‘The Batman’ is a joyless but worthy superhero-detective story

“The Batman” (2022) – “Sock!” “Pow!” “Zok!” “Bam!” “Kapow!  “Whamm!!”

If the aforementioned one-word exclamatory sentences look familiar, then you’re probably a die-hard or casual fan of the celebrated “Batman” (1966 – 1968) television series starring Adam West in the title role (and *spoiler alert* Bruce Wayne) along with Burt Ward as the Caped Crusader’s trusty sidekick, Robin.  Perhaps, you aren’t a fanatic at all, but recognize the references because the campy but gratifying TV show has cemented itself into a permanent foundation of American pop culture. 

Well, Tim Burton’s two Batman films took dark departures from West’s 120 episodes of crime-fighting cabaret candy.  However, “Batman” (1989) and “Batman Returns” (1992) begged the country to look back to the 1960s program and compare and contrast, which resulted in mixtures of contempt and loving fondness.  After director Joel Schumacher’s questionable attempts of more batty tones in the mid-to-late 90s, Christopher Nolan returned with truckloads of cash and gravitas.  Most recently, the latest DCEU attempts have left The Bat on unsure footing.  Our hero isn’t standing on jello, but he’ll need to employ a few gadgets from his utility belt to stay upright.  (We’ll see how “The Flash” (2022) tracks in that universe. )

To date, Hollywood has run more than a baker’s dozen Batman films, as numerous directors and actors have fought to feature their adaptations of the seminal, shadowy savior. 

In 2022, Matt Reeves (“Cloverfield” (2008), “Let Me In” (2010), “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” (2014), and “War of the Planet of the Apes” (2017)) found an available spot on the congested Dark Knight dial for a fresh slant, one which harkens back to Batman’s roots as the World’s Greatest Detective.

Reeves’ “The Batman” – with Robert Pattison donning the cowl, suit, and cape – is a private investigator story.  Our Defender of Gotham attempts to find a serial killer’s identity, put a halt to the sicko’s selective slayings, and hopefully lock him in Arkham Asylum and throw away the key.   

Batman (Robert Pattinson)

That’s right.  Batman spends the majority of the 167-minute runtime (please note: I looked at my watch and timed it) as a gumshoe by clocking in miles on the city streets and deciphering clues and less time diving into kinetic superhero-mode through giant chase scenes and fisticuffs in close quarters. 

Now, this brooding flick does include two (if memory and notes serve) massive action set pieces, and two other impressive stunts, so “The Batman” is not sans DC mayhem and combat.  Still, “The Batman” is a noir detective story, one with a cast of dubious desperados – like mob boss Carmine Falcone (John Turturro), his henchman Oswald “Oz” Cobblepot (a completely unrecognizable Colin Farrell), problematic public servants, and various other dime-store hooligans looking for trouble on the frequently rainy city sidewalks and sullied subway cars.

No, Batman isn’t Philip Marlowe with “Private Investigator” letters on the door.  He doesn’t smoke endless packs of cigarettes, and nor does he say, “On a slow Wednesday night, my bad luck went from lousy to miserable, when a devious dame with curves, that could knock race cars off the track, walked into my office.”

Reeves offers a few glimpses of the Bat Cave, and Pattinson may growl like he inhales 20 cancer sticks a day, but he’s a lean and healthy 165 pounds or so on his 6’ 1” frame.  Jessica Rabbit doesn’t enter his life, but Selina Kyle (Zoe Kravitz) does.  Kravitz is convincing as the latest big-screen Catwoman, but we’ve all seen the like-dislike, maybe-or-maybe-not-frenemies act before, and Selina even utters the “Bat and a Cat” line, which landed with all the emotional punch of “Can you get the mail, Honey?”

This narrative, however, is the polar opposite of sweet, as it resembles David Fincher’s “Zodiac” (2007) infinitely more than “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” (1988), and the chief antagonist – the dreaded but welcomed – The Riddler (Paul Dano) is the perfect foil in this particular screenplay.  He’s a sicko creep who combats Batman, Lt. James Gordon (Jeffrey Wright), and the city’s institutions with his intellect, not muscle or deep pockets for elaborate contraptions.  Batman needs to decrypt The Riddler’s riddles and grasp the broader picture to prevent more bloodshed, hopefully.  Or is our masked protagonist simply playing into The Riddler’s hands? 

