The Batman: Review
By Nicole Rees-Williams
Since it was announced in 2019 that a new Batman film was being produced starring Robert Pattinson, I have been (im)patiently awaiting its release. The hype surrounding this film was huge, and my expectations were even higher. Various factors played into my anticipation of the film, from the casting to the age rating, and – quite frankly – just the fact that a studio was willing to put so much time and money into yet another Batman film. Surely a studio wouldn’t go through the effort of reinventing the same character again if it wasn’t going to be a new, fresh, interesting storyline, right? Well...
Now, I won’t say The Batman is a bad film because it’s not. There were a lot of details that I loved, and I cannot deny that technically – it is ‘good.’ However, the aspects of the film that fell short outweighed the good. From this point onwards, you can expect a spoiler review of The Batman.
What The Batman Did Well
Batman is more humanised than ever before in this trip to Gotham City. In his first fight, he gets hit – a lot. Is he still the better fighter? Yes. But it’s unrealistic to expect him to completely dodge every hit a street gang will throw at him, and this is a trope the predecessors have fallen victim to. Batman is, at the end of the day, a human, but he often gets portrayed as much more than that. This is especially true for the recent Batman VS Superman and Justice League films starring Ben Affleck as Bruce Wayne.
As well as getting hit, there were other small details included that really evoked Bruce’s humanity. Although it isn’t explicitly addressed, it’s pretty obvious that Bruce would wear dark eye makeup underneath his mask. I wouldn’t say the inclusion of this fact is a necessity, but the fact they did include it really peaked my appreciation. Men wearing makeup can often be perceived as ‘feminine,’ and to show Bruce wearing this may not have sat well with a more traditional audience, but in this film we see the chalky blackness left on Bruce’s face when he returns to the Batcave. This is a directorial/costume choice that is so subtle, but it truly humanises the hero.
Historically, Batman is ultimately a man under the lens of the male gaze. A strong, unbeatable, womanising millionaire - his flaws are rarely shown. But, in this version Bruce isn’t the playboy we’re used to seeing. He’s reclusive and awkward, appearing to draw into himself due to his past trauma. He copes with the loss of his parents the only way he knows how - through vengeance. Bruce’s approach to his ‘Batman’ persona is to hide in the shadows, to become fear itself, which is a dark twist on the charming hero we’re so used to seeing.
As well as this, various aspects of the cinematography were stunning. Though overall, the lighting is one of my biggest complaints about the film, there were a couple of standout moments that stuck with me. Firstly, Batman’s first reveal. We hear his footsteps before we see him as he slowly emerges from a shadowy subway staircase. It was, frankly, really cool.
Secondly, Batman and Catwomans kiss in front of the sunset atop the building is another noteworthy picturesque shot. The marketing for this film greatly centred around Bruce and Selena’s romantic relationship, but this feature is only a small aspect of the film. Though Selena Kyle wasn’t utilised quite as much as I’d hoped, this particular shot was undeniably beautiful and memorable.
Thirdly, at the film's conclusion, there is a wide shot of Batman leading civilians to safety from a flood with a torch above his head, a light amongst the dark surroundings. This shot is my personal favourite, as it represents a complete full-circle moment for the film. In Batman's initial reveal scene, the civilians look at him with fear, begging him not to hurt them. Bruce Wayne’s voiceover at the film's beginning largely centres around the fact that he has to become what people fear in order to excel in his vigilante persona, but this shot marks a changing point. The film ends with a shift in Batman's tone, Bruce realises that in order to play the role he wants to play, becoming a symbol of hope is much more effective than fear. To switch from the terror of the civilian he saved in his opening scene to the number of civilians willingly following him to safety was a poignant moment that was shot perfectly.
Where the Batman fell short
In contrast to my previous point regarding cinematography, the lighting in this film was generally awful. This is a complaint that’s hit a lot of new media over recent years that tried to appear ‘darker’ but took the meaning a bit too literally. The lighting ruined a lot of the action, especially the film’s finale. I genuinely did not know what was going on for the majority of the third act's climax, and it’s a shame because it was obvious there were some well choreographed fight scenes somewhere in there, you just couldn’t see them.
Another sore spot for me, perhaps controversially, was the score. If you’ve seen the film, you’ll know the same four notes I’m talking about. Are they great at building tension and evoking tone? Yes - the first forty times they were played. The repetitiveness of this particular melody became extremely irritating throughout the film's three hour duration.
In mentioning the darker tone, the film was given an age rating of 15 in the UK. This generated a particular buzz amongst older Batman fans, allowing for a greater level of violence to be used compared to previous adaptations. People were anticipating a ‘Logan’ level scenario, however, the film ultimately remained pretty tame in this department. Apart from a few hard curse words here and there, there wasn’t any stand out reasoning for excluding a younger audience.
The biggest problem throughout the whole film for me was the direction they took the film's antagonist - the Riddler. Throughout the Batman’s duration, the Riddler makes it his mission to take down phoney public figures throughout Gotham. He kills various characters and leaves cryptic messages with their corpses addressed directly to ‘The Batman.’ He appears on the local news multiple times, filming himself next to people he has captured or killed. Eventually, the riddler inspires a group of like minded-followers who all choose to show their allyship by wearing the same mask as him. Does this sound familiar? That’s because it’s exactly the same plot the Joker had in ‘The Dark Knight.’ I find it irritating that, considering there are still so many great DC characters that don’t have a standalone film, another Batman film was made when it made no effort to be original with its antagonist. And - to top it off - the Riddler then met an ‘unnamed Arkham asylum’ patient who went heavy on the clown puns. Three guesses who!
I hate to make comparisons to previous adaptations as I like to judge films for what they are, but the similarities were just so obvious. I understand that with the tone the film is taking, it stayed away from more theatrical villains such as Poison Ivy or Killer Croc. They obviously want to make this version more ‘real’ by focusing on humans who are evil for some reason or another. But, when there is such an underlying pressure to be better than The Dark Knight Trilogy, it seems instead of taking the opportunity to make something new, it followed the same formula. They knew people liked the Dark Knight and imitated its mood, but people loved that film because it was so different to its predecessors. If they wanted to keep a darker tone, fine - but at least think of an original storyline.
Despite its sore spots, The Batman is still being received extremely well across the globe, so it’s obviously doing something right. There were some really great aspects brought to this adaptation. I really enjoyed Pattinson’s portrayal of Bruce Wayne, and I also thought that Zoe Kravitz and Jeffrey Wright were excellent choices for Catwoman and Commissioner Gordon. For this reason, I am excited to see where DC takes these characters next. But, overall, I did not like The Batman, and I won’t be rewatching this adaptation any time soon.