Released 2022. Director: Matt Reeves
"WHY SO SERIOUS?" AS UTTERED BY Heath Ledger’s Joker in The Dark Knight (still the best Batman movie) is an apt question to direct at The Batman, the latest incarnation of the caped crusader on the big screen. Matt Reeve’s version of Batman is glum, humourless, laden, airless and oh so serious.
Robert Pattinson takes over as the new Bruce Wayne. He’s bluish pale like a sculpture carved of glacier, with low-cast eyes that tell you he has Gotham’s weight on his shoulders, an angsty teenaged vampire from the Twilight movies who’s grown into a sullen thirty-something anaemic wondering how much longer he has to keep up the charade. You can tell Batman is very tired.
Too bad he doesn’t get a break. Gotham City has a new serial killer and he calls himself the Riddler. The first victim is the mayor, bludgeoned to a grisly death and this is just in the movie’s opening minutes. Riddler leaves a card for Batman, teasing him with cryptic clues like the Zodiac killer. Riddler will strike again, and each time, another card for Batman.
The emergence and modus operandi of Riddler marks him as Gotham’s new vigilante, overshadowing Batman himself. His targets are no purse-snatchers or street hoodlums but Gotham’s political elite. Riddler is draining the swamp of corrupt public officials. He obviously knows a lot more than Batman or the police department do. Riddler is a resourceful and brainy homicidal maniac who expects (and delights) to be caught. There’s a sinister satisfaction behind Paul Dano’s disarmingly childlike demeanour when Riddler is stripped of his mask. Unfortunately that’s also the end of the movie just when we finally come face to face with the most interesting character in the movie.
Batman/Bruce Wayne’s dull personality fails to light any spark with Catwoman/Selena Kyle. Zoe Kravitz brings a degree of self-respect to the thankless role of a woman in tight skimpy costume working in a seedy underground bar serving men of ill repute, a dangerously backward portrayal of the most primitive male fantasy on screen. Except of course this female character can more than defend herself when surrounded by men who exert brute force in bullying fashion. She becomes an accidental accomplice to Batman in the search for her friend’s killer and when the job is done, the two go off in opposite directions when Batman turns down Catwoman’s invitation for a new start together away from the madness of Gotham. This Batman is clearly not suited to companionship and solace. The master of melancholy needs to go back to his cave and brood, alone.
Perhaps we can attribute this lack of enthusiasm to the city itself. Perpetually dark and raining, this vision of Gotham is almost like Los Angeles in Blade Runner minus the neon. The overbearing gloom of the shadowy setting certainly accentuates the downbeat atmosphere of the movie. Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, in comparison, feels and looks bright and even cheerful, which is nuts when you think about it. The 1990s Batman movies were campy and lightweight. Nolan brought sophistication to his storytelling. This latest reboot is gritty and grave. What’s missing is a psychiatrist’s couch ‘cause Bruce Wayne looks like he desperately needs to lie down next to a sympathetic listener.
When the bat signal lights up in the night sky, Batman knows his service is needed. Like a worn-out soldier he heeds the call of duty but his mission has become a burden. The lawmakers, not petty criminals, are now the trash he needs to take out. Is this a reflection of our current political malaise? Our collective dismay at rotten government and crooked powerbrokers? The light has gone out of Gotham and dark days remain, even after Batman has done his job and the villains are either in a body bag or behind bars. Not a whiff in the dank air that anything’s going to change for the better. If you find pleasure in a superhero movie that tells you the world is going down the gutter, this bat has your name on it.
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