As an unapologetic batcat shipper and a sucker for movie trailers effectively utilizing Nirvana songs, seeing The Batman wasn’t a matter of “if” but “when.” However, I got more than I bargained for when I mistakenly bought tickets to see Matt Reeves’ new Bruceman film in an obscure format called 4DX.
4DX, if you’re unfamiliar with this oddball movie format, is an “immersive” sensory moviegoing experience in which on-screen happenings, particularly stuff like weather and action scenes, are synced to billow out real-life smoke, dazzle you with lights, puff air at your head, and, perhaps worst of all, jerk around your hydraulically loaded seat like you’re riding a bronco. I know what you’re probably asking yourself: How does one mistakenly buy movie tickets in 4DX? Was it worth it? And how truly essential is reading to the human experience?
My friend Cade and I had our hearts set on going for broke and watching the nearly three-hour superhero epic in IMAX. However, we waited until release week to snag tickets, which was our first mistake. By the time I went looking, it was getting difficult to find seats next to each other. Hastily searching for nearby IMAX shows, I found one screening that was about to sell out that still had two adjacent seats available. Had the stars aligned? I purchased the tickets with a quickness, tragically failing to notice that the digital tickets actually said “4DX & IMAX”.
(Update 03/17/2022 9:02 p.m. ET: An IMAX spokesperson reached out to note that despite the confusion at this particular theater, 4DX and IMAX are unrelated formats.)
My first clue that we weren’t in for a run-of-the-mill IMAX moviegoing experience came when we sat down and noticed peculiar glowing text on our cup holders, which read “water on” and “water off.” I assumed, like a fool, that this must’ve been one of those neat drink-cooling doodads. But when the trailers started rolling, my mistake became apparent. Suddenly our chairs started rocking side to side, causing someone two rows ahead of us to voice my surprise by yelling “holy shit!” My eyes quickly darted to the giant 4DX logo adorning the theater walls, causing me to facepalm in embarrassment.
“Did you know you bought 4DX tickets?” Cade whispered urgently.
“No, but now I regret not being high before coming.” I had not yet realized that would have been an even worse idea.
To be fair, not every 4DX element of The Batman was distressing. One of the better parts of our viewing experience came from Batman’s first fight scene, when he brutally lays the smackdown on some Darby Allin-looking goons (you can see this in the movie’s trailer). We felt every bone-cracking punch and fluid takedown as our chairs shuddered frantically as Batman tore baddies up from ass to appetite.
The rest of the 4DX experience, however, was annoying to sit through. Establishing shots of Gotham’s downpour of rain (of which there were many) were accompanied by a mist that would spray down from above our seats. Mind you, this would occur any time a shot of rain appeared on-screen, often several times in the same scene. Also, the aforementioned “water on/off” buttons also seemed to control puffs of air that would shoot out above our ears whenever Batman got shot at. This 4DX gimmick was immersion-breaking rather than enriching, leading Cade and I to quickly turn it off.
Even the most innocuous on-screen impacts, whether it be knocking on a door or driving over Chicago’s many potholes, felt like a child kicking the backs of our chairs on a nearly three-hour flight. Instead of Batman’s fights causing us to lean forward in our chairs in anticipation, everyone hunkered down and braced themselves for impact in preparation for our seats to start violently throwing us around in time with Batman’s warpath. I’m sorry to say the 4DX gimmick started to sour on me around 30 minutes into the nearly three-hour film.
Annoying chair convulsing aside, I’d argue that all the unpleasantly translated movie-to-reality bits from our 4DX The Batman experience were quickly overshadowed by the batmobile scene. Before the batmobile was even on screen, we felt the revving of its engine under our seats, which gradually became more powerful as it slowly teased. Our chairs should have come with safety restraints, because when the car chase finally commenced in earnest, our theater became a Universal Studios roller coaster.
I held onto my cup for dear life as our seats swerved in sync with Batman’s ride. I whispered over to Cade that we’re lucky our seats only gave us Batman’s perspective during the chase, only to be rudely interrupted by Penguin’s car flipping and our seats, in turn, doing their best to mimic that experience without getting Regal City North sued. By the time The Batman’s credits ran, Cade’s hat had flown off their head three times and the entirety of neighboring moviegoers’ popcorn littered the aisles like pearls from Martha Wayne’s necklace.
Despite my first viewing of The Batman being warped by watching it in 4DX, I came out of the theater with a new favorite Batman film. The movie felt like one of the Arkham games on the big screen; I could practically see Rocksteady’s counter prompts during its high-octane action sequences. But more than that, I appreciated that I got to see Batman go through a real character arc and learn that being the hero Gotham deserves requires more than just being vengeance personified.
Battle hardened from my 4DX experience, I floated the idea that we should venture to another 4DX showing for the upcoming Fast & Furious. I think something light and breezy like that would make for a far better 4DX experience than The Batman, a more grounded, serious film that suffered a hit to immersion and gravitas whenever my hydraulic seat decided to start going into orbit. The jury is still out as to whether I can convince Cade, who is now seriously considering an acupuncture appointment, to take me up on that.