Friday, June 3, 2022

The Batman

Save me from early-career Batman films. For once, can't I just get a Batman at the height of his physical and mental prowess (in a movie that doesn't star George Clooney)? Sadly, that's not what's in store with Matt Reeves' stylish The Batman taking place during the second year of Batman's (Robert Pattinson) run as a now police sanctioned, but certainly not beloved, vigilante. Reeves hits on themes of class struggle and the effects of loss (specifically being orphaned) and how these affect the three main characters in the film in different ways. While that works as a sociology experiment, it's not the most entertaining main theme for a Batman movie. But, hey, it's got a new Batmobile!

The antagonist in the film is the Riddler (Paul Dano), whose look has been completely redesigned in BDSM fetish chic. While he looks nothing like any version of the character seen before, he does have the same pathology leaving clues to his crimes for Batman to solve. Sadly, Reeves takes a page from Christopher Nolan's films as the world's greatest detective once again relies on others such as Alfred (Andy Serkis) to solve the clues left for him. While the Batman may stumble on the truth now and again, and is certainly shown to be a more of thinking hero than Christian Bale's version (complete with at times laughably bad narration) he's still far closer to Nolan's design than any consistent version of the comic version of the Dark Knight Detective. Batman does so much catch the Ridder as wait until the villain gets bored after completing his plan and appears in public begging to be arrested.

The other main character of the film is pre-Catwoman Selina Kyle (Zoƫ Kravitz). The film uses bits from Batman: The Long Halloween to fill in her story while offering a subplot that fits into a piece of the larger mystery Batman is attempting to solve. While she already has the skills of a cat burglar, and the cat-suit with and simple mask with seams that vaguely resemble cat ears, we don't ever see her go full Catwoman. Instead of a full on super-villain, or event anti-hero, Reeves offers us more of a damaged partner to our hero at times during the film (one Batman has no trouble using for his own ends) and laying a possible foundation for her return with a more classic look somewhere down the line.

Other characters given life here are marginally new takes on James Gordon (Jeffrey Wright), the Penguin (Colin Farrell), and various members of Gotham crime families. We also get a cameo from a new Joker (Barry Keoghan) who is the inspiration for a Joker gang we see early in the film that apparently really likes the Joker but have no idea who Batman is. If that sounds contradictory, you're damn right it is! The film has several of these head-scratching moments including a city-wide plan to avoid a flood by putting everyone in a city of skyscrapers below sea level in a building made mostly of glass.

In terms of its look at feel, while still trying to be more gritty than necessary, The Batman does succeed. There is an overall vision here in style and tone that fits this version of the character, the film's action sequence, and its various supporting characters. Simply put, the film looks good... if you can get over some of the character design which I'll admit to not being a big fan of. In terms of action sequences, like with Bale's suit, Pattinson is weighed down a bit by clunky body armor in the fighting sequences leading to some limitations overcome by camera work but also by seeing Batman take several punches, gunshots, and even bomb blasts. This Batman gets beat up a lot. Unlike his comic counterpart, this version of the character isn't swift or smart enough to avoid what he should see coming.

In terms of the look of Batman, the suit looks primarily inspired by the Arkham Asylum video games with a softer cowl that reminded me of Batman: Gotham at Gaslight. As with the previous incarnations of the hero, Reeves goes for eye-paint and exposing the eyes through the cowl rather than hiding Batman's eyes (as has been done in nearly every Batman comic for more than eight decades) which would offer him a far more detached demeanor (and take advantage of the technology in those eye pieces used in comics). Think how well a Spidey CGI squint would work with Batman. Instead we get an abundance of Batman close-ups framing Pattinson's sad eyes. The only new wrinkle the latest Batman suit offers is having Batarangs come out of the bat symbol on his chest which may be functional (if he only ever needs two Batarangs) but is more weird than anything else.

The Batman is a problematic and marginally-okay version of the Caped Crusader that may not be as entertaining as I wanted as it played down to all of my low expectations from the trailers without ever going over the edge. It's meandering plot with themes to make it feel edgy and relevant while also attempting to tie-in a backstory about the Waynes and the history of organized crime in Gotham at the same time juggling a Riddler story, a Catwoman subplot, and introduce a somewhat new version of the Batman. That's a hell of an ask for one film. The movie's three-hour running time certainly feels ever bit that length and, at least for me, I don't think it offers much of anything to make me return for a second viewing. But hey, new Batmobile!

Watch the trailer
  • Title: The Batman
  • IMDb: link

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