What’s The Movie? The Batman
What’s It All About, JG? Batman (Robert Pattinson) morosely investigates the murder of Gotham mayor Don Mitchell by the Riddler (Paul Dano). Following a series of morose clues, Batman morosely stumbles around Gotham as the Riddler picks off a few people one by one, while bumping into/helping/not being helped by Selina Kyle / Catwoman (Zoë Kravitz). We eventually find out that the Riddler has a personal vendetta against the Waynes, having grown up in an orphanage they had funded, and he leaks information that Thomas Wayne was corrupt after apparently paying Falcone (John Turturro) to kill a journalist. Also Falcone is Selina’s Dad, if not a good one. The Riddler send a bomb to take out Bruce Wayne as part of his revenge but instead manages to get Alfred (Andy Serkis), the lone non-morose presence in the movie. Selina plans to kill Falcone, but the Riddler beats her to it and is sent to Arkham, where he tells Batman that he was an inspiration- irony! The Riddler has also placed seven car bombs at the city walls which blow and flood Gotham, as a way to assassinate the mayor by forcing her into the “shelter of last resort” along with most of the city’s population and some rooftop assassins. A touch baroque, perhaps? Anyway it doesn’t work and Batman and Catwoman go their separate ways at the end of the movie. Morosely.
Why Did You Give It A Go? Well, it must be at least a week or so since some kind of Bat-related project was released so sure, why not? Also, Robert Pattinson has been getting better and better as an actor and is certainly interesting casting, and it’s nice to have a movie like this which isn’t tied in to some multi-movie spanning, universe-generating cinematic franchise (even if that’s what it was meant to be originally). From the trailers it looks aesthetically interesting, so sure, why not?
Is It Any Good? You remember, back when Christian Bale was Batman and Christopher Nolan was in the director’s chair, those films were criticised for being a bit self-serious and humourless? Well hang on your hats folks, because this movie really doubles down on that. And I mean really doubles down on it. This must be the most bleak and morose (there’s that word again) take on Batman to reach the silver screen. It makes the Nolan movies look like they’re full of sunbeams and kittens and unicorns and rainbows. Everything is shot darkly, there’s not an outdoor scene where it’s not absolutely pouring with rain, nobody ever smiles, everything is incredibly serious, and everything moves at a snail’s pace. While Nirvana’s “Something In The Way” morosely plays on the soundtrack, just in case we don’t get it.
The Riddler – traditionally one of the more, shall we say, lighter of Batman’s foes – is just a bleak, dweeby psychopath in this version and even his riddles lack any trace of humour or indeed anything at all to lighten the mood even slightly. They’re just functional clues left for Batman to grimly follow, one by one. Catwoman, too, is almost never actually referred to that way and instead gets to (morosely) angst over her father’s terrible life choices which have screwed her up. And on it goes. Jim Gordon – a wonderful Jeffrey Wright – doesn’t get to crack a smile. Though his outsized character doesn’t get much in the way of screen-time, the Penguin (Colin Farrell, under a metric fucktonne of make-up and prosthetics) doesn’t really either. Alfred gets to smile a bit, and Andy Serkis’s winning performance is the only time anyone looks like they might actually be enjoying themselves in – and let’s just emphasise this – a Batman movie. That can’t be allowed to stand, so he’s sent off to hospital swiftly enough, gets one more scene, and that’s his lot. So, you know, if you’re looking for fun this really isn’t the movie for you.
But it’s good at what it does, there’s no question about that. There’s a unifying aesthetic to the movie that really helps anchor everything that’s going on. Yes, it’s a grim, depressing and incredibly miserable aesthetic, ably matched by those joyless performances, but it absolutely works as a way of bringing the movie’s various themes and circumstances together. Everything is dark, everything is moody, everything works towards a single aesthetic goal, and in that sense it’s an unqualified triumph. Matt Reeves as the director is able to get everything aligned and it’s a huge success for him, putting the script, characters and settings exactly where they need to be. It is, in fact, a remarkable achievement. The soundtrack – when it’s not Nirvana – is another absolutely outstanding part of the film, laden with brooding timpani and simple piano phrases that really help sell the menace and danger of Gotham. All of it unites to create an incredibly striking, memorable movie.
