There’s a difference between a Batman Movie and a movie that just happens to feature Batman. This highly ambitious and ultra-dark effort goes to extreme lengths to be the latter. The result is a surefire and widely acclaimed blockbuster currently propping up the movie industry. I’m more mixed on it. Call me nostalgic (guilty as charged), but I preferred it when directors Tim Burton and later Christopher Nolan weren’t so hesitant to put the unabashed “goth” in Gotham City.
Or whittle their movie down below the three-hour mark.
Instead we’re dropped a miserable urban cesspool version of a city where crime is rampant and a sliver of hope is asking for too much. Someone will be murdered before you finish your popcorn. In an early scene, a gang with painted faces surrounds an Asian man on a subway platform and is about to beat him up for unknown reason. Then Batman — now played by Robert Pattinson — swoops in to save the day. He’ll asked be asked to do a lot more as the film progresses. He’s not terribly pleased about it.
That’s because the square-jawed Pattinson plays Bruce Wayne as a brooding billionaire recluse who stays home all the time. Forget the Christian Bale iteration who squired Russian prima ballerinas during dinners and fundraiser. Residents haven’t seen this Bruce Wayne since he was a kid. He still works with Alfred (Andy Serkis) and Gordon (Jeffrey Wright), who brings Batman to the crime scene of Gotham’s newly killed mayor.
There’s a hand-scrawled letter included with the body: “To the Batman.” Inside it is an esoteric riddle a la calling card. Then comes another corpse with another clue on the body. And another. What ensues is a slowly paced bat-and-mouse whodunnit as the Caped Crusader tries to help collar the psychopathic villain (Paul Dano, who’s done this kind of creep-o role too many times). Along the way, he becomes entangled with a Gotham mobster (Colin Farrell, unrecognizable) known as The Penguin. Prepare to watch him visit the same dank nightclub repeatedly to gather intel. He also meets up with a demure cat burglar named Selina Kyle (Zoe Kravitz) — i.e., The Catwoman — who wants him to help protect her friend who was having an affair with the mayor. Kravitz is fine here. I prefer the naughty fun of Michelle Pfeiffer. I’m being catty.
Strip away the familiar comic-book characters in that plot description and what’s left is yet another tale of a tormented anarchist on the loose in the bad bad city. There’s nothing psychologically complex about that trope, people. In fact, the narrative has already been done in everything from Seven to the Saw films (note the Riddler uses bombs and rats as murder weapons) to the recent Joker. I scribbled “wants to be Fincher” in my notebook during the screening. But even the great David Fincher has been known to pepper his projects with some sinister humor. The Batman, meanwhile features a relentlessly grim tone. By the 150-minute mark viewers may be begging for a hint of a self-aware punchline. I realize we’re talking about Batman but this is a superhero movie, no?
I’m probably being too hard on The Batman only because my expectations were high. I’m a big fan of director Matt Reeves, who co-wrote the screenplay as well. His Cloverfield films are top-notch and effectively thrilling. This is one of the guys behind Lost, for crying aloud. And many elements to his production do indeed fly — especially the haunting musical score by Oscar winner Michael Giacchino. I was relieved that he didn’t show Martha and Thomas Wayne being killed in a back alley yet again, with the matriarch’s string of pearls dropping one by one to the pavement. As a whole his film is cowl-and-shoulders above the chaotic Ben Affleck-era of Batman and Justice League films. And Pattinson really does look and act born for the role.
A sequel is on the way, of course. Next time I just hope the man gets the chance to climb into the Batmobile and gas it in the fast lane.
The Batman is now in theaters