There are plusses and minuses to the fact that people are coming back to movie theaters. Before I go further, be it known that I am in favor of seeing figures in seats. When cinemas first reopened, there were many a night when I was only one of a couple seeing whatever hastily released feature happened to be playing. There have been a few blockbusters that have come out over the past year that have made it so that, if nothing else, you cannot always have that convenient chair separating you from your neighbor. I usually use it to place my popcorn, to wait there until the film starts. If I do not do this, I usually finish it before the lights dim, and then what was the point of getting the classic theater treat? Anyway, this strange pre-movie habit of mine is not the only thing disrupted by being elbow-to-elbow with the wash of humanity. This weekend, I saw The Batman, along with seemingly everyone else with the ability to make it to the cinema. While watching any movie, I take notes on my phone so that when I sit down to write these reviews, I do not have to wrack my brain for inspiration. I dim the screen light as much as possible, and try to make my words as brief as possible, thereby reducing the time my attention is diverted from the screen and the amount of light it sheds. My precautions were apparently not enough for a person (two chairs over, to boot), who felt it his duty to threaten me for following my routine. Hence, like listening to a stranger spill their emotions without invitation, I had to sit in an uncomfortable position in order to jot down my thoughts. And there is my metaphor for the entire film.
Between the end of the credits and the beginning of The Batman, there was a laughable DC Cinematic Universe trailer, that I guess is supposed to make sense of the mess they have made of things. With that out of the way, we see a voyeuristic view, along with heavy breathing, of a child playing inside their mansion in anticipation of Halloween trick-or-treating. This is the son (Archie Barnes) of Gotham City Mayor Don Mitchell, Jr. (Rupert Penry-Jones), and the city’s chief executive is about to become a murder victim at the hands of a serial killer going by The Riddler (Paul Dano). We then shift to a voice over by Bruce Wayne (Robert Pattinson) talking about his desperate struggle against crime. On the way to the mayor’s murder scene, we get to see him in full Caped Crusader regalia beating up a group of thugs painted like the Joker (Barry Keoghan), you know, just so we can be reminded of what he does at night. Oh, and it is raining. It is seemingly perpetually raining in this movie. Anyway, when Batman finally gets to the mayoral mansion, it is apparent that none of the other police like him, but he is there at the behest of his one ally on the force Lieutenant James Gordon (Jeffrey Wright). Batman gathers the clues he needs, with Lieutenant Gordon handling all the objections, and then retreats to his cave under the Gothic-esque Wayne Manor to analyze it, including messages for the Batman left by The Riddler. The killer, though, is just getting started. His next victim is Police Commissioner Pete Savage (Alex Ferns), and it is becoming clear that, in addition to baiting the city’s masked vigilante, that he is hinting at a great deal of corruption among Gotham’s leaders. Among the odd clues that are left is a picture of the deceased mayor with a call girl (Hana Hrzic) at a local establishment of ill repute known as the Iceberg Lounge. Surprise, surprise, but who should be in charge of such a place but Oswald “Oz” Cobblepot (Colin Farrell), whose nickname is The Penguin. Penguin, ice berg, get it? The Batman makes a courtesy call to Oz (beating up a few henchmen to gain access) to find out more about this woman, but notices another female paying more than a usual amount of attention to these proceedings. This is Selina Kyle (Zoë Kravitz), a cat burglar and friend to the mystery woman on the arm of the mayor. Selina is trying to figure out what happened to her friend, and is not above getting her hands dirty to do so. In confronting Selina, an uneasy alliance forms between Batman and Selina, who is never called Catwoman, but you get the picture. Okay, so, there are a lot more murders, each with further clues as to the dirty dealings of the city’s elite. It all points to the notion that the drug bust that supposedly brought down the biggest crime lord around, Sal Maroni, is a sham designed to ensure the rise of another gangster, Carmine Falcone (John Turtorro). This becomes personal for Batman because he blames Falcone for the death of his father, Thomas (Luke Roberts). This is what motivated Bruce to don his famous persona. Yet, The Riddler suggests that Thomas and Falcone were in league with one another, and that Thomas helped the rise of organized crime in exchange for protection for Mrs. Wayne. This moral dilemma is soon dealt with by Alfred Pennyworth (Andy Serkis), the family’s trusty butler. In the meantime, Selina learns that Falcone had strangled her friend, and decides to return the gesture in kind. She is stopped by Batman, and in the process the police, led by Lieutenant Gordon, arrive to take down the crime boss for his part in the corruption. Unfortunately for Falcone, this leads to his own assassination at the hands of The Riddler, who had an apartment near Falcone’s place. It also leads to The Riddler being revealed to be Edward Nashton, as well as his incarceration. However, this had all been an elaborate ruse to distract Batman and the authorities from Nashton’s true plan, which is to blow up the dams holding back Gotham’s waterfront, and to assassinate the new mayor, Bella Reál (Jayme Lawson). Batman is unable to stop the detonations. Yet, with Selina’s help, he does prevent the planned shootings (some of them, anyway, though most importantly the mayor’s). He then goes on to help lead people in a rapidly flooding arena to safety, earning the gratitude of the city. There are a few more scenes after this, with The Riddler meeting The Joker in jail, and Selina leaving town, but this is basically it.
