “the good guys”, more of adult cinema should have no problem doing this.

But I digress.

So, Gordon turns around and instructs the officer to let Batman into the room, but the officer doesn’t immediately comply, and there’s a tense moment of silence while everyone within earshot waits to see what happens.

From the way the officer holds Batman at arms’ length and takes a more defensive stance, we can tell they’re not only disapproving of Batman, but also afraid, because they’re treating him like he could go off at any moment.

This leads us to question if this has been the case in the past, building in exposition without having to explain it to us. Since the last person we saw speaking to Batman said, “Please, don’t hurt me” even though Batman just saved him from being beaten up, this further confirms our own idea of the character.

(As a side note, this is important for this introduction sequence to the latest Batman, because we want to know right off the bat what makes this Batman different from the last one.)

We cut to Gordon’s view of things, where we’re not looking over his shoulder but just see him covering the left third of the frame. This tighter framing is in tune with the rising tension in the scene.

While we wait to see what happens, we cut back to a wide shot, where we’re looking over the shoulders of the other police staff crowding the hallways. This both lets us know that the Batman is outnumbered, but that they’re still afraid. It puts us in the crowd, making us one of them, trying to decipher the scene in front of us.

Here we can also see that the officer has his hand on (what I’m guessing is) his handgun, in a stance preparing to fight. If we didn’t have these things in the foreground of each shot, this scene would feel very different.

Later, once inside the crime scene, we get many more shots with a lot of visual clutter. One of my absolute favourite ones is this comedic relief moment:

The detective examining the crime scene is wary of Batman from the moment he lays eyes on him. Gordon asks him about his findings and the detective begins to list what he’s found. As he moves to go around the body, he bumps into Batman, which is mostly out of shot here.

The choice to have mainly his chest and shoulder visible in this shot (his face is practically invisible as our focus is on the detective), gives us that sense of an immovable wall, and the detective does indeed end up stepping around Batman to get where he’s going.

A bit later, we get this shot, where the Batman finishes the analysis of the murder method:

Again, the visual clutter in the foreground, Gordon and the detective, gives us the feeling that we’re in the room, maybe crouching on the other side of the body and looking up at Batman.

This leads me to the next example: sound design.

The scene where Batman meets the Penguin is a great example of this.

As Batman walks into the nightclub, the sound grows louder: this is what it normally sounds like when you enter a nightclub.

In a typical action movie, the music would be dialled back and priority given to the sounds of the fight: punches, kicks, shots, etc. But in this case, the music is louder than the sound effects, building on that feeling that we’re really in a club.

The Batman is also a very dark film, with strong shadows and clever backlighting, so it’s logical that in a dark, noisy place like a club, a fist fight can go unnoticed for quite a while. And, to be honest, a brawl in a club isn’t an uncommon thing.

If we contrast this with a fight scene in a club from John Wick, you can see the difference in priority the sound effects are given compared to the music. The punches and gunshots are almost equal in volume, and we can even hear Wick breaking arms.

In The Batman, it isn’t until one of the thugs pulls out the shotgun and fires it at Batman, that the crowd takes notice and starts to run away screaming. But even then, the music continues to play loudly. That doesn’t start falling into the background (but never gets turned off) until Batman gets introduced to Oz, and his voice gets dialled up because that’s what the film wants us, the viewer, to focus on.

Okay, but what about the rest of it?

So, whenever you’re doing a Batman, it’s as much a risk as it is an opportunity. This is a character with a long legacy of adaptations and interpretations, from comics to TV to film. While I don’t consider all of them good, they are all distinct from one another.

Tim Burton’s Batman is mysterious to fit the gothic fantasy world surrounding him. Joel Schumacher’s Batman is more self-aware and campy, because his Gotham was campy and over-the-top. Christopher Nolan’s Batman was understated and even a bit reluctant in order to facilitate the realistic Gotham Nolan used as a stage for his big, sweeping concepts.

The thing that sets The Batman apart is that it’s a character study of Batman.

Whereas the Batmans before this have largely been a product of their environment, this is a Batman that is reacting to his environment instead.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying there hasn’t been any thought put into character development of Batman before. I’m just saying he’s simply been more of a composite of the elements the directors wanted to include in the world they were building.

