It’s been a while since I highly anticipated a DC movie from Warner Bros. Yes, I’m one of those people. I’m one of the people who enjoyed Zack Snyder’s vision of the DC Extended Universe. Man of Steel is my favorite version of the Superman story. Henry Cavill and Amy Adams are my favorite Lois and Clark. Wonder Woman’s introduction into the DCEU was executed by Snyder, and we all saw what could happen to Wonder Woman when Patty Jenkins is left to her own devices. Likewise, Aquaman’s initial outing was engaging under Snyder’s leadership and, while I don’t think it’s worthy of an Oscar, Zack Snyder’s Justice League was superior over the Joss Whedon version. Let’s not forget what Todd Philips did with Joker when he was left alone by the studio.
Oscar award-winning director Ben Affleck initially was going to write and direct The Batman but, for whatever reason, dropped the assignment and the role. Enter a director (and a composer) from the J.J. Abrams Bad Robot tree, and, ordinarily, I wouldn’t be excited about who took over the assignment. Matt Reeves (and Michael Giacchino) are no ordinary descendants from the Abrams tree. Reeves directed Cloverfield, America’s own kaiju (and Giacchino wrote the score, which only consisted of the end credits sequence). Reeves also directed the reboot trilogy of Planet of the Apes Giacchino scored the final two films.
So, Reeves and Giacchino have outstanding credits to stand on independent of Abrams, and they can add a solid outing in The Batman to add to their accomplishments. If you’re wondering why I have mentioned Giacchino almost every time I say, Reeves, the score added powerful impact to the words directed and co-written by Reeves, with Peter Craig credited as the other screenwriter.
When people talk about the DCEU, they emphasize the Extended Universe portion of that initialism. It’s important to remember that DC stands for Detective Comics, the publication which introduced Batman in issue #27, dated May 1939. Reeves hasn’t forgotten. He has given us a neo-noir detective story from beginning to end. Whereas many previous directors have given us dark and moody stylings of Gotham City, Reeves and his design team have given us a Gotham that’s an amalgam of New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, London, and several other cities. At times the film reflects the daytime essence of those cities yet still maintains the dark and moody atmosphere in which Batman and Jim Gordon are destined to operate.
Some trepidation was raised about Robert Pattison playing Batman. I don’t write spoilers, but I will say this. Pattison is Batman… just Batman. There’s a reason why the word Batman is so outsized in the credits and marketing materials. The former Twilight star plays the role well. Andy Serkis is Bruce Wayne’s faithful butler Alfred Pennyworth. Zoe Kravitz gives a wonderful performance as Selina Kyle, a/k/a Catwoman. However, throughout this movie, Batman’s loyal partner is Lt. Jim Gordon, played marvelously by Jeffrey Wright.
Gotham City is plagued by a series of high-profile killings beginning with its mayor. Over the objections of some policemen and the police commissioner, Gordon brings Batman into the investigation from the very beginning. Several elements of the Batman ethos are just presented as fact. So, no unnecessary explanations of the BatSignal or why Batman and Gordon are so close. It’s a fait accompli. It is what it is, and I was fine with that.
The story presented by Reeves and Craig is populated with a couple of familiar characters from the Batman mythos. The Riddler and the Penguin are in evidence, played by Paul Dano and Colin Farrell, respectively. There are several other baddies to populate the story. Peter Sarsgaard plays DA Gil Colson and who doesn’t love a performance from John Turturro, who plays Carmine Falcone, a gangster I learned about from Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy.
Reeves’ The Batman does not suffer from comparisons to Nolan’s trilogy. I am eagerly looking forward to Reeves’ next installment. So, why does this movie get an 8 instead of a 10?
Too much plot. There’s a lot of plot in this movie. A lot is going on and a lot that you’ll have to keep track of during its near-three-hour running time. Don’t worry. I don’t think you’ll be looking at your watch too much because a lot is happening, and you’ll have to pay attention because Reeves doesn’t necessarily explain things upfront in a fashion where you’ll understand what is going on. However, eventually, it will all come together for you.
There’s an interesting twist on the Batman origin story, such as it is. I think you’ll enjoy it as much as I did.
The Batman is rated PG-13 for strong violent and disturbing content, drug content, strong language, and some suggestive material. It is a solid, very powerful movie that you will want to watch multiple times. It is playing in IMAX 2D is available only in theatres right now.
The last time I saw a movie that made me feel like this was Space Jam: A New Legacy, also from Warner Brothers. In that one, it was like a whole bunch of Warner Brothers executives got in a room with LeBron James’ people and decided to make a movie filled with WB IP, James, and little else. This time around, Lana Wachowski, one of the co-creators of the franchise, decided to forgo the partnership with her sister and “resurrect” it with this movie without a clear idea of what should be done.
