The Batman is a great standalone film while also being a film that offers enough of its key cast that makes me want to see more. There are no origin stories for any of these characters, any backstory can be inferred by their actions or, if it’s needed to move the plot along, via dialogue. Gotham as a place feels real and lived in. It’s rundown and lawless and a mask vigilante would certainly not be out of place here. The vast majority of the film takes place at night – or at sunrise or sunset – but it’s a film where you can see exactly what’s happening even when it’s dark and raining. The Batman is a well shot and often very good-looking film; cinematographer Greig Fraser does great work here.
The Batman sees a Batman who has been doing this “job” for two years and has become a figure of fear to the criminals in the city. The interesting thing is you see Batman for the vast majority of the film, rarely seeing Bruce Wayne. This Bruce is so focused on being Batman and saving the city that Bruce is seen as a recluse, shut up at home and only seeing Alfred (Andy Serkis) and a housekeeper. He has yet to become the playboy public figure we’ve seen in other Batman films as this Bruce is so caught up in his anger and grief over his parents’ death that he almost doesn’t know how to be normal and make human connections when he’s not wearing the cape.
This leads to one of the most interesting dynamics in The Batman, which is the one between Batman and Lieutenant James Gordon (Jeffrey Wright). It’s a take on the relationship that I haven’t seen in previous Batman iterations. They work together well and while they may argue they also trust one another. For a film that’s “dark and gritty” there’s almost always a wry sense of humour whenever these two interact. Potentially this is because Gordon is a bit worn down by everything and while Batman is a weird vigilante, at least he’s doing something. While Gordon doesn’t know who Batman is, it’s like he doesn’t care that he’s the imposing figure of Batman and can see he’s still a regular guy under that mask. Gordon puts his reputation on the line for Batman while Batman explicitly states that Gordon is one of the only people he trusts and believes in multiple times.
There are a lot of key characters here and as the murders mount up and Batman and Gordon look into the corruption and all the threads tying these people together, it can get a bit convoluted. Though it has its costumes and explosions, The Batman is a crime/mystery story at its heart. Batman, and the police department, are trying to solve Riddler’s clues before someone else winds up dead, it’s just that all these people are tied to one another and with its almost three-hour runtime it can be a bit hard to remember how people are connected.
That being said, I was never bored watching The Batman. The character moments were often as interesting as the action sequences and watching Batman be a detective (though he’s perhaps not the best detective ever yet) felt new and exciting. Seeing him lurk around crime scenes surrounded by dubious police officers while Gordon vouched for him was simultaneously weird, funny, and great.
The whole cast is great but a shout out has to go to Paul Dano’s Riddler who is incredibly unsettling and intriguing with a limited amount of screentime. Colin Farrell as the Penguin is near unrecognisable thanks to the make up and prosthetic work and a fat suit. So, while he plays a fun character, one has to wonder why you needed Farrell in the role and in all that getup. Couldn’t a fat actor have been cast? Especially as in this film Penguin is more or less a standard mob boss. Zoë Kravitz’s Selina Kyle/Catwoman rounds out the main “villains” in this film and her dynamic with Batman is something I’d like to see more of.
Overall, The Batman is a pretty great film. The whole vibe of it is dirty and often almost hopeless but with Gordon – who almost acts like a co-lead at times – as the good centre there is some hope. This Batman is pretty interesting as he tries to find how to be both a figure of fear and a figure of hope, depending who needs it. I would love to see more of these characters and of this Gotham. And I can’t finish this without mentioning Michael Giacchino’s score – it’s excellent, suits the tone of the film perfectly and just heightens how threatening and imposing Batman can be. 4/5.