If I think back on older Batmans, the things that stand out to me aren’t necessarily the Batmans themselves. (Well, not in a very good light anyway.) It’s Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman, Jack Nicholson and Heath Ledger as Joker, or Cillian Murphy as Scarecrow.

Batman, like Gotham, has always been more of a relatively unchanging backdrop against the themes a new set of creators want to explore, varying only in nuance rather than perspective.

Prior to Nolan’s Batman, Batman in films was a bit of a joke as no one had nailed that performance in a believable way until Christian Bale took it on and put his stamp on it. That became a very definitive Batman for me, because while I grew up on Batman performances by Michael Keaton and Val Kilmer, I was reading the comics way before that, and the live-action adaptations always felt like a bit of a caricature by comparison.

This is really a question of focus.

Gotham is a city that has always been almost a character unto itself, and certainly a lot of the stories we’ve seen of Batman so far have asked what kind of Batman fits the Gotham created to facilitate each story.

And, in truth, this is no different.

In this neo-noir detective story, we’ve got a neo-noir Batman.

The essence of neo-noir is typically a character that thinks they have a good understanding of the world around them, but find out that, as they navigate the world around them, that they really don’t know it at all.

This typically throws them into a tailspin as they try to, not only grasp what the world around them really looks like, but who they really are as well. In The Batman, Batman takes on the role of the noir PI, diving deep into the underbelly of Gotham as he pulls on the threads he finds.

As he journeys into this grimy, moody world where it seems to always be raining, he’s inundated in the degeneracy and moral failings that culminate and emanate from the criminal elements in Gotham. But the further he delves into what he sees as the root cause for the moral disease in Gotham, the more he realises that the threads lead back to himself.

I always just get the impression that he just wants to keep recreating the night where his parents died. All the fights seem very personal. He’s fighting a stranger as if they have personally harmed him every single time.

— Robert Pattinson

So, this time the Batman is out for vengeance, but it’s a personal vendetta.

Batman is a trauma response. Creating him is how Bruce Wayne is trying to deal with his own grief. This makes him a fundamentally flawed character with a flawed perspective, and that’s the journey we go on in this film.

He feels younger than any Batman before, broodier and more tunnel-visioned. This Batman feels as helpless in the face of the rampant crime in Gotham as he did at his parents’ death. He’s making an effort to “make things right”, but his street-level solutions aren’t particularly effective and he’s aware of this.

I think Bruce Wayne isn’t really convinced that being the Batman is a real solution, but he’s drawn to embody this character because it allows him vengeance, an outlet for his grief. It allows him to place blame and to mete out punishment.

Being the Batman fulfils an emotional need, and this is one thing that sets this Batman apart. You get the sense that he’s always Bruce Wayne, even when he’s in the Batsuit. And as Bruce Wayne, he completely lacks that rich playboy facade he’s had, inhabited, and used to good effect in every other adaptation.

Previously, there has always been a Supermanesque dichotomy between being Bruce Wayne and being Batman, with the Batman usually winning out (this is why Bruce Wayne being emancipated from Batman at the end of The Dark Knight trilogy was so refreshing).

In The Batman, Bruce Wayne behaves the same whether he’s in the Batsuit or not.

He’s quiet, moody and reflective, lacking that flair and flash so commonly associated with past Bruce Waynes. As Pattinson said, putting on the suit is transformative for Bruce. Wearing the suit is the thing that allows him to look people in the eye and see the true state of things.

Where Bruce Wayne is reserved and distant, the Batman is strong and aggressive, taking action where Bruce Wayne remains passive.

When he puts on that suit, he dresses himself in the hurt, anger, guilt and fear he cannot acknowledge or hold space for when he is merely Bruce. So this is cathartic for him because he can then give in to these destructive impulses.

The journey for him is to discover that doing so isn’t really a good way of dealing with your grief, it’s maybe what the remnants of the little boy inside of him wants, but it’s not what he can be satisfied with as a grown adult.

Adding in Selena Kyle feels like forced, feminist fan-service.

There’s always a dame in noir PI stories. You know the type.

And Selena Kyle in The Batman is little more than a trope. I see where she’s supposed to be the yin to Batman’s yang, but I don’t buy it.

I think the way in which we’re shown that Selena Kyle is treated as a woman makes it abundantly clear that this character was written by a man, someone who has never experienced the nuances of constantly being harassed, someone who falls back on the most basic depictions of it.

