I really wanted to like this movie. I was, I will admit, looking forward to it more than was reasonable. I will also admit that this post might have been a series of tweets if it were not for Lent. (The title, by the way, is a reference to this incredible Matthew Crawford essay about physicality and our experience of the mediated world, which is far more worth your time to read than the rest of this post.)
I think Phil Christman was mostly right in his assessment, and Alissa Wilkinson (who is the critic that I usually rely on when I want to read An Opinion About A Film) is mostly just glad that it’s not Joker, which… okay, whatever floats your boat there.
Everyone is going on about how this is a noir detective story. I am no expert in noir films, but I’m pretty sure it doesn’t count as a real detective story if the villain is trying to get the detective to follow each clue precisely. The only dramatic tension in this movie, detective-story-wise, comes because Batman cannot solve the Riddler’s puzzles quickly enough and keeps getting sidetracked by his own cluelessness. Imagine what a terrible movie LA Confidential would be if there was someone spoon-feeding Guy Pearce the clues the whole time; this is The Batman.
I suppose it was fine to try to change the Riddler from any of his previous incarnations (goofy puzzle-obsessed thief, arrogant nerd who wants to prove he’s smarter than Batman, etc.), but until the last half hour he’s basically a weirder version of a Sin City hero, Marvel’s Punisher, or DC’s Red Hood or Suicide Squad: he just kills wicked and powerful people. You can see where the writers were trying to make this interesting by comparing and contrasting him with Batman, but the ending completely derails this theme and isn’t saved by the weird callback. In order to make this Riddler a Really Bad Guy, they wrote in some surprise mass murder (another clue that Batman somehow misses until it’s too late and the Mayor-Elect has been shot, despite the fact that the whole plan was broadcast to his followers. Presumably if Alfred hadn’t been in the hospital, he would have been watching on Twitch and caught this earlier.) How the surprise mass murder fits into his overall plan is… tenuous at best and totally inconsistent at worst, and it feels like a really cheap payoff after 2 hours of watching this guy jerk Batman’s chain left and right.
I actually liked Robert Pattinson’s Emo Batman; the only storyline that held any emotional weight was “I’m not a kid anymore!” Bruce vs. “Don’t you take that tone with me, young man!” Alfred who is worried about his young charge but also very clearly enabling all of this behavior. Unfortunately, this storyline was hastily ended with the “my father was a murderer!” Bruce vs. “Well, actually…” Alfred scene that comes immediately after the murder revelation scene. Phew! I almost felt some conflict for a minute there.
Other terrible things: playing “Something in the Way” twice (neither of which was the reworked version from the trailer, you could at least have used “Tonight, Tonight”), the Ooze Ex Machina green stuff, and Catwoman never kicks Batman’s ass (physically) like he deserves.
Some movies take a great script and direct it poorly; The Batman is a rare opposite. There is some really impressive cinematography that makes the whole thing enjoyable to watch (here is where I disagree with Phil), Zoe Kravitz is a perfect Catwoman, and cinema will never have another moment like Colin Farrell screaming “Se habla espanol, fellas?” like a Jersey Shore Mike Huckabee.