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The Batman (2022): A bit Difficult to Digest but Still Well worth the Wait! – PART I

By Emad El-Din Aysha, PhD

“YOU EITHER DIE A HERO, OR LIVE LONG ENOUGH TO SEE YOURSELF BECOME A VILLAIN.”

– BATMAN

I’ve been agonizing for a long time now about reviewing The Batman. I’d watched it prior to Ramadan but couldn’t make my mind up what exactly I felt about it. It certainly is an emotional rollercoaster and not a straightforward movie by any means. And I had a personal bias too as a fan of the original Michael Keaton-Jack Nicholson movie back in 1989. (I also was also a bit sore that Mackenzie Davis had turned down the role of Catwoman, a fan favourite role. What a lost opportunity, and I don’t just mean to see her in the skintight leather catsuit!)

Controversy has been mounting about the movie since its release, its commercial success notwithstanding. (It’s almost impossible for anything to ‘not’ stir up controversy nowadays, as soon as people get clicking on their smartphones, or actors – and actresses – add fire to the flames). Nobody seems to want to judge a movie on its merits anymore. So that’s what I’m going to do here. For all our sakes. (If only MD had taken up the super villainess, she could have spared both us and poor Chris Nolan so much trouble).[1]

A Shot in the Dark

The story, needless to say, is about the masked avenger aka Batman (Robert Pattinson), but in his early days, walking the streets of Gotham City, desperately trying to make a difference in a world gone mad as parentless children roam the streets mugging people to prove their manliness to their gangmates while organised crime addicts the population to the latest in designer drugs. Enter an entirely new threat, a serial killer-type super villain who calls himself The Riddler (Paul Dano) who begins his reign of terror by murdering the (corrupt) mayor of Gotham, at the height of his electoral race against the reformist Bella Reál (Jayme Lawson), leaving riddles and cyphers addressed to The Batman, hinting at his larger master plan for the city at large. The Riddler also floods the airwaves with exposés of the corrupt officials he kills, tarnishing the memory of many a public figure along the way, along with Bruce Wayne’s dearly departed dad. (Its’ open season on responsible father figures in the US, for some reason; more below). Batman/Bruce Wayne has to race against time to figure out who the ultimate target is and the only person who can help him is a cat burglar who has her own axe to grind, the aforementioned Catwoman/Selina Kyle (a thinly disguised Zoë Kravitz). Hard to tell who’s good and bad in this world, isn’t it? Then again, that’s the whole point.

MODEST MOMENT: Zoë Kravitz in as mincing off-screen as she is onscreen. But still a step behind Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman.

From the word go you can tell this is a very intelligently constructed movie. It’s tense as hell and plays with your mind, and has the camerawork and a movie score to match the intentions of the director to a tee. The opening sequence has somebody spying on a window, seeing what looks like a murder as a costumed person uses a sword to kill someone. We are greeted to heavy breathing and are tricked into thinking this is Batman trying to keep track of a new crime, only to discover this was The Riddler all along and the costumed individual was actually a boy getting ready for Halloween, and the person being slain is actually the boy’s father, the soon to be deceased mayor. Everybody wants to be a hero, and for every kid his father is his natural hero, his protector; and that’s also the way the public looks at politicians and the police. The scene where the Riddler kills the mayor is disturbing as hell and well-acted and well-conceived, with a kind of sexual ecstasy evident in the Riddler’s body language, highlighted with the S&M type mask he has on. You can also see early on that there’s not much difference between Batman and a psychopath, being a masked vigilante after all. Then we are introduced to Bruce Wayne proper, prowling the streets and telling us about himself in a very (familiarly) dark, grimy and rainy city, tinged with red, saving the life of some Korean guy attacked by a gang of youths. (The victim is almost as freaked out by Batman as the assailants, and Batman identifies himself as ‘Vengeance’, a word that will haunt him by the end of the movie).

The gang look to be skinheads with painted mask-like faces, sharing their violent exploits on social media. They’re actually promoting one of their new recruits, a black boy who only has half of his face painted. Surrogate families and brotherhoods on the prowl, leaving the police so overloaded they have to call for the help of you-know-who. This should all be cliché by now but the director Matt Reeves – the man who rethought Planet of the Apes to perfection – knows how to build emotional tension and hide things in plain view. He also knows how to balance seriousness with humour, breaking the tension after successive buildups with very logical gags – the thumbdrive sequence, the Penguin (an amazing Colin Farrell) who plays dumb, the sexual tension between Batman and Catwoman, the corrupt officials in the nightclub, etc.

