*. I think everyone who writes about the comic-book movies of the DC Universe has to mention how long and how dark they are. At least if we’re not talking about Aquaman. And that was mostly underwater.
*. It’s a subject that I addressed the last time I walked down these grimy streets in my notes on Zack Snyder’s Justice League. In The Batman we’re back at it again, as the brain trust behind the DC franchise seem to have figured that the only way to treat their next blockbuster is to make it longer and darker. Especially when we’re talking about new Batman movie, a character who has been on a character arc descending into an ever darker Gotham since his psychedelic Day-Glo debut in 1966.
*. So once more, dear moviegoers, unto (and into) the breach. The Batman is three hours long in its theatrical release version and seems to be set not only entirely at night but in the rain. There’s actually a funny moment when Bruce Wayne has to blink when he sees a bit of sunlight on a cloudy day. I got a smile out of that.
*. In other words, it’s long and dark. And of course it’s morally dark as well, with our good guys being bad guys and vice versa. The chief villain here is The Riddler (Paul Dano), and he’s got a legitimate beef with Gotham and its ruling elite. He was a real orphan, you see, unlike the poor little rich kid Bruce Wayne. As an outsider and a loser he’s also very much in the same mold as Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker, and his rebel army at the end is much the same as well, feeling like a convention of QAnon groupies run amok. That Batman should be threatened by this gang of keyboard warriors cosplaying as bad guys is one of the weaker points in the film’s climax.
*. As for Batman, he’s Robert Pattinson this time out, which at least tries to inject a bit of youth into the role. He has hair that hangs down over his eyes and can blend right in when he hits the street dressed in a ball-cap and hoodie. It’s hard to think of previous Bruce Waynes slumming it like this.
*. Unfortunately, when he puts on the suit, which looks like a particularly clunky suit of body armour, it’s the same old dark knight, all breathy voice and portentous dialogue. Here are the final words of wisdom: “Our scars can destroy us, even after the physical wounds have healed. But if we survive them, they can transform us. They can give us the power to endure, and the strength to fight.” Comic books in the 1960s and ’70s were better than this.
*. Still, I thought grunge Batman interesting, and I liked a bit of change. I also enjoyed Zoë Kravitz swiveling her hips in a supernatural way in her catsuit. I wasn’t expecting these two to have such good chemistry but the promotional material was smart to play the two of them up, as they’re the bright spot in all this murky darkness.
*. The villains, alas, are a total bore. The Riddler has no pizzazz or even sense of humour, which was odd. He’s just an accountant who dresses in army surplus gear and stages Jigsaw-killer crime scenes, complete with dull notes that are devoid of wit. Colin Farrell is Oswald Cobblepot, the gangster who is not yet the Penguin and not yet interesting. John Turturro is Carmine Falcone, a generic mafia boss who wears shades even when he’s inside, at night, and it’s already so dark it’s hard to see anything.
*. Actually, all the supporting cast are bores. Andy Serkis is Albert Pennyworth and I couldn’t figure him out at all. Apparently he’s good with riddles though, and is a one-man show not only taking care of Bruce and staffing Wayne Manor but running Wayne Enterprises by himself too. Jeffrey Wright is Commissioner Gordon, and his delivery is nearly as constipated as Batman’s. Somebody needed to tell these guys to lighten up, because the picture needs it.
*. Matt Reeves wanted a more realistic feel to the action and rather surprisingly I think he got it. Batman’s suit seems solid enough to take any kind of abuse, and it does. It’s not quite believable, but almost. You don’t feel like this Batman is capable of the usual superhuman feats of comic-book action. He’s more like a tank.
*. So overall not bad. The back story about Selina Kyle and Falcone is way too long, and pointless in the end anyway. The look is generic and unrelievedly dark. But Pattinson and Kravitz pose well together at the top of tall buildings and I came away thinking that I wouldn’t mind seeing their next chapter, which isn’t a feeling I have very often with superhero movies. Just as long as they keep Barry Keoghan out of it.