If you've followed my reviews for any length of time, then you already know that I revel in the darker side of things, a weirdly quirky optimist with a hopeful nihilism and an autobiographical book that has remained an Amazon bestseller in the category of sexual abuse for a good ten years running.
I'm not necessarily one who believes in superheroes, but if I'm going to have my superheroes I want them flawed and messy, dark and brooding with more than a little hint that they could implode at any minute.
This is the hero I get, rather unexpectedly, in Matt Reeves's just shy of three-hour epic The Batman, a film about an ordinary superhero that doesn't so much treat him like a superhero while absolutely treating him like The Batman is real and Bruce Wayne not so much.
I didn't want to believe in this Batman. I sure didn't expect to. I'm a cynic by nature, especially of superheroes, and I fully expected to scoff at this Edward Cullen-infused Batman creation even if I have grown to admire Pattinson's fiercely emotional willingness to run himself ragged chasing after a good performance. All you have to do is watch The Lighthouse or Good Time to realize that Pattinson can kick the shit out of himself and then come out smiling.
I didn't want to believe in this Batman, but I did and I do and I may very well have gotten my favorite Batman incarnation to date.
To be fair, I understand the naysayers including some of my own professional peers with whom I more often than not agree.
Not this time.
I won't say they're wrong, but I'm right and this is the Batman fans. at least adult fans, of the comic have been waiting to see.
This is not a Batman for the kiddoes. It's dark and fierce, relentlessly melancholy almost to the point of self-mutilation and there's nary a playful spirit to be found here other than a sliver of something resembling hope toward movie's end.
The Batman kicks off a mere two years into Batman's crime-fighting ways. The murder of Bruce Wayne's parents has left Wayne a shell of his former self mostly isolated inside the Wayne mansion alongside his butler Alfred (Andy Serkis) whose presence now, while under-utilized cinematically, is part mental health counselor and part parental figure. This Batman isn't like the other Batmen we've seen and, let's face it, we've seen our share over the years from George Clooney's campy over-the-top Batman to Adam West's rather cartoonish Batman to Christian Bale's grittier and grizzlier Batman who's practically the Schoolhouse Rock version compared to Pattinson's goth meets grunge-infused Batman who is so grimy you practically expect a Pigpen-styled cloud of dust to rise up any time he enters the room.
I'm not about to tell you what unfolds here, though I can't say the story is so much the thing here anyway. It's fair to say that The Batman is all atmosphere and how this Batman immerses himself in that atmosphere. The story is, quite honestly, rather secondary. However, if you're entering the movie theatre expecting the usual Batman to do the usual Batman things, then you may very well find yourself disappointed. The Batman looks and feels like a horror-tinged crime thriller, a film that's rated PG-13 but a PG-13 that goes about as dark as it can possibly go. We already know that The Riddler is here, Paul Dano's take that of a sadistic serial killer exposing and eliminating the Gotham underbelly and more than hinting that said underbelly includes the Wayne family. While superhero films often hint at dastardly deeds, seldom do they actually commit to them and certainly not in the way director Matt Reeves commits to them here. Colin Farrell is here as the Penguin, practically enveloped by Penguin's presence to such an extreme that he's barely recognizable. So too, Selina Kyle, aka Catwoman, comes to life through Zoë Kravitz and Batman has an ally of sorts even if Kravitz and Pattinson have awkward chemistry at best.
Still, that makes sense. The wounded soul that is the Batman isn't really the playful soul of cinematic efforts past but a wounded soul hard-pressed to have anything resembling chemistry with anyone.
Cinematographer Greig Fraser, a current Oscar nominee for his work on Dune, gives The Batman a look we've never seen before and a visual presentation that hasn't left my eyes since watching the film. Reds and blacks pop out at the raindancing screen and Pattinson shimmers at times stoically and other times as if the weight of the world and his past is absolutely crushing him. It's astounding to watch even if there are admittedly moments when shots linger so long you practically expect the Batman to sashay.
Michael Giacchino's original score is sublime perfection, simplicity emphasized and a score that practically held me even when the occasional scene threatened to detach me from the goings on. The use of music is inspired, perhaps a wee bit predictable, but I'm still humming it so it must've worked.
While there's not a playful spirit to be found here, there are momentary flashes of sly humor and self-recognition offering seconds to catch one's breath in anticipation that we're inevitably headed toward more suspense and more drama and more vulnerable darkness. The Batman makes Batman question himself and who he's become and who he's going to become down the road. It's soul searching in a way, but it's really something else because we know that this figure in front of us is more Batman than Bruce Wayne, a damaged soul with an agenda beyond being a superhero and beyond fighting crime and, well, simply beyond.
The Batman most certainly won't please everyone and it is worth repeating that this is truly not a film for the younger kiddoes. Unless their parents have been murdered, I can't imagine a child under the age of 13 having much ability to tolerate this intensity and understand this messaging.
The Batman is simultaneously uncompromising and terrifying and, perhaps most importantly, absolutely committing itself to the darkness of this world and these lives and the world that has been created. I'm hit-and-miss with Dano, but he's quietly mesmerizing here with an unhinged lunacy that feels more deeply rooted than a certain Joker. Kravitz matches Pattinson's rhythms beautifully and gives Kyle/Catwoman an earthy honesty that feels devastatingly real. As Penguin, Colin Farrell is absolutely terrific. Jeffrey Wright, as Lt. Gordon, is stellar as is John Turturro's take on mobster Carmine Falco. Serkis is under-utilized yet solid throughout.
Then, of course, there's Pattinson. More than a few of us scoffed when it was announced that Pattinson would slip into the cape. That's a little bit silly, of course, considering that cape has been worn by the likes of Michael Keaton, George Clooney, Adam West, Ben Affleck, Christian Bale, and others with whom we similarly scoffed until we watched them and thought to ourselves "Heh, not bad."
Okay, maybe not Clooney. That truly was pretty awful.
Pattinson? His take is original even when the story he's telling is not. Pattinson finds the Batman's gothic soul and shows us his wounds and vulnerabilities, complexities and indescribable strengths. It's a masterful performance that is among the best Batmen.
The Batman isn't what I'd call an entertaining motion picture. The Batman is a motion picture that demands you surrender to its world and then refuses to let you rise to the surface until it's done with you. It's brutal and beautiful, achingly real and somehow manages to create a pinhole of light amidst the impenetrable darkness. It takes nearly three hours for The Batman to tell its story and that story, while familiar, is the Batman story I've been waiting for my whole life.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic