The new Batman movie is called The Batman, which is how the character was billed in his first comic-book appearance 83 years ago. But it would be more accurate if they'd called it A Batman—since he's neither a continuation nor a revision nor a follow-on to all previous Batmen. He's a variation. Batman is still a rich guy named Bruce Wayne who's a vigilante with a sidekick butler named Alfred, but as the story begins, he's already in his second year wearing a cowl and a cape traipsing around Gotham City looking for bad guys.
We don't get to know how this Bruce started being a vigilante, how he fabricated what Jack Nicholson's Joker (back in 1989) called "those wonderful toys," how he developed superior fighting skills and driving skills and an engineering genius sufficient for him to jump off a skyscraper and hang-glide his way down Chicago's LaSalle Street using only his costume. These skills, these talents, they're all just there somehow. I suppose it's OK to leave all that out since we've seen it so many times before. But here's the thing: That stuff is interesting. The three hours it takes us to get through this movie are not.
Robert Pattinson's Bruce Wayne/Batman is monosyllabic, pouty, and dull. He's not a playboy bachelor or a chic American industrialist. In the person of Robert Pattinson, he's more like someone in a Cymbalta ad before the anti-depressant kicks in. He listens to Nirvana and he looks like Kurt Cobain. Indeed, the whole movie exudes exhaustion. Gotham City is a low-spirited dump that seems entirely populated by low-energy thieves. Stately Wayne Manor hasn't been cleaned in 20 years, not since Bruce's father and mother were killed. There's no one to care about here, and there's nothing amusing or macabre going on. Writer-director Matt Reeves takes characters from the Batman universe and strips them of any peculiarity or interest. The Penguin is just a gangster played with a dese-dem-dose Italian accent by the Irish actor Colin Farrell, who is, for no particular reason, encased in fat makeup. Catwoman shows up—possessing safe-cracking skills that go unexplained and a late-in-movie revelation about her parentage that makes no sense—but she doesn't slink. And she cries a lot. What's the point of a non-slinky Catwoman?
So what's new here isn't original, it's just a pale version of something more eye-catching. And the movie itself is about as far from original as you can get. For just as Joker, back in 2019, was a full-scale rip-off of—sorry, tribute to—Martin Scorsese's The King of Comedy, The Batman is entirely derivative of—sorry, an homage to—David Fincher's Se7en.
The villain here is the Riddler, who has been converted into exactly the same kind of serial killer as Kevin Spacey's character in Se7en—a purifier, a cleanser of sin in a corrupt city. And while writer-director Matt Reeves has overseen a wildly expensive production design team that has assembled Gotham out of elements of Chicago, New York, London, and Boston, the burg we see in The Batman looks like nothing so much as the washed-out generic urban center in Fincher's dark vision.
The movie goes on the way it does because it has five plots, none of them good. Why did the mayor of Gotham take the Russian waitress's passport? Was Bruce's sainted father a villain in the pocket of a gangster? What does the Gotham City urban renewal project have to do with it? Who is the Riddler? All these questions are answered, but the answers aren't compelling. Then there's a flood. And people get shot at in Madison Square Garden.
How is Pattinson as Batman, you ask (or maybe you didn't)? The only thing he has in common with Ben Affleck (the previous Batman) and Christian Bale (the antepenultimate Batman) is that he speaks in a gravelly voice for no apparent reason. The only thing he has in common with Michael Keaton, the best of them, is being a homo sapiens. The only thing The Batman has in common with a good movie is that it, too, is a movie.
Published under: Movie Reviews