I get that I’m fashionably late to The Batman party, but I’m a stylish drunk. And that, as they say, is how we roll. Time means little to those who bleed bourbon and belch whiskey fumes. The only deadline we worry about is when that two for one well drink special is ending. That’s why I tell myself I prefer to drink at bars by myself. My teetotaler friends just can’t fathom how the clock ticks for the boozer. In that respect, they’re like those clueless office drones that can’t seem to decipher the numbers on a LIRR train schedule. When they ask you the question on the platform, as you roll your eyes and press pause on The Tender Bar: A Memoir Audiobook so you can hear the words coming out of their mouth, you can’t comprehend that someone actually pays these stupid people to work for them.
I dig Matt Reeves. To simply call him a solid director is to, I think, undersell his talents. Cloverfield was a dark, riveting and sometimes terrifying 9/11 allegory. He nailed the helter skelter panic in the streets as skyscrapers crumbled from an angry sky. I was in front of an AS/400 screen at 2 Wall Street on 9/11. Please trust me when I tell you Reeves got it right. Drunks are prone to telling the truth. And sometimes wetting the bed. His two swings at Planet of the Apes flicks were blockbusters that contained real artistry. It’s too early to let him take the wheel of that red Plymouth Valiant from grandpa Spielberg, but one day he might.
According to the IMDB, Reeves is from Long Island. Hal Hartley, a director who was at the vanguard of the Golden Age of Independent film in the nineties, also hails from there. The bleary eyed nobody typing this junk you’re unlucky enough to be reading is from Long Island, too. However, my greatest artistic achievement is approximating some of Jackson Pollock’s famous paintings in vomit. My work doesn’t hang in any museum or art gallery. They do, however, adorn various broken sidewalks and slimy alleys in various towns along the south shore of Long Island.
True to form, The Batman is popular entertainment on a grand scale infused with Reeves’ singular artistic vision. The paint by numbers feel that some of the flicks in the MCU have emblazoned in their DNA hasn’t been allowed to enter these Gotham City limits. Reeves’ take on Batman has much more in common with the Nolan trilogy than the disastrous DC outings that starred Ben Affleck as The Caped Crusader.
While I was never nodding off or watching amateur pornography on my phone to pass the time, the running time of 180 minutes felt cumbersome at certain junctures. Personally, I think these type of flicks would best be served concentrating on one villain against the superhero du jour. The one on one showdown between the combatants gives the writer and director space to make the battle more personal and fill it with electric, emotional resonance. That being said, The Batman never resorts to action sequences that frazzle the optic nerves like a video game and there is real human interaction between characters.
The Batman crams three bad guys into the blender and churns them up into a Byzantine cocktail that we’ve all gotten massive hangovers from before. The plot includes the serial killer who drops as many pithy cues as he does bodies, a suave gangster and his ugly henchmen, corrupt cops and politicians, unseemly family secrets and the malignant machinations of a city on the verge of sinking into the scuzzy sea, figuratively and literally. That’s not to say that Reeves, the cinematic bartender, doesn’t pour a tasty and satisfying drink.
He does. Bottoms up.
The cast, filled with beautiful matinee idols and veteran character actors alike, is uniformly good. It’s tough to take one’s eyes off Zoe Kravitz as the gorgeous enigma that is Catwoman. Kravitz has some pristine genes that give her that stunning physical beauty. She has acting chops, as well. We believe her plight and, along with Jeffrey Wright’s Lt. Gordon, she’s probably the character that the audience can relate to most. The back and forth over a video and audio transmitter contained in high tech contact lenses between Kravitz and Robert Pattinson’s Batman offers some of the film’s more humorous and realistic dialogue.
While I will always be partial to Danny DeVito’s creepy and chilling turn in Batman Returns, an unrecognizable Colin Farrell brings an old school mobster menace as The Penguin. In Reeves’ Batman universe, Penguin is one of kingpin Carmine Falcone’s(John Turturro) main henchmen. It’s just as easy to picture Farrell’s Penguin smuggling rum for Al Capone in the real world as it is to see him matching wits with a superhero in the colorful pages of a comic book.
There’s a high octane chase scene in the movie featuring Batman in hot pursuit of a ranting and raving Penguin as they swerve in and out of traffic in the pouring rain. The Batmobile in this flick looks like it would be at home barreling over mutants in one of the Mad Max flicks. Watching the two vehicles ping pong off the other cars brought excitement back to the car chase, a trope that has gone stale in recent years. The audience knows when they see the tanker speeding down the highway that the metal beast will surely jacknife, making things more complicated for everyone on the screen. Reeves shoots it so well, however, that we’re hooked like it was the first time seeing such a stunt.
The Riddler was a bit of a disappointment. Paul Dano, who can do nerdy and creepy extremely well, is given little to do. The Riddler here is a watered down version of Kevin Spacey’s(speaking of creepy) seminal serial killer in Seven. It almost seems the Riddler was included simply for the final scene he’s in. We all want the possibility of an endless string of sequels.
And what of The Batman, himself?
I remember Robert Pattinson being cast as Batman set the internet on fire. What, at this point in time, doesn’t set it ablaze? The internet is more flammable than a lit match tossed into a bale of hay by a careless cowboy. WHOOSH! Instant outrage and hot takes from the comforts of our couches and kitchen tables. We’re stuck inside due to the pandemic and we’re all pouty and stuff, after all.
I like Pattinson as an actor and I thought he made a great Batman. He has the physicality and angular jawline to make him intimidating to the lowlifes that slither in and out of the shadows of Gotham City. I also think he made an awful Bruce Wayne. From the roughly 47 total minutes I saw of all The Twilight movies, it seems his iteration of Bruce Wayne was channeling his cheerless character from that franchise. The relationship between Wayne and Alfred, played by the always great Andy Serkis, was as impersonal and chilled as vichysoisse eaten in the dark and cavernous dining room in Wayne Manor.
I must confess I let out a muffled groan when the words “white privilege” were spoken in The Batman. I understand there’s inequality in the world and we must do our best to address it. The solution to this problem won’t be coming from parasitic fat cats in government and corporate boardrooms. And, sure as shit, the remedy won’t be coming from Tinseltown. The ironic and almost constant virtue signaling from Hollywood, comprised mostly of privileged white folk, has become yawn inducing. Celebrities can assuage their guilt as they cash 20 million dollar checks in more constructive ways than preaching down to the millions of average people who shell out their hard earned money to purchase tickets to their, mostly derivative and humdrum, movies. Here endeth the rant from a white guy.
Minor quibbles aside, The Batman is another entertaining entry into Matt Reeves’ filmography. It was well worth the eleven dollar ticket price. The seven dollar price tag for the soda, on the other hand, was insulting. Even with the inflation we’re all forced to deal with, it was tough to fathom that outrageous cost. I can still get a double Jack and coke for seven dollars down at the local dive.