As the movie opens, we are treated to almost an exact re-creation of the opening scene from The Matrix (1999), but rather than use footage from that film, Wachowski re-creates the scene with look-a-like actors. We’re introduced to “hold onto your butts,” “Bugs,” as in “Bunny” to quote the character. Bugs is a human captain who, with her operator Seq (short for Sequoia), observes the re-creation. Eventually, Bugs and Seq realize that what they are watching is not what happened to Trinity in the original, and we’re off to the races.
Though Wachowski didn’t use archival footage in that scene, there is liberal use of scenes and intercuts from all three Matrix films as she and co-writers David Mitchell and Aleksandar Hemon try to lay a foundation for this film. However, it never really quite works. Much of it is a retread of the previous films. The writers have gotten rid of many of the devices from the earlier films. As one character noted, “you don’t have to get to a phone anymore.” So, we’re left with setups for fight scenes, followed by the fights, and let’s keep it moving.
Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss return. Reeves appears as Thomas Anderson, a programmer who wrote “The Matrix” as a series of three video games and, yes, the movies of the trilogy were actually video games. Moss is Tiffany, a somewhat modern-day Mom, with a husband, Chad, and two kids. Tom and Tiffany meet at a coffee house named —wait for it— Simulatte and discuss how much Tom based the character Neo on himself and how much Tiffany looks like Trinity.
I don’t know if they were asked, but Laurence Fishburne and Hugo Weaving had the common sense not to re-up for this film. Instead, we get Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as Morpheus and Jonathan Groff as Anderson’s business partner named Smith. Their performances are serviceable, but kudos to Neil Patrick Harris, who appears as The Analyst, who we learned has rebooted The Matrix after inheriting the duty from The Architect.
Frankly, it’s all very meta and derivative, unimaginative, and vacuous. With all the advances in filmmaking since 1999, I don’t understand how the original film’s effects are better than the effects in this film.
I can’t recommend spending $21 a ticket to view this film in IMAX; however, if you have two and a half hours and HBO Max, it’s probably worth your time. The three original films are currently streaming on Hulu; so, you can get the whole Matrix experience in your own home and reduce your exposure to Omicron if you happened to have dodged it from going to see Spider-Man: No Way Home.
Forgive me if I take this out on Peter Parker, but Spider-Man: No Way Home suffers from many of the problems of modern intellectual property; that is that it’s not really modern at all. If I were scoring the film just based on my enjoyment, it would receive a 6 out of 10. If you saw the graphic above, you’ll know that I rated it 8 out of 10. I’ll explain why before you read to the end.
Much of modern intellectual property survives on two fundamental and related things. One has been going on for quite a while now. That’s the repurposing of script elements that we’ve seen in either prior films in a series or story devices that we’ve seen in other movies. So, for example, (using a scene we saw in the trailers,) when MJ falls off the scaffolding, that’s similar to things we saw in the 80’s Spider-Man films and the 90’s Amazing Spider-Man films.
The second thing is fan service. Sometimes, fan service is desirable when used, for example, in Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame, which essentially were clip films without using clips. They used script elements that essentially recapped the previous 20 films without showing clips but building scenes based on what we saw in those films.
My problem with Spider-Man: No Way Home is that it is essentially a film that combined major story elements revealed in trailers with others recycled from previous Spider-films. It is a movie that Spider-fans figured out on social media. There wasn’t a single story element that took me by surprise. This is from a person who avoided social media about the film from the premiere until I saw it this morning. So, did I find it satisfying? No.
Increasingly, modern storytelling is dependent on familiar content and fan service. This has given fandom a sense of entitlement where if what they want to see in a film is omitted, then the film has no value, and there’s no impetus to see it.
Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers wrote the script for all three MCU Spider-Man films (as well as Ant-Man and the Wasp). Jon Watts directed all three as well and will be directing the upcoming Fantastic Four MCU introduction. Watts and photographer Mauro Fiore did an outstanding job with the material given. The writers attempted to generate pathos and, judging by the reaction of the audience I viewed the film with, they were apparently successful. However, I feel McKenna and Sommers have kind of written themselves into a box and I can’t wait to see how Feige and company get themselves out of it.
Tom Holland returns as Peter Parker and Spider-Man, as does the cast of the previous Spider-Man MCU movies. Every villain from the earlier Spider-films appears in this movie, played, with one exception, by all the same actors. So, it’s an all-star cast that’s we see on the screen throughout the film.
There’s not a lot I can say about the plot without spoiling it.
However, I can say that you’ve seen it all before in one form or another.
There is a mid-credits scene and a post-credits scene affecting both Sony’s Spider-Verse and the Marvel Cinematic University. Next up is another film from Sony. Morbius premieres in January.