The Batman

The Batman ★★★★

The Batman was such a pleasant surprise, even as I've spent the last couple months bombarded with praise for this latest iteration of the most filmed superhero of all. It's more than just the fact that the film is composed with such technical and aesthetic finesse: the very themes at the heart of this story present a rebuke of the deeply right wing paradigm of modern comic book cinema. Beyond the accidentally fascist MCU entries and especially the neoconservative hand wringing of the Nolan Batman trilogy, we finally have a flagship superhero staring right into the vampiric system itself rather than simply punching equally-crazy villains to reestablish the status quo. Of course it's not perfect, it's flawed in its attempt to shake up the genre, and it still has to give us some bad guy punching after all - but the neo noir narrative and absorbing atmosphere help the fresh political perspective glide through nearly three hours of downbeat fun.

Pattinson is as good as ever, although not quite given the opportunity to show the kind of range that's made him one of my favorite actors today. I mean, outright depressed or not, it's still Batman. He pulls it off really well. My favorite thing regarding the acting is easily John Turturro - I literally yelled "John Turturro!!" when he appeared for the first time. Had no idea he was even in this movie (or anything about it beyond the main trio and the director) so that was a nice surprise. Zoe Kravitz delivers a solid, subtler Catwoman that can't stand up to the operatic heights of Michelle Pfeiffer's performance but fits in perfectly with this new Gotham. Paul Dano was great, if perhaps underused beneath the layers of obfuscation. Just an all around creep, which he seems born to play. Jeffrey Wright makes for a decent Gordon, although I feel like Gary Oldman's warm take on the character still felt better. Andy Serkis gives Alfred some real personality and bite, while thankfully refraining from making the character an unintentional colonialist monster. The most interesting casting for me is also maybe the most inconsequential: Colin Farrell as the Penguin. He's buried under so much prosthetics, using a voice entirely unlike his own, with a performance that only in microscopic moments shines through his natural charisma and energy as an actor, that I kept wondering what was the point. Why not hire an older actor with similarly great chops who fit the role better, like Tom Wilkinson? I mean aside the fact that he already played Falcone in the Nolan trilogy. Like, I get having Tom Cruise be the fat coked-up producer guy in Tropic Thunder, because that's the joke. This felt like the same level of stunt but without an underlying joke. Basically, I wish there was more Farrell, y'know?

[spoilers follow]

Anyway, none of that interests me as much as how The Batman pivots from the superhero status quo via its obviously seventies-neo-noir indebted story and pessimistic, clear-eyed vision of power and corruption. When we realize that crime boss Falcone - and thus the entire corrupt business and political leadership of Gotham - has been drawing from a massive unregulated fund left behind by Bruce Wayne's dead billionaire dad, the movie essentially posits that unchecked capital is the real enemy of the people. Maybe it's incredible to see that message delivered in a tentpole superhero movie, especially one with such a conservative history as Batman. Maybe it's just a sign that movies like this are such surefire hits, and that capitalist realism is so all-encompassing that even a subversive message like this can be counted on to never make an impact. Truthfully, it's both - but I don't value a movie's themes based on how much real world influence they may or may not ever have. It's all about whether I find them interesting or emotionally resonant, and that is why I was so surprised by the direction this story went. At first I felt like Reeves and company were merely wearing the neo-noir clothes of cynical masterpieces like Night Moves over a stock-standard modern comic book body, but by the end I realized that they took the influence to heart, following that pitch black arc into the murky depths.

The more total inversion of the superhero formula happens by the final act, when instead of the expected battle royale climax, our hero can't simply punch his way out of the problem. His gadgets and wealth can't even help. Batman realizes he just needs to physically assist regular people caught in a cataclysm. He's pulling folks from the flood, doing what any good person would do given the situation and the strength to follow through. He realizes that just being a vigilante is not just not enough, but actively bad. His parallels with the online-demagogue supervillain actually cut into the fabric of the narrative rather than hang back as de rigueur "we're not so different, you and I" wallpaper. The Riddler assumes Batman has been on his side all this time, and it at least appears to gut the dude. Guess we'll see where it goes from here, but I like that ending rug-pull from beneath the eternal vengeance fantasy of the Batman character.

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Anyway, I could probably morph the below notes into something more coherent, but I was pretty amused to see what I jotted down while watching the movie last night. Here are some mostly dumb thoughts I had during The Batman, plus a couple texts to my Batman-obsessed friend who isn't on LB:

- So relieved this needle drop was actually Nirvana and not another goddamn slowsad cover

- Thomas Wayne shooting as a quick local news recap. Yes!

- "Thumb. Drive." glad there's some humor

- The twins from Leftovers!! (note: I am currently rewatching The Leftovers and wow is it incredible)

- Big Arkham game vibes from the fight in the club

- Lurid Hitchcock / DePalma style peeping perspective when Batman watches Catwoman in her house, echoing that intro shot but y'know, all horny

- Se7en vibes? Like on top of the obvious Zodiac vibes

- John Turturro!!

- Escape from police station an inversion of the cop bat escape from Begins - love how it ends in a cool but funny & vulnerable screwup getaway

- music is really good, especially for a superhero movie. they generally opt for bland filler or an endless series of pop tunes, but Giacchino brings some subtle heat here

- Gun flare gun kata scene! Equilibrium! (now I wanna revisit that one)

- the ending motorcycle split with Catwoman. Very Fincher, very Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, wish it was just slightly more low key, ending on that wide shot of the bikes going toward and away from the camera

- they could've kept it languid paced but 20+ mins shorter, but I didn't mind the length because what was there was good

- definitely felt like a neo noir, including the fact that he didn't miraculously save the day

- avoided the military porn aspect of SO many comic book movies!!

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btw I was gone for a full week traveling with my family and it felt great to spend that time mostly offline and off my phone, but I missed my LB friends! I've got some catching up to do with my movie logging but I had to start with the one I watched right after we got home because hey I finally saw the most watched movie of the year, months late as usual lol

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