And those performances? They may be joyless in the sense of the characters having no apparent ability to smile, but everyone in the movie is simply terrific. As the lead, Robert Pattinson works fantastically well as Batman, and since he spends almost the entire movie in the suit that’s just as well. His Bruce Wayne – all floppy emo-hair and mopey brooding intensity – is slightly harder to take seriously though. That’s partly because there’s no getting away from how young Pattinson looks, and partly because making him look like an edgelord out of the costume really skirts the edges of having him come across as a bit silly. You can take these things too far. It’s obviously meant to be redolent of the fact that there’s little actual difference between Bruce and Batman – or indeed between Bruce and Edward Nashton, the Riddler’s equivalent – but it mostly looks like he needs to lay off the mascara, have a hug and maybe get some fresh air once in a while. Cheer up love, it might never happen. Still, since most of his time is in the suit it’s not too problematic, though future films might want to ease up on that just a little.
How Many Of These Have You Watched? I’ve seen all the Nolan movies, all the Burton/Schumacher ones and, yes, the Adam West one too. And of those ones, this is certainly another Batman movie I have watched.
Would You Recommend It? In order to answer that question it depends what you want from a Batman movie, really. On its own terms there’s no doubt at all that this is a great film, and though the three-hour running time is a little overlong, it’s probably not by much. It’s really refreshing to have a Batman film that actually focusses on the detective side of things rather than the punching/gadgets side of things. But at the same time there’s a lot of investigating, and it ultimately doesn’t lead to much. Batman succeeds – when and if he succeeds – through luck as much as anything else, or maybe with a handy assist from someone in the vicinity. He doesn’t stop the Riddler’s plan to blow the sea walls, and indeed isn’t even aware of the bombs until they’re basically going off. Even his escape from Gotham PD sees him flying into a bridge, then a bus (to be fair, this is quite funny and pretty much the only time the film ever is). So it’s hard to be entirely alright with all that time spent investigating stuff when it doesn’t actually achieve a lot. Some definite trimming in the middle would help, though again that unified aesthetic does help – it’s almost hypnotic the way it drags you along in its cheerless embrace.
Actually, speaking of the whole sea wall thing, that’s another issue. That plan of the Riddler’s, to blow the sea walls, flood the city, drive everyone including the mayor into the stadium, then have assassins (lots and lots of assassins) in the rafters, then the places floods… it’s a huge dog-leg the film suddenly takes and it truth it can’t quite pull it off. The actual sequences in the stadium are some of the best the film puts together. The action in this Batman movie is fairly stingily portioned out, so when we do get to a proper action sequence it’s important they actually work. And they do! The fights are excellent, there’s some great stunt-work, and there’s some really fantastic lighting and overhead shots that put emphasise and stress in all the right places. But this final act has absolutely no connection to the rest of the movie, even by superhero-movie standards is a villain’s plan that makes no sense, and it’s not even hinted at before it arrives. The Riddler’s, “you didn’t work it out, you’re really not very smart are you?” simply isn’t enough to lampshade this sudden shift in direction and it’s definitely something that could have been better built into the fabric of the film.
Overall though, it’s impossible to criticise this film for being the thing it is. Yes, it’s dark, morose, self-serious and dreadfully invested in its own sense of occasion. And that’s fine – that’s what the film sets out to do, and it absolutely succeeds at it. As much as anything else this movie is a mood piece, a slow and almost mesmerising film where style and approach are as important as character or situation. Anything even remotely silly has been excised brutally – even the Riddler’s real name is no longer Edward Nygma, lest it raise a titter – and what’s left behind is a deeply meditative, occasionally brutal, statement of intent.
Saying that, though, this movie also represents the outer limits of just how far a Batman movie can go in this direction. Yes, this is a great film, but it’s also no fun at all and while its certainly very good you’d have a hard time claiming it was entertaining, which has a distancing effect. The very best of Batman finds ways to be serious while still at least acknowledging the inherent silliness of a man dressed as a bat running around the city fighting other be-costumed bad guys (even The Dark Knight Returns has a few jokes in it, and it’s hardly a laugh-a-minute comedy riot). The Batman, for all its incredible technical success, lacks a certain something for having had any actual fun leeched so remorselessly out of it. This is a grim, depressing, rain-slicked drag of a movie which completely nails what it’s going for, and there’s absolutely and completely a place for that.
Just not every time.
Scores On The Doors? 8/10