I made some time this weekend to watch DC’s latest attempt at injecting “fun” into it’s movie universe. Fun, in this case, meaning “more relentlessly dark and somber films wherein our main characters are grim and sad and never ever smile.”
Okay, look, this is probably the perfect mood for Batman. The whole reason DC has run with the darkness so long and hard is because of the success of Batman, particularly the Nolan films. So, it comes with the territory here and is acceptable. Much less so when it’s Superman, though. Or Wonder Woman. I still can’t believe Snyder thought it totes okay to have Wonder Woman killing people in his Snyder cut. Way to completely forget what heroes are about, Zack!
The Batman seems to have been a film folks either loved or hated. I’ll get the suspense out of the way and say I hated it (which should have been obvious in the first paragraph, but for the sake of clarity). The Batman leans into a more noir take on our grim dark knight, and as such it could have done some really cool things. But it brings nothing new to the franchise while simply upping – or rather, dimming – the darkness quota.
Spoilers ahead! – – – – – –
The tone of this movie is set early by the main theme song that brackets a somber voice over by our young(ish) Bruce Wayne. The choice of Something in the Way by Nirvana – a slow, dragging, depressingly somber song with overtones of homelessness and deprivation – let’s the viewer know from the get go this isn’t going to be your normal Batman movie, full of laughs and color and great action scenes…. oh, who the hell am I kidding, of course this is your typical Batman movie. DC studios can only filter Batman through one lens these days, and it’s a relentless shade of grey.
Which brings us to the color palette of the film, for which many jokes have already been written. It’s gray. Or black. Once in a while with a splash of slightly muted other colors like red or blue. But it is relentless dark and gritty and rainy and oh so very depressingly somber. Jesus, inject some COLOR into these films! The days of black and white movies ended like eighty years ago with the rise of Technicolor. Go check out Shang-Chi for a great use of color palettes in superhero films.
Bruce Wayne’s voice overs at the start and end of the film are also just oh so very gritty. I kept thinking he sounded more like Rorshach from The Watchmen. He highlights a city that is crumbling even as he works to stem the tide of criminality that sweeps through it. It’s unnecessary navel gazing and should have been sliced from the film. These sorts of voice overs rarely work well (see Bladerunner) and are usually a studio’s attempt at explanation rather than letting the visuals and dialogue support the story.
The themes presented here are actually worthy of interrogation. One: if Batman inspires criminality, is he really the good guy? Two: what do you do when your system has been corrupted from top to bottom and no one can be trusted? Three: when a young man’s idolization of a parent is destroyed, how do they recover and rebuild trust?
None of these themes are ever handled well. The issue of Batman inspiring the very criminals he must take down has already been touched on in the Nolan films (The Dark Knight) and more deftly handled there. It’s not even really touched upon until late in the film here, and all it does is cause Bruce to brood even harder. They missed opportunities to show not only how Batman’s work was corrupted for mass murder, but how even minor criminals adopted his slogan (“I’m vengeance”) by having the gang initiate he earlier let run away be the one who repeats the line to him late in the film.
The corruption of the system is even more poorly handled. It infects the film from start to end. But it’s never, EVER dealt with! Batman doesn’t give a shit about that corruption, his entire focus is on getting the bad guys. We’re living in a time of increasing corruption of even the countries with the strongest democracies, increased corporate control of not only our media but our governments, and the film gives short shift to these ideas. It’s as though the corporation who made the film wanted to pay lip service to the concept, but really hand wave it away as “it’s all the bad guys and cops who are really at fault here, not us, please look away. Please. We beg you.”
And on the third theme I noted above? We get the break down of Bruce Wayne’s last foundation for his life: his idolization of his father. It was a poignant scene because it didn’t involve violence, but a conversation (wherein the bad guy spoke and Bruce brooded and brooded and brooded some more). Could have been such a solid moment, even if mentally we all reject the idea because we, too, have idolized the Wayne family over many iterations of these stories. They are, after all, great white saviors of the underclass of Gotham. But, the film within five minutes gives us an alternate reason for the revelation, thus restoring Bruce’s faith in his father. So, yeah, that was shot to shit in a heartbeat. Oh well.
Personally, I found few of the actors chosen fit their roles. That could also be a problem with the script and how it was written. Pattinson looks like a goth emo version of Bruce, though he represents well as the Bats. It’s easy to look like Batman if you have a decent jawline and a well muscled costume. As Bruce Wayne, he was terrible, showing not a single spark of intelligence, wit, or even a fucking care. As Batman, he was okay. Bit more intelligible than some.
John Tuttoro as Carmine Franconi maybe had the meatiest role, playing it with subdued intensity as opposed to his usual somewhat over-the-top caricatures. Zoë Kravitz was Selina Kyle, aka Catwoman, and was “meh” in the role I thought (again, a lot of this is the poor script). I mean, do we really need the catwoman… again? Third time now. It’s like the way the X-men movies started falling into stories that revolved around Mystique during the last cycle. There are LOTS of other characters in this universe, folks. Try using some of them.
Colin Ferrell played the Penguin well, but… wait… Colin Ferrell was the Penguin? That was Colin Ferrell? Weird. Okay. You do know the Penguin is more than just a fat suit, right? Right? Christ… please tell me that you don’t understand writing or characters or the DC universe without telling me. I just… give me a drink, okay, it’s too much.
Andy Serkis was Alfred, and I’m mostly fine with it, though he’s another choice (like Michael Caine or Sean Pertwee) who are fine actors but I don’t really see as Alfred material. I could keep running down the cast, from the excellent Jeffrey Wright miscast as Jim Gordon, to an always interesting-if-creepy Paul Dano as the Riddler, who was mostly hidden behind a mask and terrible growling voice and all of the character’s usual uncomfortable and silly charm hidden by more darkness.
More darkness. More darkness. Endless darkness. That’s what you get with this film. I swear, they told Pattinson to never smile. He gave it his all. I can hardly remember anyone but a handful of the bad guys smiling, and Selena when she had to charm some guy at a club. It was like watching Se7en if it were a Batman film. No head in a box, but a dead woman in a trunk counts, right? And frankly, the script here wasn’t nearly as tight as that one.
This movie suffered from not knowing itself. Batman, far from being portrayed as the world’s greatest detective (which I kept hearing was a solid point for this film) is lead by his nose from place to place, always far more than a single step behind the bad guys. The few leaps of logic he makes are when it no longer matters to the actions being taken by the bad guys. He literally must be TOLD what is going to happen at the end, and is still powerless to stop it from happening. Sure, he saves lives, but undoubtedly many more are lost in the destruction and violence his detecting should have prevented. That’s his role. A hero. A man who STOPS the bad thing from happening, not survives it. The “hope” the movie tried to end on – images of Batman helping rescue trapped survivors in the wreckage of Gotham – was too little hope, too late, for it to have any meaning in this dark, dreary, dismal film.
DC is struggling right now. It’s best movies are decent, not great, and not the tent poles it wants to build an empire on. It’s best characters are stuck in dark, grimy films with few redeeming qualities. Only Wonder Woman has broken out of that, and her second film was “meh” at best. But Superman and Batman are stuck in Roland Emmerich disaster films, with the hero tossed in to save a few of the lives that would have been lost, but who otherwise sit in the center of a throne of destruction and grieve.
The rest of us grieve, too, as we watch DC destroy the heroes we love.
The Batman gets 1 out of 10 pieces of aluminum foil for me. That’s all it’s worth. And I’m being generous.