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Sunday, March 6, 2022

The Batman



Matt Reeves' The Batman is an immersive, fever dream that begins with the Dark Knight living out countless dark nights wondering why his tactics of punching crooks in the dark isn't having a positive effect on Gotham City. A majestic, R-rated three-hour cinematic tour de force posing as a PG-13 superhero blockbuster, The Batman is relentless, merciless, and hauntingly beautiful. It reimagines, once more, Gotham as a desperate closed world of urban decay. Decent people shouldn't live in Gotham; they'd be happier someplace else. The Batman bucks the current trend of shared superhero multiverses and returns to the Dark Knight's movie roots as a singular vision of a lone vigilante fighting a violent war he can never win to honor the memory of his dead parents. The Batman is a shattering masterpiece, an art-house equal to Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight, all backed by Michael Giacchino's driving score, and it's one of the best superhero movies ever made.

Robert Pattinson is the Batman, and he's ideal. Pattinson portrays the first movie Batman whose hair is mussed up and his eye makeup stays on when he removes his cowl. The Batman is an armored tank proficient in violence but not so keen with the small talk, although he narrates the film like Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley) does Watchmen, giving the audience unprecedented access into the Batman's mindset. As the Batman prowls the shadowy corners of Gotham, moving incognito through the frightened populace in motorcycle gear, a vast conspiracy with Bruce Wayne's parents at the very heart of it, unravels around him. Together with his partner in the Gotham Police Department, Lt. James Gordon (Jeffrey Wright), the only good cop in Gotham City, the Batman tries to foil an elaborate plot by a fiendish and diabolical psychopath calling himself the Riddler (Paul Dano), who is murdering members of Gotham's elite to uncover their role in the city's darkest secret. As the Riddler, Dano manages to be as frightening as any Joker yet he's as intelligent as he is sad, vile, and insane. 

The Batman has more in common with films like David Fincher's Se7en and Zodiac than the recent output by Zack Snyder where Batman teams up with other superheroes and fights aliens. The Batman also owes a lot to the popular Batman: Arkham video games as well as Frank Miller's seminal Batman: Year One comics. Fittingly, The Batman is the opposite side of the coin to Joker, which isn't part of this universe but obviously shares its DNA. Both films are concerned with the sins of Thomas Wayne (Luke Roberts), who, in this universe, ran for Mayor but made a crucial mistake in turning to sleazy mob kingpin Carmine Falcone (John Turturro) when the truth about his wife Martha's (Stella Stocker) mental health issues was going to be publicly leaked. Bruce grew up believing his murdered parents were saintly victims of Gotham's criminal rot and the revelation that Thomas Wayne was flawed rocks the Batman's world. As the Riddler continues his murder spree, the Batman finds a reluctant ally in Selina Kyle (Zoe Kravitz), a slinky waitress who moonlights as a cat burglar. Kravitz is sensational as Selina, who has a secret parent of her own and she's intimately tied to the seedy revelations the Riddler wants to uncover. Meanwhile, an unrecognizable Colin Farrell chews the scenery as Osward Cobblepot, a middling mobster who owns the Iceberg Lounge and wants to be called Oz, not Penguin.

Batman and Catwoman have teamed up in the movies before but The Batman's versions have an undeniable chemistry that feels more incendiary than Christian Bale and Anne Hathaway or even Michael Keaton and Michelle Pfeiffer. The Bat and the Cat in The Batman are young, beautiful, wounded, and volatile, warily circling their fatal attraction but also quickly understanding that they're made for each other. Back in the Batcave, which is beneath Wayne Tower instead of Stately Wayne Manor in this universe, Bruce's butler Alfred (Andy Serkis) impatiently manages Wayne's affairs and believes (perhaps correctly) that he's gone insane. As much fun as an eternally disappointed Alfred taking the piss out of Bruce is, the Batman's repartee with Jim Gordon is one of the highlights of the film. It's the best live-action depiction of Batman and Gordon as crimefighting friends working together, eclipsing even Christian Bale's Dark Knight's team-up with Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman). We don't get the back story of why the Batman and Gordon are such bosom buddies but their us-against-the worst of Gotham dynamic is aces.

The Batman is the first Batman movie that reflects the title Detective Comics, finally delivering a sordid and cerebral detective story that challenges the Dark Knight's sleuthing skills as the World's Greatest Detective, although the Riddler, who thinks he's actually working alongside the Batman in his twisted mind, is disappointed when the Batman doesn't see the big picture. The Ridder's scheme not only involves exposing a 20-year-old plot by the city's officials and the mob to embezzle billions left behind by Thomas Wayne meant as the "renewal" of Gotham City, but he also wants to literally sink the city. The Batman weaving in the inevitable peril posed by climate change is timely and powerful. Of course, The Batman also hedges its bets at a potential sequel and drops in a cameo by Barry Keoghan as "Unnamed Arkham Prisoner," i.e. the Joker, just as Nolan's Batman Begins telegraphed the Joker for his sequel. 

But while The Batman's stunningly brutal action, including an eye-popping car chase involving the Batman's new muscle car Batmobile, really delivers, The Batman's best trick is in the end when the Batman publicly risks his life to save Gotham's new mayor and thousands of refugees from Riddler's murderous incel goons. This was already a Batman who had no qualms of marching shoulder-to-shoulder with cops, but The Batman shows the Dark Knight's unprecedented willingness to be seen by the people he's trying to save. The Batman shows touching personal growth as he realizes he's meant to be a hero, not just the city's shadowy avenger. The Batman's self-sacrifice as he saves women and children during Gotham's greatest catastrophe is perhaps the most uplifting ending of any Batman movie. In the end, the Batman realizes he has to be a better Batman for Gotham, and his bittersweet parting with Selina as they roar in separate directions on their motorcycles is as powerful a denouement as The Dark Knight's unforgettable conclusion. For Matt Reeves, Robert Pattinson, and Warner Bros., The Batman is a triumph and deserves to earn as many billions as Bruce Wayne has in the bank.