The Batman: Matt Reeves made a terrific Dark Knight movie, but we can’t ignore its third act problems
Post Credits Scene: Matt Reeves’ The Batman is a brilliant Dark Knight story, but it does Bruce Wayne dirty.
In his single-minded quest to make a movie that honours Batman’s noir-heavy origins, director Matt Reeves forgot that he needs to be equally respectful of the Caped Crusader’s alter-ego, Bruce Wayne. The Batman, the filmmaker’s relentlessly grim three-hour epic, juggles subplots involving corruption, scandal, and serial murders—for some time, I was even convinced that it is the first superhero movie to actively address the #MeToo movement—but for some reason, it never unmasks the true motivations of the Dark Knight.
As expected of a director of Reeves’ calibre, The Batman is an exceptionally well-made film on a technical level—for around two hours, it’s actually quite great—but in its critical final act, it loses sight of its procedural tone and instead gets distracted by the seemingly studio-mandated requirement to check numerous other boxes. By loosening its grip on the audience (and the narrative), The Batman tragically allows our minds to wander.,Post Credits Scene is a column in which we dissect new releases every week, with particular focus on context, craft, and characters. Because there’s always something to fixate about once the dust has settled.
At the end of my screening, which began with a video of Robert Pattinson and other cast members congratulating us on being among the first people in the world to watch the movie, the packed house, which had cheered loudly when the blood-red opening title was splattered onto the IMAX screen, and was even more excited when Batman made his first appearance, could only muster a half-hearted smattering of applause. It sounded more obligatory than enthusiastic—as if this was something that they had decided to do even before they’d seen a single frame of the film.
The air had palpably left the theatre, which was surprising, because just around an hour previously, everyone had groaned when PVR randomly decided to pause the movie for an interval—which is still something that only happens in India. The atmosphere was electric at the half-way mark—for many of us, I’d imagine, it was the first sold-out screening we’d attended since the pandemic began. And Reeves’ refreshing new take on the character was admittedly engrossing—deliberately paced, sinister in tone, and curiously lean on action.
In a happy coincidence, the ‘interval’ came only a little while after a truly spectacular car chase involving the Batman and the Penguin, played by an unhinged Colin Farrell. Even though the scene is shot with a lack of coverage that is unusual for a studio picture of this size—it unfolds almost entirely in close-ups, of the cars and the characters—experiencing your seats rattle in response to the Batmobile’s guttural roar is more than enough to make up for the price of your inflated IMAX ticket. We were all so enthralled by the film’s dense plot that we weren’t even missing the action. And so, when it came, it felt breathtaking.
But then, how did it all go wrong? Why couldn’t Reeves—the man behind the lean found-footage thriller Cloverfield and the almost Biblically epic Planet of the Apes sequels—maintain the forward momentum that is necessary to a murder mystery? As it turns out, he was undone by a trifecta of problems that had been quietly snowballing into a larger mess in the background. Not to completely absolve him of all responsibility, but I’m convinced that each of these issues arose because of studio notes, which is ironic, because Reeves was allowed to make a David Fincher-style serial killer movie with a Godfather-length run time.
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The exact moment in which the film derails is the much-anticipated face-off between Pattinson’ Batman and Paul Dano’s Riddler that it was so giddily building towards. Clearly modelled on not just the real-life serial killer whose murderous spree was dramatised by Fincher in his 2007 film Zodiac, but also the fictional John Doe from the filmmaker’s 1995 classic Se7en, the Riddler makes for an enigmatic villain. After having toyed with him for the entire movie, he summons the Batman to Arkham Asylum, and in a tense confrontation, reveals the true motivations behind his masterplan to cleanse Gotham City of corruption. He is, in a way, an incel psychopath who shares traits with Joaquin Phoenix’s mass shooter-inspired Joker, even though he probably thinks of himself as a social justice warrior.
Over the course of the film, we watch him kill powerful Gotham City figures and leave behind a trail of clues addressed directly to the Batman, who finds himself in a bit of a humourless buddy cop situation with James Gordon, played by Jeffrey Wright, who is, without exaggeration, the parallel lead of this movie. “What is this?” Farrell’s Penguin asks them in one scene, “Good cop, batsh*t cop?”