PG-13, but man is this pushing the R-rating. I know that the director says that the movie never really planned on being R, but there are so many elements that scream R-rating here. It's freaking disturbing as heck. The murders and the treatment of bodies is horrifying. An f-bomb is dropped. Batman is exceptionally violent. The body count is terrifying. There are just so many haunting images in this movie that it is mind-blowing that it isn't R. But, you know, it stars Batman...a guy on kids' lunchboxes. PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Matt Reeves
Look at me! I'm writing about The Batman. I said I would get around to it and now I'm here. It's really, really weird that I don't feel like writing about this movie because I have yet to have an in-depth conversation about this one. Maybe it is because there are expectations. Maybe it is because it is the last movie I saw, which means I need to shotgun some films to maintain the blog. I also know that I absolutely loved this movie, but can only focus on the fact that I have one major complaint about the movie.
When the trailer came out for this movie, I just thought, "Geez, how bleak can we get?" It's not like the movie was false advertising. It was phenomenally bleak. It's just sadness and misery wrapped up into a three hour movie. But I thought that I would see it. (I knew I would see it, but I was going to do so in the begrudging way that uber-nerds talk about, ready to gripe.) Then the marketing department did the worst thing they could have done for my demographic: they released too much advertising. Honestly, this is one of the reasons that I stayed away from The Fast and the Furious franchise for so long. These movies were over-exposed and I was getting annoyed to see yet another The Batman trailer. (Note: I've stayed away from the last Stranger Things trailer because I got the gist and I still want to like Stranger Things.) But when I heard that the response to the movie was overwhelmingly positive and that it was more of a murder mystery than a Batman movie...I changed my mind. I grew obsessive about trying to see it. But I also saw how insane theaters were getting and I'm still a little Covid gunshy, especially considering the audience that I have seen at theaters so far. But then the movie came out on HBO Max on my birthday, so I treated myself.
I would like to point out that my wife felt like she had to watch it with me. I was given the opportunity to see it by myself, but I thought the murder-mystery element of the movie would raise her eyebrows. It didn't. She hate watched every second of that movie. At least she listened to it. She love-watched Candy Crush while hate-listening The Batman. I mean, I know that she's not alone on this take. It's three hours and there's hardly a joke in the film. Even the jokes that are there are more gallows humor than anything else. Considering that I've railed against DC's obsessiveness with being the edgier comic company since 2000, I find it odd that I got excited with a comic book film that had a vibe akin to Zodiac. Maybe there is a place for these movies. But I think it needs to stick with Batman and Batman-like projects. Not everything needs to be The Batman or Joker. Also, and I'm going to say something controversial: I get the vibe that Matt Reeves wasn't trying to make it dark.
To a certain extent, he had to, right? But most of that comes from the murder mystery element of the film. Heck, I decided to watch the movie with my wife because I thought she would dig the murder mystery. But part of the murder mystery is making a compelling villain. The funny thing is, I never thought the Riddler would be that guy. I know that Scott Snyder turned that on its head with "Year One" or "Year Two" (I honestly forget, but I'm too tired to investigate.) But Riddler works so well and so much of that credit goes to Paul Dano. I love how Paul Dano just knows the vibe he gives off. Even when he's not playing something like the serial killer he portrays in The Batman, he is still unsettling at best. His performance is next level amazing and I'm even more of a fan of his now than I was before The Batman. Yeah, it's a nice role to be allowed to go over-the-top, but I didn't care for a second. It makes the movie, honestly. If you are looking at performances, Dano makes the film. You could probably care less about the murder and just focus on the fact that Dano is haunting as all-get out. The funny thing is that you don't see him out of the mask very long, but he's somehow even scarier in person. The fact that he wears glasses over his mask somehow grounds the notion that we're not in a comic book. Gotham really feels like a place because of small details like that.
But you do have to remember, it is hard to write about something you like because gushing sounds stupid. And as much as I loved the movie, I have a handful of complaints about it. The first is the thing that a lot of people complain about (at least one person whom I agree with. That's a lot, right?) The final act is very tonally clunky. We live in world where Joker exists, a beat-by-beat remake of The King of Comedy, down to the tone and style. It's insane that the movie exists because it breaks the rules of a superhero blockbuster. The Batman can't get away with that. For all of the failures that the DCeU has brought, Batman films tend to keep Warner's superhero division afloat. This means that if Matt Reeves wants to make a three-hour Batman film, he's gotta put a bombastic action sequence at the end. It doesn't match the rest of the movie and it also...kind of comes out of nowhere. Nowhere does Riddler tease that the floodgates to Gotham are vulnerable. There is no theme of living underwater. It's just a separate plot brought in at the end. It's a fun sequence, but it also doesn't belong in this movie.
Also, the reveal of the Riddler is a bit...safe. There's a moment where Batman discovers a lot of the mystery once Bruce Wayne hits the chopping block. The Riddler releases a video of a reporter named Elliot who was destroyed by the Waynes. The screen explodes with the word "Hush", referencing the Batman villain Hush whose alter ego is Tommy Elliot. Now, if the movie was gutsy, we'd get a bait-and-switch. Because we know the comic books, we know that Edward Nygma (or his original identity) was going to be the bad guy. But what if we got this turned on its head. I know that a lot of people didn't care for the Mandarin twist from Iron Man 3. I did. But I also like when films aren't beholden to the comic source material. Make things original. Make the DCU something different. It's just a way better ending than simply a guy who was fed up with what was going on in Gotham. I like the idea that the Waynes caused their own pain. Sure, that's lifted heavily from TellTale Games' Batman series, but it is an interesting take on the Waynes. (I have more forgiveness when it comes to the portrayal of the Waynes than I do the portrayal of the Kents, mainly because Alfred is Bruce's emotional father.)
My biggest question, and something that I enjoyed, is that I have to question whether The Riddler won. The movie tells me that Batman won. But I'm going to disagree. The Riddler got exactly what he wanted. Sure, Bruce Wayne walks free. I love that there's a cryptic answer about whether The Riddler knows that Bruce Wayne is Batman or not. But with the amount of damage that The Riddler inflicted on Gotham, is Batman really the winner in this one? There's just that lovely question there.
I know that the film feels padded to a lot of people. I almost can't fight that because a three-hour runtime hurts my heart in a lot of these cases. But I found the entire thing fascinating. The three hour runtime gave me time to question every element of the story. It make the Gotham mob something that really seemed to exist as opposed to something just running in the background. I loved that the movie criticized the Gotham PD for being corrupt and teased the notion that Jim Gordon was the man to whip it back into shape. But there were so many beats and they all just worked for me...with the exception of the final action set piece. When I was a kid, I had no idea that one day we would have Batman movies like what I just saw. It feels mature and fleshed out. It's a comic book movie that doesn't feel like it has to be defined by its own genre. It's a solid win from me.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.