Long And Dark, ‘The Batman’ Is Nevertheless A Strong Film


The new film The Batman is a good movie. It’s rather too long and very dark, and it changes some of the mythology, but, in the end, it provides a feast of interesting characters surrounding our hero in a complex tale.

The City of Gotham is corrupt and badly run to the point of ruin. Police leaders are on the payroll of the bosses, and criminals do what they want. But they fear Batman (Robert Pattinson). Of course, during the day he is young emo Bruce Wayne (wearing more eye makeup than the chorus line of La Cage aux Folles), not really interested in keeping up the Wayne empire and regularly annoying, to the point of abuse, his butler Alfred (Andy Serkis). But as Batman, he is a resource used mainly by Lt. James Gordon (Jeffrey Wright) while being resented by most on the force. But a new killer is in town who leaves riddles with his kills; of course, the Riddler (Paul Dano). The twist is that the deaths are of corrupt politicians, and Batman openly works with the force to try to figure out the identity of the killer from the riddles. (Example: “What do you say about a dead liar?” “He’s lying still.”)

Batman (who seldom appears as Bruce Wayne in the film) openly works with the police and weaves his way through a litany of favorite Gotham characters. Selena Kyle (Zoë Kravitz) works at a club run by the Penguin (Colin Farrell), although owned by mob boss Carmine Falcone (John Turturro). Eventually Batman discovers Selena is actually Catwoman and they work together, not really trusting each other, while there is some sexual tension. In the long run, of course, Riddler is caught, but then director Matt Reeves tosses in a wild card.

The movie is very dark both in the film noir sense but also as a device. Just about all of it takes place at night, with only a couple of scenes shot on cloudy days. The murkiness extends a bit into the plot. At first, the killings seem to be political outrage, later they are something else. And Riddler’s capture is clearly based more on accident that as part of the complex sleuthing.

What really saves the film is exceptional acting. Pattinson is different from previous incarnations of Batman but it manages to work, perhaps by focusing much more on the man in the cape instead of the billionaire cover story. But Wright as Gordon became the key moral center of the film. He is always good, but he really stands out here. He understands the moral complexity of a crime where the bad guy Riddler, who kills crooks, only goes a bit further than Batman who beats them up. Turturro and Farrell are really strong in smaller parts as hoodlums who actually wind up providing assistance, even if not trying to help much, to Batman. Jayme Lawson, in a small part as the reform-minded mayor, stood out for strength and decency.

But Kravitz stole every scene she was in. Wearing a variety of wigs and costumes, she was everywhere in the investigation and took over the screen, even from Pattinson. She combined sexy with anger and intelligence and was terrific.

Rating the film against other Batman films seems natural. It is good mid-range but not really higher. It is not as good as the Tim Burton/Michael Keaton/Jack Nicholson original or the Christopher Norris/Christian Bale Batman Begins. And it is nowhere near The Dark Knight featuring Heath Ledger, one of the best movies of the century. But it pretty much beats the others.

Director Reeves, by turning the story on its head, by not making it pure superhero, turns this into more of a detective story with very colorful characters. Yes, there are a few Batman gimmicks, but mostly it is a contest of wills. Its biggest flaw was that its villain was not seen much and was rather pathetic. But still there was enough action to keep everyone interested, especially an incredible car chase scene that was perhaps the best I’ve ever seen.

This is a solid hero film with a strong detective twist and nice bit of noir, enhanced by great acting. If you like these films, it is not to be missed.