One thing you can say about THE BATMAN without fear of contradiction is that there is a lot of it. Clocking in at three hours or so, it packs in enough plot for a trilogy, as though all concerned fretted that this might be their only shot at the rebooted DC franchise. Fear not, though. There is a teaser for a sequel, just in case this midnight black interpretation catches on with fans.
This Batman, or rather, The Batman, is Robert Pattinson, an emo superhero with a pinched and pained look while out of the mask as Bruce Wayne. This scion of the uber-wealthy Wayne family is, as those familiar with story know, still haunted by the murder of his parents, who were gunned down right before his eyes. As a result, he has channeled his angst into his alter ego, The Batman, who administers his own brand of vigilante justice with the help of Lt. Jim Gordon (Jeffrey Wright) and Gordon’s ability to walk the masked one into crime scenes when needed, or just y flicking on the Bat Signal to let the Dark Knight know trouble is afoot.
The latest crime scene is of that of Mayor Don Mitchell, Jr (Rupert Penry-Jones), running for re-election on a family values platform that comes unraveled when his killer, The Riddler (Paul Dano), arranges for surveillance photos of Mitchell and his side-squeeze, desperate Russian emigree Annika (Hana Hrzic), to be emailed to all available media outlets there in Gotham City. The hunt for that side-squeeze, as well as The Riddler himself, leads The Batman to the sort of mob-controlled club where the elite can mix with the dregs and everyone has a good, felonious time. There he meets Selena (Zoe Kravitz), a waitress in iconic boots who is also searching for that side-squeeze because she was not only her roommate, but also her best friend. At least. In no time at all, The Batman has discovered that Selena is a fellow vigilante, unnamed but the owner of many cats and a disguise that includes a pussy hat. They seem destined for each other, and not just because they both prefer getting around the mean streets of Gotham on motorcycles.
Also in play are family secrets, political corruption, the inherent violence of the class system, and a drug trade of epic proportions. Rather than neatly folding these elements into a tidy plot, we get them sequentially, but not artfully. There is also a hint about just how unlimited the Wayne family fortune is and is the one element that is dropped almost as soon as it appears that should have been explored further. Even in this already crowded opus. As for why Selena never closed the refrigerator in her apartment after discovering it had been ransacked, perhaps that’s a question that will be addressed in the director’s cut.
The story provides the delivery system for some beautifully realized visuals, much as even the blandest of cakes can provide the delivery system for a toothsome frosting. Alas, with baked goods, one can scrape the lusciousness off the disappointment without sullying the gustatorial experience. With a film, that is not an option. Director and co-writer (with Peter Craig) Matt Reeves has conceived his vision as taking place in slow motion. Even chase sequences feel static, despite some effulgently fiery explosions, one with the Batmobile (making a mid-film first appearance) flying from the inferno to menace one of the other villains of piece, The Penguin (Colin Farrell blithely amoral if unrecognizable in very impressive effects make-up and protheses). Conversations take place sotto-voice, with a minimum of movement, and that minimum’s movements slowed down to an almost stylized choreography. Truly I say unto you, if the actors had been allowed to move at normal speed, the film would easily be at least 30 minutes shorter, and all the better for it.
Which is not to say that there aren’t some high-minded intentions afoot. In a Gotham City rife with ineradicable corruption, it is the vigilantes who get anything done when it comes to settling scores. The subtext of crossing the whisper of an ethical line that makes one kind of vigilante, as in The Riddler and his killing spree, and another kind in The Batman and his cleaning up crime by beating the crap out of thugs, has its merits in a world where relative morality has unintended consequences. There is also the voyeuristic elements, as characters spy on one another through windows and a nifty contact-lens camera in order to learn secrets about one another. It makes us complicit in at least a few misdemeanors. Then there is the gorgeous art direction and cinematography, where sunshine is a mere suggestion, the architecture is late Gothic at its most exuberant, and it is almost always a dark and stormy night tinged with red.
if only it weren’t so lethargic. And bloated. It verges on camp without committing to it, and it essays the operatic with out being able to provide the emotional impetus required.
This dark knight journals to help him sort out his feelings, including those for Selena. Perhaps this is why Pattinson made an acting choice to never spark the necessary chemistry with Kravitz. She’s the most dynamic thing on screen, somehow managing to be kinetic within the confines of moving and speaking so as not to startle any skittish livestock or fellow thespians. Dano, in a, ahem, criminally truncated role outside sporting The Riddler’s army surplus disguise, is just as good as he combines madness and pathos into an insane, yet compelling, logic. His may be the most, further ahem, puzzling dialogue we encounter, but he does battle with the oddness and if he doesn’t defeat the problem, he at least wrestles it to a draw. Other casualties include Peter Sarsgaard as a sad-eyed district attorney whose realpolitiks fail to serve him, Andy Serkis as Bruce’s loyal butler/father figure/ex government cryptographer, and John Turturro as the mob kingpin everyone knows about, but does nothing to stop.
At one point in THE BATMAN a character says that this was not the way it was supposed to go. That person is talking about a plan, but it has a resonance with the flick at hand. In my heart of hearts, I can’t believe that this was the way it was supposed to go.