Remember The Joker’s words from “The Dark Knight” (2008): “It’s all part of the plan.”

The Riddler (Paul Dano)

Gone are the days of Frank Gorshin, John Astin, and Jim Carrey’s shamrock green with black question marks, as this Riddler dons a menacing duct-tape mask (that envelopes his head and neck) and a Salvation Army winter jacket, both dyed in a muddy pea-soup green.  He’s a shifty miscreant who muffles his words through some tiny air holes with the cadence of WWE’s The Undertaker. No, he doesn’t giggle after his ominous edicts. 

Dano is awfully compelling in the role, especially when he appears without his mask.  Edward Nashton, The Riddler’s real name, looks as harmless as a 130-pound IT support analyst, which of course, causes anxiety because he’s the regular guy-next-door who manufactures this methodical mayhem.

“He was so quiet.  Never bothered anyone.”

Edward may have been quiet when bullies repeatedly kicked sand in his face, but this movie’s subdued pacing and calm, procedural, and muted discourse permeates the overall tones.  Reeves, Batman, and Gordon walk us through this maze of crime and concrete, and for the audience, there is no mystery about this antagonist’s identity.  However, the picture’s core strengths lie with the slow reveal of The Riddler’s ultimate motivation and also unwrapping this urban universe of corruption inside past-midnight clubs and among widespread illicit drug commerce and the moneymakers and lowlifes who gladly play the Pied Pipers of depravity.

Meanwhile, Bruce Wayne attempts to make sense of the nefarious noise, his years of internal torment have only recently revealed themselves in the famed bat suit.  Mr. Wayne has only been on the bat job for two years, so not everyone knows his name yet, but hey, they should recognize the pointy ears and black cape, right? 

Not everyone got the memo, however, because a regular ruffian exclaims, “What are you supposed to be?” during the opening sequence.

Although Reeves got the memo on Batman’s lore.

Oswald Cobblepot (Colin Farrell)

According to Matthew Kang’s MovieWeb.com Feb. 28, 2022 article, Reeves’ film “was not directly based on any specific DC comic storyline.  However, one of the comic arcs that inspired ‘The Batman’ was Frank Miller’s ‘Year One’ from the late 80s.” 

As previously mentioned, this Batman lives in Year Two.

Our murky protagonist also should feel right at home in this Gloomy Gotham with the top-notch and wholly authentic production and art designs.  Reeves and his team – including cinematographer Greig Fraser (“Dune” (2021)) and production designer James Chinlund (“War for the Planet of the Apes” (2017)) – filmed in the UK and Chicago for authentic outdoor décor and special effects constructed the rest, as the visual experience matches the threatening murder mystery.

No doubt, “The Batman” casts spell as we explore this iteration of our praised protagonist, the tenebrous terrain, and melancholy moods.  At least for a while, because the theatrical tonic began to wither around the two-hour mark with another 47 minutes to go.  Also, Batman sometimes solves the Riddler’s intricate puzzles within a few seconds, as he sucks up the audience’s enjoyment of trying to play along. 

Come on, give us a chance, Bruce!

Selina Kyle (Zoe Kravitz) and Batman (Pattinson)

The movie’s apropos atmosphere and world-building are high points, but – admittedly – I only encountered two goosebump moments over almost three hours.  “The Batman” is – basically – void of joy. That’s by design, but still, it would take a tidal wave of convincing and pressure to get me to the theatre to see it again in the near future.  Well, at least give me six months, but a year or – possibly – never again would work too.  Well, Farrell will reprise his birdy and umbrella role in a future HBO Max series.  How about that?  Let’s place a card in the suggestion box.  Include a few “Zlonks!”  Maybe a “Thwapp” and a “Biff” too. 

⭐⭐ 1/2 out of ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Directed by: Matt Reeves

Written by: Matt Reeves and Peter Craig

Starring: Robert Pattinson, Zoe Kravitz, Paul Dano, Jeffrey Wright, John Turturro, and Colin Farrell

Runtime: 167 minutes

Rated: PG-13

Image credits: Warner Brothers

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