A flawed but gripping pop-noir blockbuster

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In The BatmanMatt Reeves’ slick, overlong, majestically majestic superhero Robert Pattinson really puts the Goth in Gotham City’s Chief Protector. His eyes covered in mascara like Robert Smith (or The Crow, another nocturnal winged avenger), this version of DC’s crime fighter cruises around town on a motorcycle to the non-diegetic accompaniment to Nirvana’s latest album “Something In The Way”. He also narrates the film in a low voiceabove it teeters, like a gargoyle, on the verge of self-parody. “They think I’m hiding in the shadows,” he whispers. “But I am the shadow.” These musings sound like diary entries, and it turns out that’s exactly what they are. Finally: a Batman who keeps a diary!

The bat is a limiting role for any actor. How many emotions can you really do with just your chin? Keaton, Bale, Affleck – they all had secret identities to at least play with. In The Batman, we barely see Bruce Wayne with the cape and cowl. When we do, he’s the same dull, terse dude. Pattinson, back on blockbuster duty a decade after playing a different creature of the night, crushes the character’s essential duality, erasing any real difference between Wayne and his alter ego. In doing so, he perhaps gains essential insight into Batman’s ageless teenage appeal, namely that he himself is an ageless teenager, a guy so stunted by the loss of his childhood that he exists in a permanent state of anxiety in adolescents.

The Batman also exists in this state. It’s perhaps the darkest of all cinematic takes on the Dark Knight, a version far more Gen X in its disaffection than the Bat movies they made in the 90s. of reading a Batman comic than any Batman movie before it. Reeves paces his epic almost like a limited series — you can practically pinpoint the moments when one issue erupts into the next — and he complements his sometimes episodic storytelling with striking visual variety.

The director and his co-writer, Peter Craig, draw heavily on one particular Batman story, The Long Halloween, setting their film in about the second year or so of Wayne’s vigilante tenure, before most of the town’s goons went completely rogue. As in this acclaimed story arc, there’s a serial killer on the loose – in this case, a version of The Riddler who brings down prominent members of the city’s social and political elite. We are far from the cabriole theatricality in the question mark of Jim Carrey or Frank Gorshin: embodied by Paul Dano, in a steampunk anarchist outfit with glasses, this deranged puzzle enthusiast has more in common with Jigsaw or the diabolical John Doe of Seven. Of course, he considers himself a kindred spirit to Batman. What madman worth his weight in themed weapons doesn’t?

There is method in the madness of The Riddler. His killing spree is designed to publicly expose a web of secrets and lies, linking mob boss Carmine Falcone (John Turturro) to dirty lawmakers and lawyers, as well as Wayne’s late industrial father (who, fortunately, we don’t have to see shot in an alley for the umpteenth time). Which does The Batman there are Detective comics adaptation to favor real detective work, with Reeves devoting as much time to crime scenes and clues as he does to the well-orchestrated scenes of Batman beating the snot out of thugs. The mystery could, however, use a more complex and complex architecture. Is not it all Batman movie ultimately about Gotham’s corrupt heartland? The revelations here might be less shocking than Reeves imagines, even to those who haven’t read the famous source material he vaguely riffs on.

The Batman has some of the rain-smoothed neon gloom of a David Fincher procedural, but it’s still set in an oversized comic book world of good guys and bad guys. It would be hard to call any of these iterations of the characters definitive, even though most of them are played by top notch actors. Zoë Kravitz brings an uncommon emotional realism to Catwoman, reimagined here as a nightclub waitress with a vendetta against the crowd. The lack of va-va-voom campiness is less detrimental than the way the script abandons the shifting allegiances and moral ambiguities that this classic anti-heroine is accustomed to. She’s almost as level as a pre-promotional Jim Gordon (Jeffrey Wright)—and less interesting for that. And then there’s Colin Farrell as a companion Return of Batman heavyweight The Penguin, still a low-flying bird in Gotham’s criminal hierarchy. Unrecognizable under mounds of Dick Tracy prosthetics and a goombah accent, Farrell is mostly a hoot. But it’s a glorified cameo.

As a multiplex visual art piece, from blockbuster eye candy, the film can be jaw-dropping. Reeves understands graphic power of this graphic novel material; he has an illustrator’s eye for exaggerated angles, already demonstrated in the locked-view action sequences of his Let me enter and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. Here, he flexes that talent during a chaotic car chase that ends with an upside-down POV shot of Pattinson’s hero emerging triumphantly and terrifyingly out of hell. Earlier, Reeves solidifies Batman’s intimidating bona fides through a montage that continues to cut through criminals peering nervously into pockets of darkness, until the hulking hero finally slowly and ominously emerges from one of them. And the movie sounds even better, thanks to a remarkable score by Michael Giacchino which alternates minimalist strums and imperial marches; it’s sort of in the same league as the operatic themes that Danny Elfman once lent to the franchise.

The Batman

The Batman
Photo: Warner Bros.

As The Batman creeps into the third hour, it becomes clear that for all its pulp doom grandeur, the film is missing something crucial, and that’s the gravitational pull of true infamy – the wicked magnetism of a Nicholson or a a Pfeiffer or a Ledger. His Riddler gets a great introduction, spotting his first victim through binoculars in the chillingly voyeuristic opening scene. But the more we see it, the less scary it becomes; Dano, who seemed like an inspired cast on paper, can’t seem to find a cohesive character, even a cohesive character. voice— for this master of riddles. When the movie finally brings him face to face with Pattinson, it’s a pale imitation of a similar moment in The black Knight—all-you-and-me-are-not-so-different bloviating. And giving the psychopath a QAnon-like internet following turns out to be little more than a straightforward explanation of how a lone wolf killer amasses henchmen.

Yet the film maintains its seductive atmosphere – its hushed pop-noir freshness – even as the story turns into a series of revelations and a curiously superficial climax. The Batman is as much of a plot machine as the Christopher Nolan films (exhibition could be stacked in twisting skyscrapers), but it moves differently, crawling and weaving over its extended runtime instead of traversing it like a bat out of hell. What if we didn’t have exactly need another Batman movie, there’s a charm to seeing one relatively steeped in the language of the original medium… even if some of that language is presumption only suitable for tortured costumed orphans or goth kids of all ages.

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