Director: Matt Reeves (USA). Year of Release: 2022
Gotham City, Halowe’en. Everybody’s wearing fancy dress, so the group of blokes in the railway carriage don’t look too conspicuous in their white face paint. They stare at a timid looking man and follow him off the train at the next station. As they surround him on the platform, a big bloke in a dark cape emerges out of the shadows and picks them off, one by one. Welcome to The Batman (apparently that definite article is important) whose superhero special power is hitting people.
The Batman, being The Batman, has an alter ego. So let’s also welcome Emo Bruce Wayne. Last times I saw Robert Pattinson in a film he was in The Lighthouse and Clare Denis’s High Life, so there’s a good case to be made that the Twilight’s RobPat is slumming it here. He has dark patches around his eyes and looks like he should be in one of those 1990s films with Winona Ryder about troubled youth. When he is on screen, Nirvana’s “Something in the Way” is rarely far behind.
We know the back story by now. Bruce’s parents were killed when he was a child, leaving him with nothing to live on but a huge trust fund and a loyal butler (this time around, Alfred is played by Andy Serkis in a three piece suit). He does not worry about money as only the rich can, and Alfred is forever fussing at him to meet up with potential investors. He walks around in a permanent sulk and in the evenings puts on fancy dress to pick fights with the mentally troubled.
Along his travels he comes across familiar names, like Catwoman, who is played by Zoë Kravitz as Crazy Cat Lady, forever pouring saucers of milk for her houseful of strays. Catwoman’s superhero special power is kicking people, but she is half the size of Batman so obviously loses in a fight to him. But she is able to kick her way through other male villains. After a while, the director obviously thinks that he’s fulfilled his required gurl quota, and Catwoman disappears for a while.
This is a shame, as Catwoman is a bit of a class fighter. When she says that she is against “rich, privileged assholes”, she winks hard at the audience who know that Bruce Wayne is all of these things. Towards the end of the film, she returns to make the same joke and invites The Batman to join her and “knock off some CEO hedge fund types”. Being a CEO hedge fund type himself, he declines her offer.
The Penguin also makes a brief appearance, but he’s merely a mobster with prosthetics instead of someone with Burgess Meredith’s presence. The main Baddy here is The Riddler, who – for no apparent reason – leaves cards on the scene of the crime addressed to The Batman. The cards contain a riddle which is either trivially simple or too complicated to digest in the time we’re allowed. There’s an impenetrably long clue which takes them to the local ex-orphanage and is on-screen for 2 seconds.
Regardless of the simplicity or complicatedness of the clue, The Batman and Alfred solve them immediately, thus ridding the film of any tension and the audience of any chance of working it out for themselves. The Riddler carries out nearly impossible abductions – and at one point lays enough dynamite to flood the city without anyone noticing – but is finally captured when he stays too long in a diner close to his latest crime. We learn that he is an orphan with trust issues.
The politics of The Batman are, well, all over the place. Gotham City is corrupt from top to bottom, thus prompting different attempts to clear up the mess by The Riddler (right wing authoritarian), The Batman (liberal authoritarian) and Catwoman (intersectional anti-capitalist). It is very afraid of lone male gunmen, while insinuating that Gotham can easily get out of this mess if it just elects a black female mayor. The problems are systemic, at least until “we” take over the system.
This is a very dark film, by which I definitely don’t mean it is full of dark humour – for all the film’s various qualities, humour isn’t one of them. Instead it is deliberately poorly lit, so what with the semi-permanent rain you often have to squint hard to work out what is happening on screen. There is one particular car chase which is basically one set of headlamps following another set of headlamps against a background of many more headlamps.
It is also a very long film – nearly three hours – in which very little happens. Sure, there are elements of Plot, but there’s nothing there to really surprize us, and we continually revisit the same old scenery. There is one particular nightclub that is entered so often that it probably made sense just to leave the cameras there while they were filming other scenes.
Each time we visit the club, there is a slight variation on the previous round of actors declaiming and fighting each other. In each of these fight scenes, whatever the hugely different odds between the different fighters, you know whose going to come out on top. Because The Batman is not allowed to lose a fight, not even once.
So, we have a long, self-important film which is completely lacking any sense of irony. Yet at the end, the girls sat next to me, who’d been talking and looking at their phones all the way through, clapped enthusiastically. This is a film with an audience – it’s just that I’m not part of this audience. Which, I fully concede is my loss.