The Batman (2022): When a Story Doesn’t Match Your Character

The Batman is a 2022 superhero epic from writer-director Matt Reeves.

The Batman is not a flawless movie. Far from it.

I have some high praise of it. Its visuals in the forms of production design and cinematography are strikingly original. Its performances are nuanced and enjoyable (for the most part). I love its vision of trying to be the story of a whole city in a unique way that we hadn’t really gotten in a movie I’d seen in awhile. The action scenes are exhilarating too.

A Few Tweaks

However, I have plenty of criticisms, too. One of the forefront among those is the extremely disjointed nature of the last half an hour or so. The “twist” that the Riddler thinks Batman was his friend the whole time is nonsensical (the way that he interacts with Batman in the funeral bombing and over the URL page no longer makes sense). Then that final fight scene in the stadium while Riddler floods the city feels very unnecessary. It seems like Matt Reeves needed a big final fight that’s going to destroy the city.

I think it could’ve worked with a few tweaks, which is something I repeat with a lot of my criticisms of the film. “Oh, it just needs a few tweaks.” Adjust this, recalibrate that, add a line here, a shot there.

Riddler, intent on only hurting those who directly add to the corruption of the city, suddenly decides to bomb Bruce Wayne, who didn’t do anything to him (although Thomas Wayne did). Then, Riddler decides to flood the whole city and specifically target Bella Real, the candidate for governor. However, she is the least corrupt of all the people Batman interacted with so far. Make it a little tighter! Have Batman discover something illegal or shady she’s done, that she’s trying to atone for just like his father tried to atone for his wrongs with Falcone. Could’ve been two lines, something Batman discovers in Riddler’s lair.

Then have Riddler just flood the streets around the stadium (it’s by the water anyways after all), and then maybe hint at those extremist Darkweb assistants sooner. Perhaps Batman chases the Riddler out of the cathedral with the funeral, spotting him in multiple places that would be impossible for him to move so quickly. That would add to the mystery element of the movie too!

A few lines, recalibrated scenes; and the movie is sharper than it was before.

The film needed a little more polishing. A ton of thought has obviously been put into the movie. I think a little more thought, though, could’ve gone into the writing (not the dialogue persay, but the construction and situations of these scenes). Think of the three or four tweaks I mentioned for the last forty five minutes. Imagine similar tweaks for these following scenes that bugged me

Why didn’t the police take off Batman’s mask when he was unconscious? Just have that scene take place within the cathedral; he’s dazed, he runs to the top of a tower, he flies down. Also, don’t have him hit that bridge while he flies out; that was ludicrous invincibility.

Why is Selina Kyle’s roommate still in that mobster car’s trunk? If she was killed three days ago, there’s no way the body wasn’t at the bottom of a river that same day.

Why does Batman have a strict “no kill” rule yet smash through cars and allow trucks to blow up will chasing the Penguin? You’d think he’d have some tech to try to stop the car first!

Why is Alfred’s way of reassuring Bruce about his dad basically, “Well, he did it, but he didn’t, like, MEAN to do it!” Honestly it’s kind of lame how Batman just turns around at that. Like I said before, if that had perhaps been paired with the realization that Bella Real isn’t totally clean either, he could realize that no one has completely clean hands. And that’s just the darkness of life.

Why does Batman get knocked back in the first fight by the goon with the revolver, but in the famous hallway fight he can take automatic weapon fire like it’s nothing? Just a little tweak; have him appear behind the guys firing and take them out that way.

With maybe another draft, two drafts, this film could’ve been a 9 for me instead of a 6. There are too many cracks and creaks for it to go higher.

But I think there’s something deeper that betrays the movie. Something deeper than cracks and creaks. The movie ultimately bends under its own weight because it’s trying to do 2 Batmans (Batmen? Batman’s?) at the same time.

