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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