Review of “The Batman”

Parents are the multi-headed beasts of all our lives.  When we are young, for most of us, they are our protectors and heroes.  Then for many, they become our antagonist when we enter our teenage and young adult years.  Then, when we are adults out of the house, some of us learn two things about the folks:  They were fallible humans doing the best they could, and they are pretty good people.  I know many grew up in awful, abusive environments with selfish, toxic parents who could not care less about raising their kids.  Fortunately, I was raised by two relatively normal people.  Each had their faults and shortcomings, but overall, they were good people.  My mom was a sweetheart and my security blanket growing up.  Dad could be gruff and didn’t understand having a son that preferred watching TV to helping him work on a car engine.  As they got older, their roles reversed, with my mom being more critical of my weight and career choices and dad being far more laid back about everything.  Neither deserved the way the end of their lives turned out.  Dad developed Alzheimer’s and slowly drifted away over seven years, becoming more and more of something that resembled a zombie than a man who could pull out, repair and install a car engine.  Mom was his primary caretaker all through that battle.  Then, shortly after he passed, her colon cancer returned in her liver.  She died less than a year after dad.  Neither were powerful figures in our community, and nothing has come out in the 20 years since their deaths to show there were anything buy a husband, wife and parents trying to keep a roof over their heads and their kids warm, fed and educated.  Things are a bit more complicated for a certain billionaire orphan in the gritty, crime-filled city of Gotham in “The Batman.”

Bruce Wayne (Robert Pattinson) in his disguise as the Batman has been patrolling the streets of Gotham City for two years.  Criminals and citizens alike know the bat symbol shining on the city’s ever-present clouds means the vigilante could be anywhere, prowling in the shadows looking for criminals to beat up.  Gotham City Police Detective Jim Gordon (Jeffrey Wright) involves Batman in some of his investigations, much to the chagrin of his superiors.  When Gotham City Mayor Don Mitchell, Jr. (Rupert Penry-Jones) is murdered by an enigmatic killer calling himself Riddler (Paul Dano), Gordon brings Batman to the crime scene, angering Police Commissioner Pete Savage (Alex Ferns), but the killer left Batman a card containing a riddle and an encoded answer.  Batman solves the riddle and knows the coded answer may be the key to a larger cypher of the killer.  More of Gotham City’s elite become victims of the Riddler and they all may be connected to the city’s crime gangs and the drug trade.  Selina Kyle (Zoe Kravitz), a waitress at the Iceberg Lounge, run by a criminal nicknamed Penguin (Colin Farrell), catches Batman’s eye as she works.  He follows her to her apartment and watches as she comforts a distraught young woman.  Batman recognizes her as a woman seen in photographs with Mayor Mitchell who appears to be beat up and bleeding.  Catching her during a break-in, Batman and Selina form an uneasy partnership, trying to get to the bottom of the connection of Riddler’s victims and how all of Gotham’s secrets could rip the city apart.

“The Batman” was almost a very different movie.  It was originally conceived as a part of the Zack Snyder DC Extended Universe (DCEU) that included “Man of Steel,” “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice” and “Justice League.”  Ben Affleck would continue in his role as Batman.  He would also write and direct.  As the “Snyderverse” began to implode after the colossal failure of “Justice League” as redesigned by Joss Whedon, the whole idea of a connected DC movie universe began to fall apart.  The successes of “Wonder Woman,” “Shazam” and “Aquaman” as stand-alone films with sequel potential, and Affleck deciding to give up being Batman, meant Warner Bros. could create profitable franchise movies that didn’t need to follow the model set by Disney and Marvel with the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).  Affleck left the film as both director and star, and director Matt Reeves was brought in to remold the story in a new image, focusing on a younger Batman trying to figure out how best he can protect the people of Gotham.  It was more focused on the detective side of the character with limited big action set pieces. 

The casting of Robert Pattinson was met with a great deal of internet skepticism, including from myself.  How could the sparkly vampire actor pull off a gritty, violent, broken creature like Batman.  The collective internet owes Mr. Pattinson an apology as his portrayal is everything we didn’t know we wanted from the Dark Knight.  The broken, gaunt appearance of Pattinson’s Bruce Wayne is something even the best comic book writer and artist would have difficulty creating on the page.  This Batman is a hollow shell, filled with rage and taking it out on the criminals of Gotham’s dark, rain-soaked streets. 

