“The Batman” gives us a darker view of the Caped Crusader, literally and figuratively.
The figurative part works.
Robert Pattinson, taking on the role for the first time, gives us a gloomier, more psychologically damaged Bruce Wayne/Batman in this new reboot. Villains the Riddler (Paul Dano) and the Penguin (an unrecognizable Colin Farrell) don’t wear their usual Halloween costumes; the Riddler wears a goggle getup that makes him look scary and absolutely insane (which he is), while the Penguin just appears as a mob thug: Think Danny Aiello playing a Mafioso in “The Sopranos.”
These new variations on the characters are edgier, less cartoonish, than those from the Gotham City past.
That also holds true for the story, which is more a detective yarn/film noir than a typical superhero tale. In a way, this goes back to Batman’s past; his first appearance, after all, was in Detective Comics (in 1939).
The problem, to some degree, is how literally dark the film is.
Director Matt Reeves, who in recent years has made two “Planet of the Apes” movies and the vampire remake “Let Me In,” clearly has done this on purpose to create the appropriate noir atmosphere. The strategy makes sense, but it also makes it harder to see what’s going on at times and tends to make the movie more depressing than mysterious or suspenseful. (“The Maltese Falcon,” perhaps the granddaddy of film noir, is just one example in which darkness and shadows enhance, rather than reduce, the entertainment value of the story.)
In “The Batman,” the Riddler starts bumping off, in brutal fashion, high-ranking Gotham City officials, leaving clues for Batman at the scenes of the crimes. The Riddler’s acts appear less inspired by greed than vengeance: His goal is to expose lies and corruption.
Batman, unpopular with cops and others who regard him as a freak (it’s the costume) and a vigilante, works (unofficially) with police Lt. Jim Gordon (Jeffrey Wright) to catch the killer. It’s a convoluted case, to be sure, which brings Batman into contact with nightclub worker Selina Kyle (Zoe Kravitz), who has Catwoman tendencies without the moniker; club owner and drug dealer Oswald Cobblepot, aka the Penguin; and crime kingpin Carmine Falcone (John Turturro).
The film is mostly compelling, especially whenever Dano, Farrell or Kravitz are on the screen. And it actually delivers a strong message, as Pattinson’s Batman realizes that vengeance isn’t enough of a motivator; that hope is a necessary part of his work. Perhaps crime and corruption will always thrive; perhaps Gotham City is, as he puts it, “beyond saving.” But it doesn’t matter: He still has to try to fight for what’s right.
If only it took him a little less time to come to this conclusion. “The Batman” checks in at five minutes short of three hours, and the time does not fly by. The ending – or, multiple endings, since there are several points where the movie could end – drags on, as if director Reeves simply refused to call it a wrap.
So, overall, “The Batman” is definitely a mixed bag – recommended, but with reservations. *** (out of four)
** Click here for Tim Miller’s previous movie columns for Cape Cod Wave **
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Tim Miller is a Cape-based member of the Boston Society of Film Critics. He teaches film and journalism at Cape Cod Community College in West Barnstable. You can contact Tim at [email protected] or follow him onTwitter @TimMillerCritic. Or you can ignore him completely.