The new “Batman” with Robert Pattison and Zoe Kravitz falls flat

Matt Reeves’ The Batman is a welcome change from the recent cosmic mega-crossover status quo of the recent Marvel Cinematic Universe and DC Extended Universe superhero offerings. Instead of battling invading purple aliens or galloping across the “multiverse,” Reeves’ caped titular hero is firmly embedded in the grim-dark city of Gotham and all its gothic filth. Robert Pattinson plays a pouty, taciturn Batman/Bruce Wayne, while the giggly, nerdy everybody-with-a-grudge Riddler (Paul Dano) looks back on Joaquin Phoenix’s performance in 2019’s The Joker – the hugely successful non- Super superhero movie that serves as the most direct inspiration of this film.

Like that “Joker,” this latest “The Batman” attempts to turn its atmospheric sloppiness into a nuanced political perspective.

Like that “Joker,” this latest “The Batman” seeks to transform its atmospheric sloppiness into a nuanced political perspective rendered in (dark) shades of gray. It presents a corrupt establishment and a violent anti-establishment gone haywire confronting each other amid the corpses and broken dreams of ordinary Gothamites. In the end, however, and somehow inevitably, the film embraces vague hope and a centrist shift. Our leaders and elites can save us. Which seems like a particularly odd moral for a film with such cynical, brooding protagonists – at least in its more appealing moments.

The film begins as a crime thriller. The Mayor of Gotham (Rupert Penry-Jones) is killed in the middle of a re-election campaign by the mysterious Riddler, who leaves obscure greeting cards for Batman to find. As the leads and victims pile up, Batman and his police contact, Jim Gordon (Jeffrey Wright), begin to unravel a complex web of corruption that begins with organized crime and drugs and reaches the highest levels of Gotham’s power structure, from the police force to the prosecutor’s office and beyond.

The ready-made corruption plot surprisingly turns into a somewhat nuanced anti-capitalist critique. As all Batman fans know, Bruce Wayne’s parents were killed by a gunman when he was a kid, leading to his obsession with fighting crime as Batman. Bruce’s father Thomas is generally treated as a holy figure in Batman lore, but this film isn’t so sure that a person – and a billionaire in particular – can be that pure.

Even Bruce’s underlying trauma is called into question. The Riddler shrewdly points out that being an orphan when you’re extremely wealthy is very different than being an orphan in a run-down, impoverished orphanage. Gotham is unequal, and Bruce, galloping around like a bat, just emphasizes how many resources he has.

The Riddler’s anti-establishment analysis is accurate, but his methods leave a lot to be desired. It’s not just the murders and the elaborate, irritating clues. He also has ties to extremist movements and gun fetishists. The invocation of white nationalist and right-wing militias isn’t made explicit, but it feels obvious enough.

So Gotham is caught between utterly unreliable mainstream leaders and a populist resistance steeped in fascism. This will likely sound familiar to a fair number of viewers.

So what other options are there? Selina Kyle (Zoë Kravitz) offers the most intriguing answer. Selina works as a waitress at a club run by crime boss Penguin (Colin Farrell) and frequented by Carmine Falcone (John Turturro). The film flirts with identifying her as queer and a sex worker; She is poor, marginalized, and (when she puts on her skintight Catwoman costume) a thief. She is also completely disinterested in the justice system and elections. Instead, she relies on mutual help. Her friend (and possibly more than just one friend) is implicated in the conspiracy and Selina is determined to get her out.

Mutual help is not a personal passion project here, but a political one, as Selina makes clear. In an intense encounter with Batman on a rooftop, Selina argues that Batman’s focus on high-profile assassinations of politicians is misguided. The powerful don’t need superheroes on their side. But Selina herself, and possibly Batman, are the only ones who will stand up for the less connected. Selina doesn’t want to save the establishment or join the extremists to blow it up. Instead, she believes that the crazies and freaks (including Batman) can make the world a better place by looking out for one another.

Some superhero stories, like the TV show Doom Patrol, take this approach. The big tentpole movies generally don’t do this.

Some superhero stories, like the TV show Doom Patrol, take this approach. However, the big tentpole movies generally don’t do this. And this one is no exception. Batman has a good bit of sexual tension with Selina and begins to respect and trust her. But he and the film don’t go along with her vision.

Instead, the film obligingly assures us that some cops (like Jim Gordon!) and some politicians are good, incorruptible, and will fight for us all. Batman himself decides he needs to care less about revenge and more about hope. Political reforms are on the horizon – but this time for real.

The shrug of the shoulders back to bland shibboleth is reflected in the film’s unfortunately inevitable three-hour runtime. There are many gratuitous recordings: Batman beating up thugs, Batman in a chase. And why is the penguin in this movie at all? The movie would have been a lot less bloated and a lot better if it had been cut by a third. But a superhero movie isn’t considered important these days unless it crushes your bladder in a vise.

This movie definitely wants to be considered important. And so we have the car chase and the bubble crushing and the hero championing law and order and politics as usual, no matter how senseless and corrupt those politics are shown. The Batman has some stylish trappings and some interesting ideas. But under the mask, we’ve seen it all before. The new “Batman” with Robert Pattison and Zoe Kravitz falls flat

Huynh Nguyen

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