Pattinson’s first appearance in the suit is the oft-seen fight between Batman and some thugs in clown face paint.  He beats down the lead punk and says, “I’m vengeance.”  They then surround him and, while he eventually wins, he takes some punches that leave the final outcome in doubt.  This Batman isn’t the seasoned martial artist and fight tactician we normally see.  He’s also not in a close and loving relationship with Alfred, played by Andy Serkis.  They are frequently at odds, with Bruce saying, “You’re not my father” as one point.  This Bruce Wayne is angry, somewhat spoiled, and certain he can fight crime his way, without anyone’s guidance.

Much of Pattinson’s performance is in the script by Matt Reeves and Peter Craig, who approach this Batman as a work in progress.  He’s still dealing with the loss of his parents after 20 years and has ignored everything else in life except his need to punish villains.  This is the Batman hinted at in other portrayals by Michael Keaton and Christian Bale, but Pattinson, via Reeves and Craig’s script, puts the pain on his face in every frame.

The performances of the main and supporting cast are remarkable.  Colin Farrell, buried under prosthetics and a fat suit, is unrecognizable as Penguin.  Even his voice appears to have a costume as his Irish accent is nowhere to be found.  Zoe Kravitz also plays pain well as Selina Kyle/Catwoman.  Her sad backstory is its own subplot.  Pattinson and Kravitz have a sizzling chemistry that needs more exploration.  Jeffrey Wright is a fun Jim Gordon.  He knows he’s breaking all the rules letting Batman into crime scenes, but if it gets the job done, he doesn’t care.  His character will feature in a spinoff show about GCPD on HBOMax.  Paul Dano’s Riddler is a wonderous creation.  He’s clearly insane, brilliant and, like Batman, broken, but in a different, evil way.  Dano plays these off-kilter characters so well I wonder about his sanity.

“The Batman” is rated PG-13 for strong violent and disturbing content, drug content, strong language, and some suggestive material.  There are numerous fights, beatings and killings but most are bloodless.  Batman is shot several times with guns and a shotgun, but his suit is bulletproof.  There’s an R-rated film bubbling just under the surface.  A drug called “drops” that are dripped in the eyes is shown being used.  Alcohol is also shown being consumed.  The suggestive material features Batman watching Selina changing into her cat suit.  She is shown in her underwear.  Foul language is scattered and mostly mild, but there is one use of the “F-word.”

The story is a bit convoluted with the crimes all leading to a massive action scene that left me thinking about our current political situation and misinformation on the internet.  I promise, that will make more sense after you see it.  By the end, I was satisfied all the loose ends had been wrapped up with the film leaving a bread crumb or two about a possible villain for the sequel.  If this is the first of a trilogy of Batman films, I feel certain the Dark Knight is in good shape to continue as a flawed beacon of justice that drives a badass car.  He just needs a few more of those wonderful toys.

“The Batman” gets five bat-shaped stars out of five.

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Review of “Swiss Army Man”

Hank (Paul Dano) has run away from his less than stellar life and taken a boat out to sea. He gets caught in a storm and winds up shipwrecked on a very small island without food or water. Preferring suicide to death by starvation and dehydration, Hank prepares to hang himself when he sees a man washed up on shore. Thinking this person might be able to help; Hank runs to the man but soon discovers he’s dead. The body begins releasing gas by farting and Hank notices the flatulence actually propels the body through the water. Hank uses part of the rope he planned on hanging himself with and ties it to the corpse, riding the body through the water like a jet ski. Hank falls off and wakes up on yet another beach but this time it appears he’s on the mainland. He ties the body to his back and carries it into the forest just off shore looking for help. Along the way, Hank collects some trash he finds that might prove helpful with survival. Hank and the corpse wait out a rain storm in a cave where the corpse fills with water dripping from the ceiling into his mouth. The next morning, Hank discovers the water within the body and tentatively drinks some discovering it is good. He talks to the corpse like an old friend and hears what sound like words coming from the body’s mouth when Hank presses on the chest. At one point, Hank believes he hears the word “Manny” come from the body and that’s what he names the lifesaving corpse…Manny (Daniel Radcliffe). Soon, Manny is talking in complete sentences to Hank. At first freaked out, Hank soon gets used to the idea of the talking corpse and he is soon sharing personal secrets with him. Manny doesn’t remember his former life so Hank tries to teach him the basics. Over the course of their journey, Hank discovers Manny’s arm is great at chopping wood. He finds if he puts small rocks down Manny’s throat and then squeezes his stomach the rocks will shoot out like a machine gun and kill small animals he can use for food. Manny’s flatulence can help start a campfire. He also finds that Manny’s innocence about the world shows him just how cowardly he’s been with his own life.