Two Batmen

This movie wants to be a detective drama. It’s a side of Batman we haven’t really seen on the big screen before, not even when Bruce Wayne somehow got fingerprints from bullets that are INSIDE CASINGS in The Dark Knight. He’s piecing together clues left behind by a serial killer in order to discover the deep layers of corruption that plague Gotham City.

This Batman is obviously extremely intelligent. He has built and designed the Batmobile, his costume, and most of his equipment entirely on his own (with some help from Alfred, probably, but it’s not completely explicit). He only takes seconds to figure out the clues the Riddler leaves him while under pressure.

This movie also wants to be about “crazy Batman.” It’s a side of Batman we haven’t really seen on the big screen before, not even with Michael Keaton going nuts in Batman (1989). He’s going ham on criminals with a grim joy, beating some cruelly within an inch of their life. He yells like an animal as the Batmobile smashes through barricades while chasing The Penguin. A major theme of the movie is him overcoming his emo-ish, rageful tendencies to see he can be a symbol of light and hope and not just darkness and rage,

This Batman is intensely anti-social and emo, seemingly unaware of how his actions come off to outside society.

He’s also kind of bumbling. There are multiple times in the movie where he just kind of trips into the correct answer. He randomly stumbles on Selina Kyle at just the right time in the Iceberg Lounge or just sees that police officer with the carpet removing tool who just so happens to speak up at the right time.

Even worse is his Spanish mistake with “You Are El Rata Alata” (the “el” should be “la” in Spanish; neither he, nor Alfred, nor the computer they’re using notices the gender screw up. Once they do, it is pivotal to the film).

Finally he’s kind of dumb when he has Selina Kyle investigate the night club; literally right away she goes up to people and asks shady questions and he’s impatient with her asking. She’s undercover!!!! That takes TIME to get people comfortable to divulge. Luckily for Batman people begin divulging right away; otherwise him pressing her to go further and ask more would’ve been more noticeably untactful and stupid for how intelligent he’s supposed to be.

In addition, we have this young, raw Batman who is angry and mean. However, he is also an intelligent, young Batman who probably hasn’t faced intense situations before. Yet he takes automatic weapons fire like a tank. Shouldn’t he be more terrified of that if he’s a first timer in that level of intensity? If he is a smart, detective-y Batman, wouldn’t he be more likely to sneak around rather than go head on, even head on in the dark? It’s ok for him to make mistakes; definitely he should make mistakes! But it’s the dissonance in the multiple personality Batman we see that’s hard to come to terms with.

There are two Batdudes in this film. The nature and interests of the director force Batman to be a detective, piecing together clues and finding an answer. He’s doing intense investigation and research. At the same time, he’s angry and vengeful and oblivious and impatient. He stumbles on to answers, and by sheer luck isn’t killed or found out.

Story Vs Character

You have a character in mind of this vengeful, impatient, semi-oblivious, emo character. You have a story in mind, of this intense city-spanning investigation. While interesting pairings are always fun, it’s hard to have an arc in mind for a character but also an arc in mind for your story.

If the character you’re presenting and the character they need to be for the story you’re showing don’t line up, there’s dissonance. One or the other will get compromised. In this case, the detective story got compromised. Detective stories by their nature involve a character who finds clues. If he stumbles upon them, they become a string of “Deus Ex Machinas” (conveniences that propel a plot rather than choices). The solution drops out of the sky, which is rarely satisfying in fiction. Batman didn’t figure this out; he lucked it out. His detective story is compromised.

I still think the throughline of his “vengeful” storyline is very, very strong. Seeing Batman rescue the people at the end and lead them to the roof of the stadium, holding hands with the child in the stretcher, was amazing. It was a cool full circle. And I still think the detective story tackles really cool ideas, like systemic corruption and the “story of a whole city.” We explore multiple layers of Gotham in a real interesting way that can be felt in the difference between the Iceberg, the funeral, and so on.

However, there is a primary dissonance in the character and the story. The story required “Detective Batman.” The character Matt Reeves was interested in presenting was “Rage Batman.” There’s perhaps a way to get the two to line up; some tweaks could have gone a long way, and recontextualizing a few scenes would’ve been helpful.

