The Batman – A Cut Above your Typical Super-Hero (4.5*)

The Batman is one of this year’s best movies. While nominally an action film, it also is thrilling detective story, told at a human level.
The Batman
The Batman

The Batman – Snapshot 

The Batman is not your typical superhero movie.  Although visually and sonically beautiful, it is so watchable because it tells a compelling story.  This Batman is very human and he learns much about how human he really is!  One of the best movies of the year! It is a heady three hours and a terrific setup for a reboot series.  

Where to Watch:

Stream: Max

Rent: Prime/Apple/Google/Vudu/Youtube/Redbox (all $4)


The Batman – The Oscar Buzz 

Oscar Nominations:

Makeup and Hairstyling (Fontaine/Donne/Marino)

Sound (Wilson/Files/Murray/Nelson)

Visual Effects (Lemmon/Earl/Langlands/Tuohy)

The Batman received three technical nominations but no wins at the Oscars.

The Makeup and Hairstyling nomination was, as best I can tell, mostly for the prosthetics and fat suit for Oz, The Penguin.  Underneath all of that – you will never guess – is Colin Farrell. (Farrell starred and received a Leading Oscar nomination for his role in this year’s Banshees of Inisherin.)  The makeup and prosthetic artists have also done work for The Irishman, Coming 2 America, Joker, Cruella, 1917, and Greyhound. Definitely a talented crew and one we are familiar with the last few years.

The nominated Sound team is also a familiar one. Two of the nominees worked on the Planet of the Apes movies.  One of them (Wilson) received Oscar nominations for four different Star Wars films and won the Oscar for 1917.  Nelson won two Oscars for Les Miserables and Saving Private Ryan, and was nominated for Elvis, West Side Story, and La La Land and 19 other films.  Their work is evident in a rich sonic design in The Batman.

The Visual Effects in The Batman are good but, unlike many superhero films, remain in the background.  I suspect there is some CGI going on, but the fact that I can’t really tell is a testament to the VFX design.  Tuohy won an Oscar for his work on 1917, not exactly a movie based on extraordinary computerized visual effects.  He also received nominations for two of the Star Wars films. Lemmon was an Oscar winner for The Jungle Book and received nominations for three of the Planet of the Apes films.  Langlands worked on War for the Planet of the Apes and received Oscar nominations for Mulan, and The Martian.  Earl received nominations for his work on Avengers: Endgame and Avengers: Infinity Wars and three other films.  This is a talented team, but the best thing about the VFX in this movie is that they aren’t designed to wow you so much as to assist in telling the story.


The Batman – The Movie’s Family Tree

The Following Movies Share Talent with This One 

(and if you like these films, you might like this one):

War for the Planet of the Apes (17): Director (Reeves); Writer (Reeves); Composer (Giacchino); Editor (Hoy); Production Design (Chinlund); Sound (Files/Murray); Visual Effects (Lemmon/Langlands); Acting(Serkis)

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (14): Director (Reeves); Composer (Giacchino); Editor (Hoy); Production Design (Chinlund); Sound (Murray); Visual Effects (Lemmon); Acting(Serkis)

The Twilight Saga Movies/Tenet (20)/The Lighthouse (19) : Acting (Pattinson)

Mad Max: Fury Road (15)/Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse (18): Acting (Kravitz)

The Banshees of Inisherin (21): Acting (Farrell)

1917 (19): Makeup (Donne); Costumes (Crossman); Sound (Wilson); Visual Effects (Tuohy)

Up (09): Composer (Giacchino)

Dune (21): Cinematography (Fraser)

Little Women (19)/Anna Karenina (12): Costumes (Durran)

Coming 2 America/Greyhound/The Irishman/Cruella: Makeup(Fontaine/Donne/Marino)

Les Miserables (12)/Saving Private Ryan (98): Sound (Nelson)

Jungle Book (16): Visual Effects (Lemmon)

The two Planet of the Apes films listed first are probably the films most like The Batman.  Matt Reeves directed both of them and co-wrote the second one.  I think his attention to story-telling details, character development, and ability to maintain complex plot-line tension is similar in all three films.  As indicated in the references above, he also brought with him a strong technical team that was familiar with how he worked – factors that contribute to the success of The Batman.

Robert Pattinson is best known for his role as Edward Cullen in the Twilight films.  He also gave a “yeoman’s work” in a strange film that I actually liked very much, The Lighthouse.  He plays the younger of two men trapped on an island for five weeks in the middle of a season of Nor-easters.  Here, as in the Twilight films, he plays a brooding character who definitely enjoys the night.  It is believed that Reeves wrote the Batman role specifically for Pattinson.

