Batman, who is never a day person at all, is plunged into perpetual darkness in Matt Reeves’ nocturnal, nihilist and neo-noir take of the Caped Crusader.
Reeves’ “The Batman”, three-hour-long movie includes lots of action, character introductions, gadgets, and other superhero accessories. It is not an extravagant show. “Batman” has been reduced to a moody piece that is soaked in shadows and rage. Jim Carrey’s Riddler would fit in as well in this movie as Bugs Bunny’s in “Taxi Driver”
Scorsese’s film, which featured Travis Bickle mocking societal collapse, had a significant influence on Todd Phillips, but perhaps more so on “The Batman,” which similarly relies on the precarious psychological state of its DC protagonist. Robert Pattinson is a young Batman who is still relatively new to the job and suffers greatly from nightly battles against Gotham’s most corrupt. He feels helpless and can’t stop the tide.
In the film’s opening, he states that “It’s big city.” “I can’t go everywhere.”
Reeves, the filmmaker of “Planet of the Apes”, starts “The Batman” by making many gravely-voiced innations. “They think that I’m hiding in the dark shadows, but they are wrong” — in an operatic montage to Nirvana’s “Something in the Way”. It’s an incredible fusion of sound and imagery, and the movie’s most well-realized section. This “Batman,” is a dirge.
The problem is that “The Batman”, having established its tone and atmosphere, stifles it. The film fails to find more than one note, powerful though it may be, and there is very little suspense. Pattinson’s Bruce Wayne, however, is as serious and downbeat as his Batman. He is a Paul Schrader-like character who has cut out all social interaction and instead keeps a journal detailing the horrors that he sees every night. Batman has been darker since Adam West donned the cowl and cape, almost every day. Pattinson’s depressed Dark Knight is the best.
The comic blueprint is Frank Miller’s 1987 four-issue series “Batman: Year One”, in which Wayne becomes vigilante. This step, a citizen taking up violence for justice, is much the focus of “The Batman.” Reeves’ film is not overtly current but it is clearly influenced by the dominant social justice issues. Today, vigilantism has been associated with cases such as George Zimmerman’s, Kyle Rittenhouse, and the shooting of Ahmaud Abery. The grim reality of today is reflected in “The Batman,” which was mobbed by corrupt cops that culminated in a terrorist plot by masked “fringe types.” Batman’s doubts over who will get justice only grows throughout the film.
Okay, but can Batman kick some butt too? The Batmobile? The Batmobile isn’t just a muddy slog through Gotham sewer. Well, almost. The story of “The Batman” can be described as a detective story. A delightful scene in which he is dressed up as a detective, follows him to a crime scene that Gordon has snuck into (a melancholy, wonderful Jeffrey Wright). This is a unique work that “The Batman” stands out from other movies. It features a Batman with questionable vision and a Batman who has trouble recognizing clues.
Reeves and Peter Craig then introduce the antagonists to this Gotham Underworld, a serial killer known as Edward Nashton (a.k.a. The Riddler (Paul Dano), leaning into serial killer tropes), Carmine Falcone (a suavely evil John Turturro), and a middle-level mobster Penguin. Colin Farrell is unrecognizable. “The Batman” also has other influences like David Fincher’s “Seven.”
Even though “The Batman” may seem as tightly gripped at the beginning, it begins to slip as the run continues. I believe that is partly due to Pattinson’s limited performance, which is either timid skulking or sudden fury eruptions. It’s exciting to see an actor who has remained far from the mainstream take on this ambitious role. Pattinson’s true talent is in his cryptic charisma, which makes it difficult to create a three-hour psychological portrait. This Batman is not a chatterbox.
Zoe Kravitz has a closer and more intimate relationship with the camera than others. Selina Kyle/Catwoman is “The Batman’s” major support, even as she leads it down the darkest corners. Selina is paired with Batman to investigate the corruption around Falcone and other people. He outfits her with contact lenses that record video. One of the most striking scenes in the film is when Selina sees from Batman’s perspective as she enters a bad guys’ nightclub. In night vision, we can feel the leers of those around her.
“The Batman” is darkly dreary stuff, potent and erratic. The filmmakers have chosen to go “harder,” to be darker, more cynical and to eclipse Christopher Nolan’s 2008 genre-redefining film. This may make “The Batman”, a film that is well-suited for its time, but it makes it feel hollow, if not always grippingly black, in an imagined arms race to severity. The visceral impact Heath Ledger’s Joker made on “The Dark Knight” was something that “The Batman” sadly misses. Somebody, somewhere should be asking why this is so serious.
The Motion Picture Association of America has rated “The Batman” PG-13 for its “strong violent, disturbing content, drug content and strong language.” It runs for 175 minutes. Two and a quarter stars out of four.