Snyder: “My Batman is grim.” Reeves: “Hold my beer.”
Film | Jorge Ignacio Castillo | March 4, 2022
Welcome to another installment of Joyless Batman: Adventures of a Dour IP. Next to this one, Christopher Nolan’s trilogy is a barrel of frickin’ laughs.
Nolan went the serious route, but his stylish trilogy kept the cowled and becaped 83-year-old intellectual property (est. 1939) firmly in the realm of popcorn entertainment. Zack Snyder’s Batman was more violent, but Ben Affleck’s underrated comic timing kept at least a few scenes light. But the Bat-road towards full-on hopelessness and misery has been long marked on the Bat-map. I guess it’s not shocking to see a director finally steer the Batmobile onto it.
My Bat-kingdom for an exit ramp.
Director Matt Reeves’ The Batman is the Come And See of caped crusader movies — it’s relentlessly grim. Don’t get me wrong, the movie has qualities: the acting’s generally good and Reeves and cinematographer Greig Fraser (Dune) conjure a Gotham City that feels like that archetype of urban debauchery, 1970’s New York. So much so, I worried this was a stealth companion to Joker (it’s not).
In The Batman, Robert Pattinson plays the Wayne fortune’s scion as an emotional basket case: raw, angry and barely clinging to sanity. As always, Bruce Wayne’s decision to become a vigilante is a reaction to his parent’s unsolved murder (a flashback we’re spared, for once), but he’s so embittered his catchphrase is “I’m vengeance”.
Enter the Riddler (Paul Dano), a sociopath modeled after Jordan Peterson-loving incels with a dash of Zodiac killer. The Riddler has been pretentiously murdering Gotham’s most corrupt citizens and it’s up to Batman to figure out who’s next and (reluctantly) save them.
The Batman is inspired by Frank Miller and Dave Mazzucchelli’s 1998 comic Batman: Year One and focuses on an under-explored character trait: Batman as “the world’s greatest detective”. Nice try. Good detectives don’t seethe with rage. Also, Matt Reeves shows us (the audience) The Riddler’s schemes so it doesn’t feel like Bats is all that hot at detectiving. It’s basically Seven but we get to see Kevin Spacey do his evil deeds (the fictional ones, that is).
Since it’s plot is derivative and kind of dull, The Batman lives and dies on its characterizations. They’re pretty good. We meet several core members of Batman’s rogues’ gallery including Catwoman (Zoë Kravitz), Carmine Falcone (a superb John Turturro) and the Penguin (Colin Farrell). All hit the mark. Farrell stands out with a bon-vivant approach to the notorious criminal that gives the movie its only levity.
The Batman is self-contained but it shouldn’t come as a surprise the pieces are set for a sequel. Hollywood lives and dies on the strength of its IPs, after all.
Beyond its retro-Big Apple references, there’s no question The Batman’s Gotham City stands in for today’s U.S.A.: a country that looks broken, hopelessly divided and lost. What might be almost as depressing is a movie playing into the idea the nation needs a saviour. After what we’ve seen happen in American politics and society these last few years, it should be pretty clear by now that wealthy, self-appointed saviours are not likely be the heroes Gotham needs.