Two years into his vigilante crusade, Batman faces the Riddler, a serial killer intent on exposing Gotham City’s deep-seated corruption.
Clocking in at three hours and sporting a plot reminiscent of Chinatown, director Matt Reeves’s ambitious take on Batman swings for the fences. I love the idea of placing Batman into a noir mystery, and Reeves makes some great choices. But he makes some frustrating ones too.
Let’s start with the good. I loved Gotham. Reeves takes the best of all worlds. The elevated trains of Christopher Nolan’s Chicago-set trilogy, the dingy New York of Joker, and some gothic touches reminiscent of Tim Burton’s Batman. A late set even borrows from the Arkham Asylum video game series.
The supporting cast also shines. An unrecognizable Colin Farrell plays the Penguin as a smarmy wheeler-dealer. Jeffrey Wright gives us the best Jim Gordon to date. Paul Dano’s chilling turn elevates the Riddler to an A-list villain without aping the Joker. And John Turturro feels like he’s always been criminal boss Carmine Falcone. Zoë Kravitz does her best with an underwritten role.
Which brings me to the bad. The Catwoman subplot feels forced. Kravitz’s master-thief safe-cracker lives in a shabby apartment and is behind on her bills. A late plot twist tries to explain this, but fall short. I get Reeves’s attempt to imbue Chinatown’s Faye Dunaway character with some agency, but the result doesn’t serve the story. And there’s no chemistry between her and lead Robert Pattinson.
And now we must talk about Pattinson and—by extension—this film’s Batman. I liked the detective aspect and Pattinson’s quiet, sulking performance suits these scenes. But the film also paints Batman as a bruiser. His introduction sees him stomp out of the shadows to face a gang of thugs. Pattinson lacks the physicality to sell these scenes. He’s tall and lean, but far from hulking. Reeves could have compensated with Batman leveraging surprise and striking from the shadows, but no. This Batman doesn’t crash through windows, he knocks on the front door.
I don’t fault Pattinson. He disappears into the performance. I just couldn’t buy his character as Batman. His Bruce Wayne sulks around like a mopey teen. I get Reeves’s intent on showing the character earlier in his crime fighting career, making mistakes and accruing the experience that would later serve him, but Batman’s indelible trait has always been his relentless drive. From his parent’s death, Bruce Wayne’s life becomes a myopic vision, fueling the grueling training necessary to transform himself into Batman.
You don’t get the same sense of drive from this character. Too much mope and whining. The sort of thing we’d expect from Robin but not Bruce. I’m hopeful this is by design. That Reeves’s sequels will see the character mature, bulk up, and—please—get a haircut.