But I think this cracking also shows something about Matt Reeves. I’ve read that Matt Reeves is one of the first in a group of directors who have extreme respect for the source material of comic books. Christopher Nolan felt free to change where he wanted; Zack Snyder obviously loves his comics but fundamentally misunderstands Superman and other heroes. Meanwhile, Matt Reeves is a geek for Batman. He loves Batman.

This movie touches on being an adaption of The Long Halloween, but switching out Riddler for Holiday (the Falcone/Selina Kyle stuff, as well as the Falcone/Thomas Wayne stuff, is straight from that comic). It’s a 1.5-to-one that hasn’t been seen before in any DC adaptions. Even Batman V Superman doesn’t take straight from The Dark Knight Returns. Previously, films have taken “vibes” or ideas or broad strokes from comics, such as the idea of the Joker or the concept of the League of Shadows/Assassins. They rarely, though, adapt a story directly. Matt Reeves actually took full plot points from a story and transported them into his own, rather than just iconography or concepts.

It seems to me (and I have no proof, but hear me out) that he wanted to take this chance to tell the Batman story. Why else would he include a few seconds clip of his Joker at the end of the movie, and shoot a scene featuring Joker outside of that? (Side note too: If that Joker prison scene had been included, Joker then would take the place of Calendar Man, making it more like The Long Halloween). He wanted the Batman movie. But in aiming for so much, he took too much. Too many elements led to some measure of dissonance that might be unable to be fixed without removing or compromising on one of the two Batmen presented in this movie.

And yet…

And yet it’s exciting to have a discussion like this.

I’m talking about a movie with huge ambition, aiming for the stars and missing. It has passion, care, heart, respect for the source material all wrapped up inside.

When I criticize this movie, it’s in the hope that The Batman 2 or whatever it’s going to be called will be even better. I don’t think Matt Reeves will see this. But if other storytellers or critics of stories do, and they make better, tighter stories for it, it’ll be worth it. If someone is trying to figure out why their story isn’t working and this helps them find why, it’ll be worth it.

Because while the story didn’t match the character Matt Reeves was interesting in telling, he had passion enough for both.

π™·πš’! π™Όπš’ πš—πšŠπš–πšŽ πš’πšœ π™½πšŠπšπš‘πšŠπš—. 𝙸’πš– 𝚊 πšπš›πšŠπšπšžπšŠπšπšŽ πšœπšπšžπšπšŽπš—πš πš πš‘πš˜ πš•πš˜πšŸπšŽπšœ πšœπšπš˜πš›πš’πšπšŽπš•πš•πš’πš—πš, πš•πšŽπšŠπš›πš—πš’πš—πš, πšŠπš—πš πšŒπš›πšŽπšŠπšπš’πš—πš, πšŠπš—πš πšŠπš•πšœπš˜ πš•πš˜πšŸπšŽπšœ 𝚝𝚘 πšπšŠπš•πš” πšŠπš‹πš˜πšžπš πšπš‘πšŽπš– (πšœπš˜πš–πšŽ πš πš˜πšžπš•πš 𝚜𝚊𝚒 𝚝𝚘𝚘 πš–πšžπšŒπš‘!) 𝙸’πš– πšπš›πš˜πš– π™Όπš’πš•πš πšŠπšžπš”πšŽπšŽ, πš†π™Έ πšŠπš—πš πšœπšπš’πš•πš• πš•πš’πšŸπšŽ πš—πšŽπšŠπš› πšπš‘πšŽπš›πšŽ. π™΅πš˜πš•πš•πš˜πš  πšπš‘πš’πšœ πš‹πš•πš˜πš 𝚝𝚘 𝚜𝚎𝚎 πš–πš˜πš›πšŽ πšŒπš˜πš—πšπšŽπš—πš πš•πš’πš”πšŽ πšπš‘πš’πšœ!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s