In this latest iteration of the Batman story, which nods heavily to acclaimed comics stories such as The Long Halloween, Robert Pattinson plays Gotham City’s brooding billionaire orphan-cum-masked avenger, who has forged an alliance with veteran police office James Gordon (Jeffrey Wright) in following the trail of a deranged serial killer known as The Riddler (Paul Dano) blah blah blah…
Oh, let’s cut to the chase here. Basically, The Batman is really boring. Few films with any sense of concision can sustain a three-hour running time, let alone a reboot of an already much-rebooted franchise that brings no compelling new ideas to the table. There’s no sense of nuance here, no charm, no lightness of touch. Instead it retraces the clod-hopping mis-steps of the Christopher Nolan/Christian Bale Batman trilogy and, well, just keeps on going. In this version of Gotham, it’s constantly night-time and it’s always raining, like someone’s put the disc of Se7en in their DVD player and the menu is stuck on a loop.
Now, without doubt there is much skill on display here in terms of design and technical know-how, and director Matt Reeves (Cloverfield, War for the Planet of the Apes) has assembled some intriguing names in the cast, including Wright, Dano, John Turturro, Peter Sarsgaard and Con O’Neill. For the most part, though, they don’t have much of any substance to do. Pattinson himself has surprisingly little actual presence as the lead, arguably less than any of his predecessors in the role. Another baffling choice here is that the customary duality of Batman and Bruce Wayne has been dispensed with. To all intents and purposes Wayne is now just Batman without the cowl, with no distinct persona of his own, which only adds extra weight to the old conundrum, ‘How come everyone in Gotham doesn’t guess they’re the same guy straight away?’
For all the skill involved, though, the result is vapid and empty. It’s all identikit misery and grim-dark shenanigans, right from the opening POV shot of a panting man peering through binoculars on a dark, rainy night as a boys’ choir can be heard singing Schubert’s Ave Maria. The entire film takes place in one long procession of ‘edgy’ settings – nightclubs, subways and car parks. There’s recurrent use of screens and monitors and cameras, but doing something a lot doesn’t make it a theme, not unless there’s been some thought behind it.
Michael Giacchino’s score, with its heavy use of chiming, rumbling strings, is a highlight, though to be honest his main theme seems constantly on the verge of turning into the Imperial March from Star Wars. A lengthy set-piece sequence at a funeral has some life to it (dig the irony), but for the most part the conception of the film is uninspired and humdrum. The cast are lumbered with flat, lifeless dialogue and some seriously clunky exposition dumps. There are some howling great lapses in narrative logic along the way, too. For instance, if this Batman has such amazing Sherlock-grade detective skills, why does he bother dressing up in a costume at all? And if The Riddler is so very desperate to expose the truth about Gotham’s corruption, why does he couch it all in a string of complex riddles rather than, dunno, just tell people? (someone involved has clearly considered this, but the result is that Wright is given an explanatory line that – sigh – doesn’t make a blind bit of sense)
The truth is that there’s fundamentally no point searching for the gritty truth in the Batman story. Come off it, it’s about a billionaire orphan who dresses up at night as a bat and fights unhinged grotesques. It doesn’t belong anywhere near gritty truth. That’s not to say it isn’t a great story, or that it can’t say anything of substance, but it’s not a story about the real world so it’s ludicrous to try and put it there. For three bleedin’ interminable hours, though, The Batman makes the classic mistake of confusing ‘serious’ and ‘realistic’ (and ‘long’) for ‘meaningful’. Straight up, there’s not a single scene here that demonstrates anything like the same degree of insight into the main character’s soul as the ‘I’m home!’ sequence from – yes! – The Lego Batman Movie.
This shouldn’t still need saying, but it’s perfectly possible to make a film that’s daft, weird, funny or simply suitable for children (this has a 15 certificate) and for that film to be good, to be powerful – for it to have something to say. There’s nothing more immature than trying to act all grown up. Ultimately, one would want to give the same advice to the makers of The Batman as to Batman himself: lighten up.
Images: Warner Bros