Zoe Kravitz plays the love interest, as well as a full-on action partner,  in The Batman and she is probably best remembered for her performance in Mad Max: Fury Road and her voice acting in Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse as well as her earlier appearances in the Divergent films.  Here she plays a cat-burglar and there is every indication that we will be seeing more of her in the planned sequels to this movie.

You won’t recognize Colin Farrell in his fatsuit and prosthetics as Penguin, but he continues to develop an acting ability that surprises me.  We saw him earlier this year in The Banshees of Inisherin where he was nominated for a leading actor Oscar.

The movies in the last set above are those in various technical categories that shared Oscar-nominated talent with this film.  If you particularly like some feature – like the sound or costumes of 1917 – then you might well find them of interest in this movie since some of the same people worked on both films.

In my Oscar Quality Index, The Batman rates a solid three, receiving three technical nominations and no wins.  (It is tied with Babylon which is our next movie.). That places it 14th in the general interest films and at this point, we have reviewed all the movies ranking higher.


The Batman – What Others Think

The Batman is not quite the visual spectacle that Avatar: the Way of Water was, and quite possibly that is the reason audiences don’t rate it quite as high.  Still it comes in ninth on this year’s list of general interest films, tied with the Glass Onion film.  (Note that the highest audience-rated film in this year’s crop remains Top Gun: Maverick.

Critics were, of course, less kind, rating this 15th, or in the bottom half of this year’s films.  It was tied with All Quiet on the Western Front and The Fabelmans.  However there were some critics who liked the film.  Christy Lemire (RogerEbert) summarized “This is the most beautiful Batman movie you’ve ever seen-even if it’s not really a Batman movie at all.”  James Berardinelli (ReelViews) argues that this is “arguably the best superhero movie since Avengers: Infinity war…” and the best Batman movie since The Dark Knight.  He also notes that “At a time when many comic book franchises are seeking to go bigger…The Batman’s down to earth approach offers a welcome reprieve.”  And, something we will return to below, he observes “Never has the chasm between the MCU and DC been more evident.”  Even A.O. Scott (New York Times), who seems to have a real hard time with movies of this genre, says “I can’t say I had a good time, but I did end up somewhere I didn’t expect to be: looking forward to the next chapter.”  This is, in short, a different kind of super-hero film and a re-boot of the Batman sequence.  We will go into this a bit more below.


The Batman – Special Mention

The DCEU and the MCU – yeah, all that!  If you are knowledgeable about all of this, you probably know more than I do and can skip this section.  But if you are relatively uninitiated in the superhero film universe, this section is designed to serve as sort of a primer.

The first thing you need to know is that there are two major comic-book franchises out there.  The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) is the collection of characters and plot-lines that developed out of the Marvel Comic book series.  The DCU is a whole alternative set of characters that were derived from the DC comic book series.  Although there are some differences of opinion, the “D” apparently means “Detective”.  The most significant DC characters are Batman, Superman, and WonderWoman, but there are some others.   Both comic book kingdoms got started in the 1930s and both have been bought and sold between multiple corporate behemoths since then.  Marvel is now owned by the Disney empire, and DC got swallowed up by first Time, then Warner, and is now owned by Warner Brothers Discovery.

Both comic book empires moved into films as far back as the 1940s, but seriously got started with the super-hero action movies with all the computerized visual effect capabilities of the 21st century.  As they moved into films, and their audiences demanded more and bigger movies, the corporate owners decided to drop the barriers between their different character lines and allow them to “team up” with each other in action-packed movies.  This is the “U” or “Universe” (and “EU” or “Extended Universe”) part of the movie industry sequence.  So, in more recent super-hero movies, for example, we have all kinds of characters that originated in separate comic book lines, but now work as teams, creating things like the Avengers or the Justice League and other groupings.  So now you can see movies where multiple super-heroes battle multiple bad guys, all in the same film.

But it is very difficult for super-heroes to cross corporate lines.  That is why you are unlikely to see DCU characters in MCU movies and vice versa. (There are exceptions but usually involve cross-corporate licensing agreements!)

Even though the DC world has recently created the DCEU, which theoretically allows all their characters to appear together in the same film, that hasn’t happened anywhere near the degree that the MCU has done.  So, in a lot of ways, the DC movies are refreshingly simpler than the complex MCU films like Avengers: Infinity War or Avengers: Endgame. 

One of the best things about this movie is the story line which reads very much like a detective story.  In this way The Batman returns to the origins of the DC comic books as the “Detective Comics”.

Batman (A little film history!) – As noted above, Batman has been around quite a while, first appearing in Detective Comics #27 in 1939.  His character was conceived by one of the original DC comic book artists, Bob Kane and was then fleshed out in more detail by Bill Finger.