“Swiss Army Man” is nearly impossible to describe and not sound like a lunatic. It takes absurdism to levels most other movies wouldn’t dare approach. Writers and directors Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan take their silly story very seriously yet manage to fill the movie with moments of bizarre humor, uncomfortable honesty and genuine sweetness. While many may have a difficult time with a story that features a farting corpse whose erections act like a compass to guide the hero back to civilization it is very much worth the risk as “Swiss Army Man” may be the most imaginative film of the year.

Making this movie could not have been easy for Daniel Radcliffe. He spends a great deal of the film staring unblinkingly while water splashes in his face and landing face down in sand. He must have spent most of the shoot damp and dirty, caked in make up to give him a deceased look and unable to move. Despite all these hardships, Radcliffe makes a very compelling talking corpse. Radcliffe makes Manny the emotional center of the film even though the audience knows this is all likely a hallucination in Hank’s mind. Manny might represent that part of our personality that knows the bigger Truths of life and tells us in ways that are easy to understand and digest. Manny asks questions like a child. He is without guile or shame and he shows just how sad and pathetic Hank’s life is. Manny doles out the truth to Hank in bite-sized portions that slowly expose Hank’s fear and cowardice in dealing with his feelings. Despite being dead, Manny is the hero of the story.

Paul Dano has the unenviable job of playing a largely unlikable character yet he manages to turn Hank into the kind of person that is able to change and grow. Starting out crippled by his fear and shyness and scarred by the death of his mother early in life and the bullying nature of his father, Hank is the very definition of pathetic. The only person he apparently can speak with openly and honestly is a dead guy. Even then, Hank often holds back either his feelings or all of the truth about his life. A picture on the lock screen of his phone shows a woman he is attracted to and serves as the best example of how socially backward he is. I shan’t give away any more than that but the young woman, played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead, becomes the focus of much of the story. Dano excels at playing damaged characters. He received excellent reviews for his performances in “Little Miss Sunshine” and “There Will Be Blood” and he was nominated for a Golden Globe for his performance as a young Brian Wilson in “Love & Mercy.” Dano can tap into a level of pain and sadness deep within and not disappear into the abyss within the character, finding some hope in the darkness. Hank is about as low as any character Dano has ever played and he still manages to extract some light from all the gloom. Both Dano and Radcliffe turn in amazing performances.

“Swiss Army Man” will make the audience question what is reality and fantasy within the story. Is anything we’re seeing actually happening or is it all in Hank’s head? Is he really lost at sea or is he manufacturing everything in a fantasy or hallucination? Can Manny’s farts really propel him through the water like a jet ski? Can he really be used like a water fountain, a machine gun and a rocket launcher? Is Hank some kind of stalker and the object of his affection should be afraid of him? The movie unapologetically never answers any of these questions and that’s ok. The audience is left to debate and ponder whether we’re watching the delusions of a madman or some kind of wondrously magical chemistry and physics. The movie challenges you to come to your own conclusions or just accept what’s happening and not question it any further. It works either way.

“Swiss Army Man” is rated R for language and sexual material. Manny has a reaction to images in a Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue. His erection is prominent in his pants and seems to dance around. There’s nothing terribly sexy about any of it. Foul language is common throughout the film.

“Swiss Army Man” is the most bizarre movie I’ve seen that both made sense and was enjoyable. It lacks any embarrassment about how strange it is and challenges the audience to come along for the ride. It is unafraid to have one character that is emotionally stunted and more than a little pathetic and another that is dead. Many will scratch their heads and walk out thinking it is the stupidest movie ever made. I cannot argue with that assessment yet I think the film is brilliant and cannot encourage everyone too much to see it.

“Swiss Army Man” gets an enthusiastic five stars.

This week, a couple of wild men meet their match and we learn exactly what happens when we leave Fido and Fluffy home alone. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:

Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates—

The Secret Life of Pets—

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