Reeves also knows how to humanize things. You have the lovely if tense relationship between Bruce Wayne and his own surrogate father, Alfred (strangely, Andy Serkis). In one of the more memorable scenes in the movie you have Bruce losing his family cufflinks and Alfred giving him his, which he got from Bruce’s father, highlighting what an egalitarian man Thomas Wayne really was at heart. The director has also got Batman right, a man wrestling with himself – fighting fire with fire – while also being a masterful detective who follows the bread crumbs he sniffs out while following the original trail of crumbs set for him by the Riddler. Batman traces a woman the dead mayor was having an affair with to the Penguin’s nightclub and in the process bumps into Selina and gets her involved in his investigation as the Riddler keeps on eliminating hefty people, the most heavy of which is mob boss Carmine Falcone (John Turturro).  And that’s just the start of Batman’s troubles.

The action could have been a bit better but it’s nothing to complain about and the batgadgets, batmobile and batcave are all superb. The Gotham City on display is great, but I still prefer Batman Begins and the first Tim Burton movie on that count. (Christian Bale is still better as Bruce Wayne as is Michael Keaten, who understood how to hide Batman’s true character with a geeky, goofy Bruce Wayne). Reeves has also populated his world with a good selection of characters and actors to play them. I’ve never watched Twilight, thank heavens, but Robert Pattinson is a heavy hitter. Check him out in Tenet and Cosmopolis and you’ll see how cool he is. A moody if professional actor who transfers a wuss into a superhero with surprising sincerity. Andy Sirkis is certainly good, deep and sympathetic and morally uplifting, but very miscast with his working class accent, supposedly a former MI6 man. (He’s also got a scar over his eye, a fresh one, for some reason). Jeffrey Wright makes a very passionate and dedicated Lt. James Gordon and John Turturro is as snidy and relaxed in his over the top roles as ever. Zoë Kravitz is pretty good, certainly fits the sexy sleazy world she inhabits well. Paul Dano as The Riddler is pretty good, although he seems to have lost weight when he’s not in his mask and doesn’t look physical or skilled enough to creep into security compounds to overpower people. (The character’s quite literally a glorified accountant, and this actor was originally the dorky dude in The Girl Next Door).[2]

The real prize in the movie however should go to Colin Farrell. He’s been disappearing as of late and he really steals the show here, with makeup that hides him completely and looks completely real and lifelike at the same time. Even his body language is that of a penguin and you leave the theatre with the impression that you just watched a biopic about Jack Ruby!

The Borrower’s Corner

That being said, there’s problems. Lots and lots of problems. The movie is too long, three hours in fact, and the ending stretches out indefinitely. Every time you think it’s over, it isn’t. There’s cheesy dialogue in places, such as the scene where Catwoman notes how she and Batman have a lot in common – don’t you just hate it when a badguy says you and me have things in common. There’s political problems too but I’ll deal with those below. More to the point is the lack of originality. From the opening sequence you could ‘tell’ that so much of the look and vibe of the city is taken from the classic psychological horror Seven (1995), and I’m not the only one who’s said this. (Check out Critical Drinker and TBR Schmitt). This was confirmed in the scene where they find the Riddler’s home, and all his stacks and stacks of notebooks, just like in Seven. (Another hint here at Brue Wayne, who also has to write things down so as not to lose his sense of identity; Bruce has a near identical motorcycle to Catwoman too). The nightclub is almost identical to the one you see in Seven, where the prostitute is killed, and even the bouncer looks like the one in the David Fincher movie.

INSPECTOR GADGET: Andy Serkis as Alfred isn’t quit up to the diabolical job but its good to see him without the CGI in all cases.

Not far behind is Blade Runner (1984), with all the compulsory rainfall. Even the scene where they capture the Riddler in the diner is reminiscent of Edward Hopper’s famous painting ‘Nighthawks’, which itself went on to inspire the sushi bar scene in – you guessed it – Blade Runner. (The cities on display in Seven and Blade Runner are superior and still classics to this day. I did like this city a lot but it wasn’t Gothic enough). The cyphers they clearly get from the Zodiac killer and the neck brace that kills the DA bears a striking resemblance to the twisted inventions in the Saw franchise. (I even got the feeling that the batgadgets were inspired by the Tim Burton movie). It’s a shame you have all this aping of established movies and techniques. It’s like watching Spy Hard (1996), which is a real shame because the funniest gags in that Leslie Nielsen movie were the original ones they didn’t borrow from elsewhere. Same goes here. When Matt Reeves does his own thing he really does a good job.

[[To be continued!!]]

NOTES:

[1] Please see “Zoë Kravitz Says She Lost a Role in Christopher Nolan's 'Batman' Film Over Racism”, L’Officiel, 9 March 2022, https://www.lofficielusa.com/film-tv/zoe-kravitz-lost-audition-for-christopher-nolan-the-dark-night-rises-batman-racism. As for MD, it was even rumoured she’d be in the Deadpool sequel!

[2] That being said, the look of the character is important for another reason entirely. He’s got glasses, like the Korean guy who gets attacked in the beginning of the movie, signifying him as a victim of the city and system. There’s also a troublesome person in a funeral scene who looks suspiciously like the Korean guy and Paul Dano, with the same kind of flattish face.

 
Written by Emad Aysha

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