This is the grittiest Batman. That much was clear from the beginning—the angry red poster and the trailers featuring a milquetoast psychopath Riddler in the vein of Jeffrey Dahmer and a haunted, limp-haired Robert Pattinson with black makeup smeared around his eyes. For a lot of people, me included, this was keenly interesting. The makeup, strangely, was particularly compelling, since it addressed a problem less generous fans have been chuckling under their breath about for decades: Batman’s mask doesn’t cover his eyelids, so it must be the case that Bruce Wayne applies eyeliner before suiting up, and isn’t that silly? Wouldn’t it look silly and not at all cool if he took his mask off?
The answer The Batman provides is no, it doesn’t look silly. But neither exactly does it look cool. Instead, it looks like Batman has been through hell and came back a different kind of hero, one that schoolchildren might find less inspiring and more unsettling.
That was the vibe, anyway. Some were suspicious and some were excited, and I, as a committed fan of all things unsettling, was in the excited camp.
And it’s not that the excitement is completely unwarranted. There’s a lot to love in this movie, partly resulting from the obvious care director Matt Reeves has for the character, and the willingness overall to approach Gotham in a new way. Where Christopher Nolan’s Gotham was all glass and concrete, there’s an organic noir-ish rot to this Gotham that doesn’t leave you wondering how people actually live here, or why. The populace of Nolan’s Gotham is just theoretical. It isn’t as though Reeves gives us a lot of insight into daily Gothamite life, but the presence of real humans is evident in the grime of a late-night diner, the technicolor neon lights bleeding into each other in the seemingly constant rain.
Robert Pattinson deserves recognition just for enduring the shift from everyone despairing that the sparkly Twilight boy is going to be the new Batman (when casting was announced, there was an online petition calling for him to be replaced) to effusive praise. “Not only is he a good Batman,” shouts the public, “he’s the best Batman, and we never doubted him!” You people make me sick.
He is the best Batman, though. Where Christian Bale’s Batman was still trying to convince the public of the plausibility of superheroes, and Ben Affleck’s was (sorry) a cynical franchise puzzle piece, Pattinson’s feels like a real person—a portrayal of what might actually happen to Bruce Wayne after years of constant uphill battles. This Bruce Wayne is consumed by the job, self-punishing, a recluse. He looks like he hasn’t showered in weeks. I love it.
There’s a problem with placing certain aspects of your superhero movie in grim, cold reality, though, which is that you have to account for everything else a more fantastical setting might excuse. The idea that the police force is willing to tolerate a guy dressing up like a bat and doing their work for him, let alone work with him, stretches belief, as does the idea that no one would connect the existence of Batman to the only guy in town young enough and rich enough to pull it off. The violence, while well-choreographed, just doesn’t match the film’s crime thriller aesthetic. Zoe Kravitz as Selina Kyle/Catwoman is a huge improvement on Anne Hathaway, but this movie is a great example of when it’s inappropriate to have a 90-pound woman easily overpower hordes of giant men.
More importantly, though Pattinson is doing his job and doing it well, he simply isn’t very intimidating. This isn’t his fault. It’s in the way he’s shot—mostly standing, on equal ground as everyone else, which makes him look disappointingly human, especially at the points where the blaring, two-note theme song is telling you to be very very scared indeed. It’s also the suit, which is just a little too pretty and polished, the cape a little too short. Christian Bale’s exaggerated voice did get a little out of hand, but at least it got your attention. It’s difficult to believe this Batman as a vigilante whose main tactic is inspiring fear.
From what I’m seeing around the internet, it looks like mine is the minority opinion. I think that’s probably good. I’m happy the superhero genre is taking new directions, trying to establish roots for the franchise instead of assuming the only thing audiences want is an extended universe no matter the quality. It’s a good start, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t room to dive even deeper into the darkness of this weird rich guy who dresses up like a bat.
7/10 5 points for using colors other than black and gray, and textures other than concrete. 2 points for a very funny scene where Batman leaves the Penguin with his hands and feet hobbled so he has to waddle around, you know, like a penguin.