Matt Reeves's 'The Batman' Exceeds All Expectations (and Skepticism)!
“I won’t bury another Batman!”
“Won’t bury another Batman? How many Batmen has he buried?”
“I’ve buried 14 Batmen…”
You see, the exchange at the top is funny not only because the men who are speaking the lines -- Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon -- are hilarious but because the number they are bandying about seems quite silly and abnormally large. 14? That sounds so absurd, and yet, when I think about the number of Batman films and shows that have existed in my lifetime, the above exchange no longer presents an absurdity but instead a sad reality. We’re on the road to 14 Batmen.
The weeks leading up to the release of The Batman had my eyes rolling more than that weird Gremlin from Gremlins 2: The New Batch. Hollywood has made another Batman film. Brilliant. Nobody has ever thought to do that before. Great job. Well, as bad as that might have seemed to me, at least there weren’t two more blockbusters on the horizon set to feature additional iterations of the character and… [sees photos from The Flash and Batwoman] …oh for the love of… [takes deep breath and inhales blood pressure medication]… It’s fine. We’re all going to be just fine. With these worrisome thoughts bouncing around in my brain, I bought my ticket for Matt Reeves’s cinematic take on the Dark Knight, gathered my small popcorn and medium Cherry Coke, and did my very best to leave all skepticism at the door. Was this whole affair really necessary, though?
As it happens, and to quote the great philosopher Mike Ness (punk fans are going to love this name drop), I was wrong. Turns out that you can teach an old bat new tricks, because The Batman is easily the greatest cinematic adaptation of everyone’s favorite cuddly orphaned billionaire. For a very long time, I considered Batman: Mask of the Phantasm -- a 76-minute animated feature from 1993 -- to be the best Batman film, as it is about as complete of a portrait of the Caped Crusader as you can get. Michelangelo didn’t go skulking back into the Chapel to add a few more clouds after the paint had already dried; his work was finished and, for my money, so was my journey down the road to understanding Gotham City’s favorite son. And yes, I enjoy Tim Burton’s Batman films and also Christopher Nolan’s first two takes on the character. Heck, even Affleck turned in a great performance despite all of the limitations that surrounded him. Despite all of that, though, I continued to revisit the animated masterpiece from my youth and proudly declare that it was king of the mountain and all other contenders were merely amusing little trips down side streets.
So why The Batman? Much like Mask of the Phantasm, the film is strangely agenda-less. There’s none of that heavy lifting that comes with an origin story, nor does the film carry the weight of trying to one-up past entries. The movie starts, Batman is already established, here’s some villains for you, oh look it’s Alfred, and now let's get this show on the road. We don’t need any trips down Crime Alley to orient ourselves within the world of the film. It’s Batman, and a majority of us throughout this great land already know who the heck he is, and for those out there unfamiliar, the film aims to rectify that by sticking insanely close to our lead for the entirety of the 3-hour runtime. Aside from a bit with The Riddler at the beginning, wherein we see things through his eyes, the movie quickly switches to the POV of our winged friend and it stays that way until the end. Other films have danced in the pale moonlight with the notion that the idea of Batman is a catch-22 situation, in that he is there to fight crime but his very presence inspires people to engage in criminal activities, but The Batman really commits to this, and it provides us with one of the most satisfying resolutions to a comic book story that I can recall in recent years. Batman is very good at solving mysteries, but his perceived infallibility with regards to how to help Gotham City is very wrong, and his realization of that is a more satisfying conclusion than a hundred villains being tied up and left on Arkham’s doorstep.
That being said, I will say that the rumors are true and that there’s very little action in this behemoth of a movie, but hopefully you will, as I and my friends did, find yourself so sucked into the story that it will hardly matter. This is a film focused on characters and their relationships to each other, and within a genre that has a habit of building its story around action, this is a beautiful thing to behold. The rough-and-tumble stuff is a minor character that serves only to support the story and not act as some sort of mental rest stop. For a film of this nature to take its time and play all of the necessary notes is somewhat of a minor miracle. It also serves to answer my initial question: Do we need another Batman film?
“Need” might be too strong of a word, but let’s just say that I am far more open to the idea than I was before. The Batman shows us that a long-running vested interest in mighty figures of pop culture can continue to payout dividends greater than the sum total of being able to point and say “Oh look there’s something I recognize!” In the hands of true artists, our modern myths can soar higher than ever, and for reasons that transcend the “cool” and the “familiar”. Matt Reeves puts a lot of trust in us, the audience. He is confident that the story he is telling is solid and firmly believes that we will agree with him. That’s very refreshing compared to the fan-servicey attitude of other fantasy filmmakers and showrunners. With The Batman, Matt Reeves has arrived to chew bubblegum and serve to us a complete vision. Most other filmmakers within this genre just arrive with nothing but bubblegum.
The Batman is in theatres now!