This is amplified in the way Batman first only sees her as a means to an end, but gets a glimpse into what it’s like to be her when he literally gets to see through her eyes at a crowded nightclub.

The feminist messaging of “this is a woman, she is human, this is not how you treat human women” beats you over the head by way of this character.

She wears a different wig every day, presenting a different image of herself to the world, but never the true one. She smiles and winks her way out of tricky and potentially dangerous situations, because she’s clever and self-sufficient. She even tells you a gazillion times that she can take care of herself.

Strong, independent woman. Stands up for other women and takes care of them, maternal as well as protective, while navigating a difficult, dangerous world herself.

She has the subtlety of a brick to the face, and I found her presence in the film unnecessary. Especially, when she turns into even more of a trope and starts putting the moves on Batman.

I kept thinking, rather than introducing her to the story, how great would it have been if it had been Bruce Wayne’s friend/girlfriend that had gotten killed instead of Selena’s? Then he could have learned the lessons Selena-the-plot-device was inserted to teach him posthumously from his dead friend/girlfriend.

Ah, well, we’ll never know.

This draws inspiration from too many sources.

From Year One to The Long Halloween, there is just so much crammed into this one film. The clutter that extends beyond the cinematographic kind doesn’t do the story any favours.

And as a single film, it’s trying to tell too many stories.

In theory, the story seems solid; the core of the noir detective works for this Bruce Wayne. But by trying to be so multilayered and clever in its storytelling, this film gets in its own way.

This film is trying so hard to be so clever, to set itself apart from what came before, that it trips over its own cleverness. For instance, rather than having the role of Selena and Annika be two people, it would have been tidier to have them as one character (but who’d dare kill Catwoman, amirite?).

The Batman dives deep into the frustration, exhaustion and anger in poverty, to allow Bruce Wayne a level of introspection he, as a super wealthy person, has never had before. As he’s confronted by the corruption in his own family, he’s forced to acknowledge that the call is coming from inside the house, and that his family isn’t as exempt from the darkness of Gotham as he believed all his life.

Without a doubt, the strongest antagonist is the Riddler. Far removed from the over-the-top comedy of Jim Carrey, Paul Dano plays a Riddler mired in insanity brought on by society’s failings. It’s a beautiful performance and it’s a shame that there is so much crammed into this movie, because while the Riddler keeps popping in at every turn, it would have been spectacular to see a more fleshed out clash between this Riddler and this Batman.

This is a beautifully dark rendition, giving us something new from a familiar character.

In a way that reminds me of Watchmen, The Batman examines the underlying mechanisms and morality of being a “superhero”.

The basic juxtaposition here is that only the independently wealthy who can afford to don a disguise to mete out justice to the most acceptable social groups in their leisure time. The poor are too busy surviving to do the same, and so it has classically been that the “good guys” emerge from the wealthier parts of society, while the poor only produce “bad guys” (mostly out of anger, bitterness and necessity).

By throwing the actions and motivations of Batman (as well as the actions of the rich in the past) into doubt, this film is challenging us to think about that basic premise which we have accepted for so long. There is a real hunger among audiences for morally questionable protagonists (and I use the word ‘protagonist’ instead of ‘hero’, because the protagonist doesn’t necessarily have to be a hero).

This also shines a light on charity. We’ve long known that the super rich don’t donate to charity out of their goodwill, but for the sake of tax breaks. And this film is questioning the benefit of charity, questioning the rich descending on the lower classes and telling them how to live (and who deserves to be punished).

So, after Batman goes through this journey into the dark past of Gotham, which is entwined with his own past, after a crisis of faith, he comes out the other side with a renewed purpose. While alone in his tower, removed from the world as he watched it go by, he had lost all connection to community. But as the film progresses, he begins to rediscover what it means to be of service and to truly be a part of a community. He then, as per ancient wisdom, sets about making a change by first changing himself, and through this finds a way to heal his own past trauma.

This version of Batman is one of the most interesting ones I’ve ever seen, and I look forward to what else is coming from this same universe. My only hope for the future is that they clean up the storytelling and stop trying to cram in so many characters merely for the sake of recognisability (they think that makes it sell more). It’s okay to introduce new characters to an old world, especially when we’ve been exploring that same world for decades.

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