A little while ago, Jenn and I decided to watch every Batman movie in order. We watched the Adam West movie and then we watched the Burton/Schumacher films. But then, we got this one sooner and ended up watching it before all the other 21st century Batman films. (I’ve most Batman films already, save one or two of the recent ones, and this one. So it was mostly re-watching the films.) I don’t know how watching them in order would have affected how I viewed this latest film, but I do wonder, because I mostly quite liked this.
This is probably one of the Top 3 best Batman films ever. It might even be second best. But I have a few major issues with it, the first of which is its preposterous runtime. But more on that in a second. First, the good stuff.
For much of the film, this feels refreshingly uninfluenced by other Batman films. I believe “sui generis” is the phrase. As many have noted, it has a lot more in common with the detective genre than it does with comic book movies, at least for most of its runtime. And it’s not just the plot that feels distinct within the history of Batman films. There are many other touches. Bruce Wayne is basically a trust fund kid, rather than a regular billionaire. Catwoman’s and The Riddler’s costumes look refreshingly homemade. Alfred appears to have been a bodyguard and not just a butler. And there are others that I’ve forgotten. What I’m trying to say is that the film feels different enough that it should exist. Too often, reboots are just reboots. But this movie feels like a movie that could have existed without Batman, and I mean that as a compliment. It feels like a film, and not just the nth reboot of this character.
And I was really on board with it for quite a while. At one point I said to Jenn that I thought this was likely the second best Batman movie ever made, and we were maybe 1/3rd of the way through. But, the longer it goes on, the more problems there are. And it’s not just because it’s nearly 3 hours long. It’s also because it becomes more of a conventional Batman film in its final act and because of a missed opportunity. And this is where the spoilers come in.
The second problem I have with it, after the runtime, is what I think of as a major missed opportunity. I think a really interesting and very un-Batman film could have been made if The Riddler really did know he was Bruce Wayne and revealed it. Of course, that would complicate plans for a sequel, so that wasn’t going to happen. But I do wonder about an alternative ending, in which The Riddler reveals who The Batman is, and he is basically forced to retire. Not a crowd-pleaser, but probably more interesting than what happens.
As for my third issue: is Gotham a worse planned city than New Orleans? And have we ever been warned of this before? Maybe I missed something, but The Riddler’s coup de grace seems only possible due to some absolutely terrible urban planning that I have never encountered in the Gothams of other Batman and DC films. So we’re supposed to believe that Gotham is like New Orleans or the Netherlands. Then we’re supposed to believe that they built their main arena even lower below sea level than the rest of the city. And then we’re supposed to believe that this arena, which is even lower than the city surrounding it, is the storm shelter. All the Batman stuff that Batman does in the climax – well, not all of it, but the stuff involving the flood – seems unnecessary and based on a very silly idea. Can’t we have the Parallax View-with-clones things without the flood?
That being said, I mostly quite like the movie. It’s way too damn long but it feels like an actual attempt to make a film, a film that people want to watch, rather than a new Batman movie. And it also feels contemporary and relevant in a way that Batman films usually don’t. I do think it might be the 2nd best Batman film. That or the 3rd. One or the other.