Congratulations, Robert Pattinson. You’re the new Batman. Or “The Batman,” to be precise.
Now, let’s ask the obvious question. Why?
It’s a slam dunk, economically speaking. Superhero films print money, assuming they don’t put the emphasis on diversity first and foremost. Still, why would a director like Matt Reeves, a legit talent given his work on the “Planet of the Apes” trilogy, crave yet another Bat story?
Reeves never fully answers the question, although from the opening sequence it’s clear “The Batman” is both immune to commercialism and bleaker than any Dark Knight story before. Emphasis on dark. There’s nary a smile or fully illuminated shot in the film. It might as well have been in black and white.
What “The Batman” isn’t, alas, is fully satisfying. Maddening is more accurate.
We’re dropped into Gotham City, a far different version than Tim Burton’s art deco model. The Batman (Pattinson) knows his city is riddled with crime, but he can only do so much about it.
“I can’t be everywhere,” he growls.
Nice. Smart. Threatening. In a way, the movie never matches the thrill of this introduction.
We soon see Batman in detective mode (smart again, to a point) working with Commissioner Gordon (Jeffrey Wright, one-dimensionally solid) to solve a new string of crimes. A fiend named The Riddler (Paul Dano) keeps setting up elaborate attacks complete with riddles addressed to a certain Bat.
This Gotham City is crime infested to the core, so the Bat must battle more than the enigmatic Riddler. He’s squaring off with The Penguin (an unrecognizable Colin Farrell), a crime boss with mysterious goals. Plus, that Gotham City rot may have infested the city’s police force.
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Bruce Wayne gets little screen time in this new iteration. This is a Batman story (sorry, a “The Batman” story) and the millionaire side of him isn’t the primary focus. Except when it is…
We’re also introduced to Selina Kyle (Zoe Kravitz as the latest Catwoman), who uses her skills to investigate a friend’s disappearance.
Michelle Pfeiffer’s version emphasized the sex appeal, while Anne Hathaway provided a romantic spark. Kravitz offers neither. The Bat and Cat keep running into each other without any screen chemistry developing.
Reeves’ vision here isn’t overtly woke, but it’s impossible to avoid how identity politics seeps into the franchise. The film race swaps two key characters (Gordon and Catwoman), for starters. We’re presented with another “blame the rich” subtext already explored in the vastly superior “The Dark Knight Rises.” And Kravitz’s Catwoman brings up race a time or two.
It’s not as off-putting as other woke-obsessed features, but between those moments and a crusading politician (Jayme Lawson) with a hunger for “change,” it’s hard to avoid the obvious.
The action sequences, a franchise necessity, are solid but increasingly familiar. A mid-film car chase is a mess, with the tonal inconsistency bleeding into what could have been an adrenaline-fueled highlight.
“The Batman’s” third act should find the story arcs coming together, including a major threat given all the gravitas Reeves and co. can muster. Instead, there’s a generic evil doer plot and a plea for peace that arrives out of nowhere.
This … is the furthest thing from a rousing finish. It’s a literal and metaphorical slog.
Reeves, who co-wrote the screenplay with Peter Craig, deserve credit for trying something different, an aggressively raw story with no attempts to connect to the character’s comic book roots. Dano’s radically re-imagined Riddler may be the film’s creative masterstroke, although his backstory feels as perfunctory as an Adam West throwback.
We almost forgot to mention the new Alfred (Andy Serkis), but to be fair the movie commits a similar sin.
Another lesson from “The Batman?” Maybe superhero films that lack a gazillion stars shouldn’t flirt with the three-hour mark. “The Batman” does just that, suggesting more is once again considerably less.
The specter of Christopher Nolan’s “Dark Knight” trilogy overshadows “The Batman” at every turn, and even a committed turn by Pattinson can’t do much to escape that truth.
HiT or Miss: Pattinson is a capable Bat, but “The Batman” shows there’s a limit to how many great Dark Knight stories we need.