Skip to content

On “The Batman”

Mar. 21, 2022 at 1:00PM

The deserted parking lots of movie theaters across the city became an all too common sight during the pandemic. Hollywood, like much of society, seemed like it was at a standstill. Hollywood executives were certainly gritting their teeth violently at the thought of hearing about another popular Netflix movie trending on Twitter. Damn streaming services.

But the truth is those executives had been skating on the smoothest of ice pre-pandemic. Gliding nearly effortlessly. Moviegoers were eating up the non-stop spigot of Marvel, DC, Star Wars, and other proven franchise-driven films that the public eats up like nacho cheese Doritos. 

It kind of makes you think that maybe the last real Hollywood movie was “Once Upon a Time In Hollywood.” But Quentin Tarantino doesn’t play the Hollywood game. A hero needed to come along to save Hollywood on Hollywood’s terms. 

At first, I thought James Bond would single-handedly bring back Hollywood. But that movie kind of just laid there, lifeless, like Bond himself.

Saving Hollywood? This sounds like a job for “The Batman.”

He’s certainly qualified; the least super of the superheroes is certainly chiseled and determined and resourceful. He’s a fighter. And he’s got awesome vehicles to boot. And a cave. An awesome cave. And he’s rich too. Just like a movie executive.

This could just be the escape we’re all looking for. An escape from the darkness of the pandemic. An escape from the media barrage of negative headlines and doom and gloom of our everyday reality.

I know I was ready to be entertained. I had been to a few movies after I was vaccinated. I saw The Green Knight and Licorice Pizza. Both brilliant. But Hollywood’s big comeback manifests itself in the form of a super being.  So when the bat signal went up, I followed it to the theater and sat down in anticipation of some good old-fashioned entertainment. Blow my mind, Batman.

Well, it turns out that if it’s darkness you want to avoid, this movie ain’t it. 

Things are certainly very dark in Gotham. Dark visually–and atmospherically. So dark I was struggling to see what was present in many of the shots. I understand the importance of “mood”–certainly Kubrick nailed it in Barry Lyndon, using candles as his main light source in many shots–but the Batman is ridiculous in the extremes it takes to make viewers squint to see what’s in the frame. Christopher Nolan’s Batman films are dark–but they're not “dark,” they are stunning films that took great care with the visual experience. Heath Ledger’s Joker didn't have to stand in darkness to be terrifying.

Not so with The Batman–even though I’m sure the filmmakers all thought they were making something “edgy” by hiding most everything from the viewer. The darkness extends to the Bat Cave and Bruce Wayne’s mansion, sadly, as well. The cave is what looks like an immense space, dimly lit, where we only see the desk where Bruce Wayne sits at his computer, putting clues together to the series of killings happening in the city. There is also an elevator that Alfred uses to enter the cave, which we see every once in a while. Other than that the cave is left mostly to your imagination as to what it looks like. Maybe it doesn’t matter what it looks like; the filmmakers seem to think so. 

The mansion is also seen in dimly lit episodic moments–mostly Alfred’s office. As Alfred sits at his desk, looking at documents and mail, I couldn’t help but think how hard it must be to read in such a dark room. How did such wealthy people get their electricity turned off?

At one point I started to grieve for the film’s propmasters, whose work was mostly in the dark. I’m sure it was great.

Darkness aside, I was hoping it could be salvaged by some first-rate Batman-level action. On that front, there isn't much action to speak of - which is a big problem in a 3-hour superhero movie. There is one big car chase that is well done (The Batman arising from the flames)–and there is a tense and jarring scene in a church. But mostly we are privy to scenes involving conversations between The Batman and other characters–Commissioner Gordon (played by Jeffrey Wright, who is dramatically underused here) Alfred (Andy Serkis), mob boss Carmine Falcone (John Turturro, who somehow wears sunglasses in the darkness), Catwoman, (Zoe Kravitz) and The Penguin (played by an unrecognizable Colin Farrell). 

The strange thing is that all the characters mimic The Batman’s low, gravelly “serious shit is happening” voice. It’s as if the director, Matt Reeves (who according to IMDB holds the distinction, along with Tim Burton, of directing a Planet of the Apes movie and a Batman movie) intentionally directed the characters to all talk alike. The Penguin comes out of his shell every once in a while–especially in an unintentionally funny scene where he notes that The Batman has mixed up the Spanish articles in one of The Riddler’s riddles (El is masculine, La is feminine, duh). But overall the low talking just adds to the pall.

The outlier is The Riddler, who has stepped deeper into the darkness since we last saw him. He’s a revenge killer, full of riddles, trying to confuse people with his cryptic questions. His cacophonous “I’m totally insane” laugh is here in full form. And while The Riddler has certainly become more murderous, his riddles have become about as easy as today’s Wordle. In fact, nearly every riddle (presented to ominous music and more cinematic darkness) is solved by The Batman almost instantly. The riddles create zero tension.

Hey, in a three-hour movie we don't have time to waste solving word puzzles. 

And that brings us to The Batman himself, played by Robert Pattinson–an actor I have an immense amount of respect for. He has successfully parlayed what looked like a career as a teen heartthrob into becoming a successful “serious” actor. His work in films like The Rover, Good Time, and The Lighthouse is stellar. And on the surface, he feels like the perfect Batman. Dark, mysterious, but also incredibly handsome and charismatic. 

The problem is that Pattinson is dramatically underutilized, mostly because the Batman character has been peeled back to be one-dimensional. “I am vengeance,” he says. And that pretty much sums up this iteration of The Batman. His one job is to clean up Gotham City of its murderous villains, crooked cops, and vile mobsters. 

One of the things that has always been true about Batman is that he is actually two characters; he is the rich businessman Bruce Wayne, and he is the crime-fighting superhero. But the movie has all but set aside the Bruce Wayne character and for 90% of the film, Pattinson is The Batman. And in the few scenes he portrays Bruce Wayne, he’s played more like an awkward Goth kid who doesn’t care about his family and certainly doesn’t care about his vast amount of money (you know, the thing that allows him to be The Batman in the first place). Pattinson’s charismatic, handsome side could have played a great Bruce Wayne. But we’ll never know.

He lives a downtrodden existence in a downtrodden city with downtrodden people. The laughs are only sinister and the smiles are only forced. Even The Batman’s relationship with Catwoman seems awkward; they have no chemistry to speak of and when they kiss it’s less like something natural and more like, “Why the hell did they just do that?”

It’s really unfortunate that a cast this good has been subject to material like this. But the fact is those movie executives are clearly still gliding along, knowing they are sitting on a sure thing. They know they’ve got your dollar. And they’re laughing all the way to the comic book bank, to unearth another story, turn it into a movie and take your money all over again. And really, I don’t blame them at all. Business in Gotham is booming again.