For a three hour movie that is The Batman, I think I did quite well in bottling the essence of the film. There are some bits with Oz that I left out, namely the famous car chase from the trailer that got everyone pumped to see this film. I will give it credit for being the movie that The Dark Knight Rises (2012) should have been. Still, I think there could have been much that is slimmed down in this movie, particularly in regards to Bruce Wayne’s moodiness. Yes, this is undoubtedly an emo Batman. The voice-overs at the beginning and the end could be inserted to a song by My Chemical Romance. The music underscores the sulky tone, as does the rain, lighting, and pretty much every other movie-making technique. In fact, I had to remind myself while walking out of the theater with my girlfriend (who was out cold for the majority of the run-time) that I had not just seen a black and white film. There is one scene in particular, though, that I feel encapsulates the unnecessary drawing out of certain moments. Towards the end, Batman, bruised and battered after being punched, kicked, and taking a few hundred bullets to the chest (this is a separate issue), is hanging on to a stray wire from the ceiling of the arena. Selina is there looking down on him, and he dramatically cuts the wire to fall to the ground. The idea is that he is going to help the people trapped in the wreckage, yet the look of shock on Selina’s face seems to suggest that he might not survive the fall. It happens in slow motion, of course. Still, he emerges from the water, no worse for the wear, and goes about the business of rescue. Just have him float down with his cape, as you see him do all the time in these movies, and save us about thirty seconds. I can even imagine that being cinematic as well.
As sullen is The Batman, there is much that Bruce Wayne says that is inspirational for this Catholic reviewer. It is not so much when he talks about fear being a tool for him, or that he is the shadows. Those are not Christian sentiments. Instead, it is when he waxes philosophical about his commitment to standing against the towering tidal wave of crime that exists in Gotham City. It is also the source of his emo-nature, and like all emo dudes, the city is the girl he can never get. Catholicism can seem like this sometimes as well, but faithfulness has its own rewards. What I appreciate most is his unswerving devotion in the face of the apparently overwhelming odds against ever making a difference. There are a lot of parallels between this and being a practicing Catholic in today’s often morally bankrupt culture. Still, like Batman says, we have to try to do better. This what gets me back to my computer on a daily basis to write these articles. I can imagine some saying to me, what are you doing? Why are you wasting your time? My answer is that if I can get at least one or two people to think a little more critically about their cinematic choices, and to do so from a Catholic perspective, I am doing something worthwhile. Being Batman, like reviewing movies as I do, or, more generally, a Catholic, is a calling, and one I intend to continue following.
In the end, I would say The Batman is okay. The emo-tone can get a little silly. There are also bits that do not make a lot of sense. For instance, one moment Batman is knocked out cold, the next he is slamming into cars and buildings and limping away from a crashing landing. Also, The Riddler seems to figure out that Bruce Wayne is The Batman, but never takes this knowledge to its logical conclusion. Finally, the movie is extremely violent. It is a carryover from The Dark Knight trilogy, so I get it, but it also makes it not one that you can bring the whole family to see. Although, they would probably fall fast asleep pretty quickly, and hopefully before the first murder scene. Put differently, PG-13 seems a light rating for this one. Between that and the run time, I am not sure this one is for anyone but the most ardent fan of the title character.