‘The Batman’ – Even Darker and Grittier Than What Came Before

Bruce Wayne and his alter ego of Batman is one of those characters which, much like The Terminator and Leatherface from “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” I wish Hollywood would leave alone for a few years. After reaching an exhilarating high with Christopher Nolan’s amazing “Dark Knight” trilogy, the Caped Crusader hit a few speed bumps with “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” and “Justice League” (the theatrical versions did anyway). Even with Ben Affleck donning the Bat suit, neither film could measure up to its predecessors even if they were far better than the ones directed by Joel Schumacher (nothing personal Joel, and rest in peace).

Nevertheless, Warner Brothers and DC Comics still want to keep this iconic character going and going and going like the Energizer Bunny, and now we have Matt Reeves’ “The Batman” which looks to reboot Bob Kane and Bill Finger’s creation yet again. Watching it reminded me of when my dad and I first watched Tim Burton’s “Batman” back in 1989, and I was stunned at how dark it was. Like many, I grew up on reruns of the campy “Batman” TV show which starred Adam West, and I expected Burton to do the same. Wow, was I wrong! It would take until “Batman and Robin” to see the movie franchise return to this campiness, but the less said about that installment, the better.

I bring this up because “The Batman” is much, much darker than what Burton or Nolan previously gave us. In fact, it is almost pitch black, and this shows in Michael Giacchino’s brooding music score which is designed to be nowhere as adventurous as what Danny Elfman or Hans Zimmer gave us. Seriously, the opening scenes had me thinking this film would be as dark as “Alien 3” or “Seven” as Reeves looks to be venturing into David Fincher territory as he gives us a Gotham City forever beset by endless rainstorms and heavy clouds. If there is a scene featuring sunny skies in this film, I may have missed it.

Thankfully, “The Batman” does not waste our time in reminding us of what happened to Bruce Wayne’s parents. Instead, it drops us into his crime-fighting career two years after it started and soon after the Bat Signal has been created to gain his attention and instill fear in Gotham’s nefarious criminals who never know when to stop. Murders have been committed by a man known as the Riddler (played by Paul Dano) who is continually leaving messages for the Batman at every crime scene. Along with Lieutenant James Gordon (Jeffrey Wright), he works to decipher the many puzzles and riddles this serial killer leaves in his tracks, and the answers may remind you of the words you never bothered to think of the last time you played Wordle.

Playing Bruce Wayne/Batman this time around is Robert Pattinson who has given us solid performances in “Good Time,” “The Lighthouse” and “Tenet,” but I have a feeling many still have a bone to pick with him over those darn “Twilight” films. It’s important to understand the context of Pattinson’s Batman as we see him early on when his vigilante career was at its infancy. Whereas the actors who played the Caped Crusader previously reveled in the moment where they told criminals right to their face “I’m Batman,” Pattinson’s intent is to instead say the following, “I’m vengeance!”

While many look at Pattinson as giving a one-note performance here to where his face looks to be frozen in one mood, I found him to be very compelling here as he plays the Caped Crusader as an individual long since consumed by revenge. His Batman is not the one who inspires hope, but one who is determined to make the villains pay in the most painful way possible. As a result, this makes the inclusion of a certain Nirvana song completely understandable as any song by Prince would be so out of place here.

As this movie reaches its furious climax, however, Pattinson shows us how his Batman can and will evolve into the figure of hope he is seen as in movies and comic books. Knowing and seeing this makes his work here all the more fulfilling to take in.

When it comes to certain superhero/comic book movies, some have far too many characters to deal with to where the whole project gets unnecessarily submerged due to excess weight of needless storylines. “The Batman” could have easily fallen into this trap as it features multiple iconic characters and villains throughout. But just as Nolan did, Reeves manages to balance everything out just right even as “The Batman’s” running length is nearly three hours long and contains as many endings and climaxes as “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.”

Colin Farrell is completely unrecognizable here as Oswald “Oz” Cobblepot / Penguin to where even his own kids could not recognize him, and this is one of the highest compliments you can ever give an actor. In his time onscreen, he makes this character his own and disappears ever so deeply into this role in a way any actor would ever want to. I remember watching this movie’s trailer and waiting to see him appear, and now I understand why I didn’t.

As Selina Kyle/Catwoman, Zoe Kravitz gives us the most grounded interpretation of this character yet as she is far more interested in finding her loved ones and seeking revenge than she is in purring at her devious adversaries. I am not going to bother ranking her alongside Michelle Pfeiffer or Anne Hathaway at this time, but she definitely held my attention from start to finish as she is determined to blaze a path of vengeance all her own even as Pattinson’s Batman urges her not to.

Jeffrey Wright, like Gary Oldman before him, succeeds in making James Gordon’s incorruptibility all the more appealing than it might seem at first. Even as Gordon’s fellow Gotham police officers are quick to dismiss Batman as a freak of nature, Wright makes his subtle defense of the Caped Crusader all the more profound. Either that, or he simply making this incorruptible police officer the kind who simply wants to close cases so he can quickly move on to the next.

But when it comes down to it, my favorite performance in “The Batman” comes from Paul Dano as he makes the Riddler a most fearsome villain throughout this film’s elongated running time. We don’t see the actor’s face most of the time as it is bandaged up, and the mask he wears helps to free his consciousness to a gleefully insane level. Even during his penultimate confrontation with Batman, Dano remains a frightening villain as he keeps the Caped Crusader guessing as to what he really knows and doesn’t. It’s a truly inspired performance, and if he is to appear in this film’s sequel, I would certainly welcome it.

Upon entering the theater to watch “The Batman,” my only real expectation from Reeves was for him to make his cinematic interpretation of this iconic character all his own, and he has succeeded in doing so here. He has long since shown what a gifted filmmaker he is with “Cloverfield,” “Let Me In” and two of the recent “Planet of the Apes” movies (“Dawn” and “War”), and he has nowhere to go but up from here.

By the way, while “The Batman” runs almost three hours long, it may run even longer than that depending upon where you watch it. I saw it at my local AMC theater, and it literally had a half hour of commercials and trailers before the feature attraction began.

And one more thing; the Batmobile Pattinson’s Batman drives here is awesome and I would just love to own it. Now this is a car that can go from zero to 60 in less than five seconds unlike my Nissan Sentra!

* * * ½ out of * * * *

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