Batman also has a long film history. He first appeared on film in 1943 portrayed by Lewis Wilson and again three years later by Robert Lowery.  Many of us old farts will remember the classic television series of the 1960s and Adam West re-enacted his TV role in the 1966 movie Batman: The Movie.  Tim Burton directed Michael Keaton in two films in 1989 and 1992, and Joel Schumacher directed Val Kilmer in 1995 and George Clooney, two years later.  (The Clooney film was a disaster and led to the cancellation of a planned series.). 

Christopher Nolan helmed Christian Bale in three Batman films known as the Dark Knight Trilogy in 2005, 2008, and 2012. The second one,  The Dark Knight, is considered one of the classic superhero films and is a must-watch for anyone interested in the character.  Pattinson borrows much from Bale’s character, although he definitely adds his own interpretation.

Ben Affleck stars as Batman in several films involving multiple DC characters (the DCEU mentioned above) directed by Zack Snyder between 2016 and 2021.  (Another one, with a different director and three different actors portraying Batman was scheduled for release earlier this year and yet another one is planned in December.). These films are all part of the DC business empire trying to cash in the same way that the MC has.  (It should be noted that all the Batman movies combined have grossed more than $5 Billion, ranking them 11th in film franchise success!)

The Batman is not part of the DCEU, and remains focused on the character of Batman.  It is the first of a planned series with at least one more film to be released in 2025.  In this series, directed by Matt Reeves and starring Robert Pattinson, Batman is not really a super-hero – at least not like we see them in other films.  He can, in fact, be killed because, underneath his fancy costume – with bullet deflecting capabilities, he is simply a human being, deeply affected by the loss of his parents.  As many critics have noted, in this Batman movie, the super-hero action has been dialed way down to give the movie a much more human tone.


The Batman – Michael’s Moments

Pattinson’s Batman is a brooding one.  The film isn’t exactly an origin story, since it starts about a year or two after Batman starts patrolling the streets of Gotham.  What I especially liked about this film is how Bruce Wayne is portrayed as such a human.  Although some 20 years after he witnessed the death of his parents, he still is an insufferable brooder – rarely going out in public and with really nothing directing his life except his unwavering commitment to fight crime.  He doesn’t even care very much that his family fortune is withering away.  In short, he starts out as a rather pathetic figure, not as some super-hero with an arsenal of unnatural powers.

There is a sequence at the 17 minute mark where Batman makes solid eye contact with a young kid who, like Bruce Wayne earlier, had witnessed the death of his father.  That same eye contact, this time between the kid and Bruce Wayne, occurs again at the 1:02 mark.  There is an identification between the two and it impacts Wayne in a big way – he is reliving the impact of losing his parents.

It is almost a maxim that super-heroes don’t really change a whole lot.  Sure they get beat up and suffer some kind of near death, but they always summon up their super-powers, make a comeback, and vanquish their enemy.  But, through all of that, we don’t see them actually grow much – they are who they are and can’t really get any better.  

But that maxim doesn’t apply to The Batman.  This “superhero” learns things that can only change his understanding of himself, and of his mission in life, in truly big ways.  And I think that is one of the superlative strengths of this film – it has a very complex story-line during which the character grows significantly.  Sure, there are several complex action scenes – in two of them, at the beginning and end of the movie, Batman fights off multiple bad guys in very well choreographed scenes.  In another one, the new Batmobile, a gutsy sounding, jet propelled vehicle that is so unique that I can’t tell what it is built on, but behaves nimbly and fast in a very effective chase scene.

But none of these action scenes are ever the heart and soul of this film.  While it probably should be classified in the “Action” genre, it is much more than that.  What distinguishes this film from so many similar stories is that this one has a complex, but intelligible story line.  And, importantly, the story doesn’t involve multiverses, or time warp travel, or anything out of the ordinary.  Rather it is, at heart, a simple crime story with all the twists and turns that you want in a mystery.  There is an improbable “save the entire city of Gotham” climax towards the end, but our hero doesn’t end up preventing the catastrophe – rather he simply saves as many of its victims as he can, many of whom are orphans, just like he had become.  It is a thriller, but more in the tradition of 1940s film noir than in earth-destroying action scenes.  The movie successfully makes Batman a human puzzle-solver, with all the strengths, and weaknesses that that might imply.

This is one of the best movies of the year and it succeeds because for all of its technical wizardry, the filmmaking team never loses sight of the fact that Batman is, ultimately, just Bruce Wayne.  It tells a story and it tells it well!  (4.5*)

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1 thought on “The Batman – A Cut Above your Typical Super-Hero (4.5*)”

  1. I am extremely biased against the whole idea of comic book action hero films and I resent the endless series and remixes taking away from using that funding to create new movies. There are endless great books out there waiting to be converted into great movies. It all seems like cowardice by producers.

    But my, perhaps idiosyncratic, bias aside, you have interested my in this movie and I will watch it, because ultimately it is great writing that captivates me regardless of anything else about a movie.


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