The Batman review: A bloated 3-hour marathon dragged down by ponderous dialogue

More sourpuss than Batman, this outing of Gotham City’s caped-masked crusader has him so unhappy and brooding that Pattinson’s other bat avatar, the eternity-grieving vampire of Twilight, was good training. Matt Reeves’s The Batman clearly takes its cues from the fictional world of not just Christopher Nolan’s oh-so-serious The Dark Knight, but also real stuff close home, such as a Black leader talking of change, and some White fanatics laying siege to the seat of power on election day.

But fear not, its political pretensions aside, The Batman remains frustratingly about municipal-level corruption (like it is used to) and “saving” Gotham City from the kind of dirty deals among its top 1% that perhaps surprise nobody except our Bruce Wayne. Clearly, the poor little rich orphan – the film makes a big deal of his orphan status – needs to get out of his Wayne Tower more.

In fact, The Batman makes a big deal of a lot about its hero. Everything about him moves in slower motion (that is, for not wanting to call him slow) – which by the way could partly explain the bloated three-hour length of the film. And this Batman really likes talking about himself. “They think I am hiding in the shadows, I am the shadows”, he says early on, just before landing some punches on a few lumpens. “I am Vengeance”, he introduces himself to another such group; “This city is beyond saving, but I have to try,” he says to no one in particular.

Yeah, yeah, we get it. The world is a bad place, with no sunshine, constant rain, flickering light bulbs, villainous men who abuse women and corrupt leaders. And there is absolutely no joy to be had in riding fancy wheels, coming back to a loyal housekeeper and butler, a warm bed, and not having to worry about turning up for work in smudged black eyes and floppy hair and clothes.

But, that eye shadow (a new addition) and those clothes that Pattinson wears like a damp sack aside, we have seen it all. And unlike previous outings, Reeves (who also co-wrote the screenplay) establishes no real reason for Wayne to be in such perpetual despondency, except what he himself keeps asserting to us. Even the angst of the Riddler, presumably representative of the 99% of us, was laid out at great length not so long ago in Joker.

The only difference in Reeves’s Batman is that he is as much brain as brawn – though you might wonder how Pattinson’s lean, wiry Wayne transforms into a well-sculpted Batman when in the Bat suit. In this film, Batman essentially works hand in hand with police (essentially Lieutenant Gordon) to catch The Riddler by solving the puzzles and problems he sets. The riddles themselves don’t turn out to be much, but with the fight sequences not exactly impressive, they are not unwelcome.

It isn’t just the gloomy setting or the length that weighs the film down. It’s also the amazingly ponderous dialogues. A significant time is spent discussing “El Rata Alada”, and what could a rat with wings be. Colin Farrell is unrecognisable (for no particular reason) as one of the villains, who at his most angry tells Batman and Gordon: “What is this? Good cop and batshit cop?”

When Zoe Kravitz is allowed time to bloom as the unofficial ‘Cat Woman’, she does stir up enough chemistry to make even Wayne display emotion, though no – never – desire; he can’t be that happy. The eerie Paul Dano as The Riddler is unforgivably underused. John Turturro steals the show as Falcolne, the only man who seems to be living it up here.

There are moments of promise — like at the orphanage where Wayne wonders about his father’s legacy, when Kravitz’s Selina wears contacts with camera into a party and must make eye contact with the Mob, when Batman powers up his Batmobile, and especially a beautiful, lonesome motorcycle ride by a pair at the end.

However, as the Riddler tells the Batman, all that fancy stuff aside: “You are not as smart as I thought you were.”

The Batman cast: Robert Pattinson, Zoe Kravitz, Paul Dano, Jeffrey Wright, John Turturro, Peter Sarsgaard, Andy Serkis, Colin Farrell
The Batman director: Matt Reeves
The Batman rating: 2.5 stars

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