Sunday, 27 March 2022

The Batman

And Pink Smoke

The Batman
USA  2022
Directed by Matt Reeves
UK cinema release print.

Okay, so despite some minor concerns, it seems the latest cinematic incarnation of the caped crusader, The Batman, is really not a bad film. It’s been compared to a horror movie in some respects but, it really isn’t... I suspect people are referring to the gruesome death traps in the movie which are similar in tone to the ones in the Saw franchise... which just goes to prove the point really. I’ve only ever seen the first Saw movie but, it’s totally not a horror film... it’s a thriller. And that’s what this new take on The Batman is... a thriller with the expected dark edges on show and the odd action sequence or three. Actually, the action sequences are kept to a minimum, it has to be said and, it’s a credit to the direction and editing of the piece, which is really a police procedural movie with Robert Pattinson’s take on Batman at its heart, that despite the overall lack of action the film never gets dull or draggy, at least on first watch. Perhaps because, if nothing else, the film is a big, eclectically post-modern melange of a movie which really isn’t subtle about hiding it’s various ‘influences’ throughout the picture.

Now, I don’t particularly connect with Robert Pattinson as an actor but, he really does very well here as a version of Batman torn from the comic book pages. Conversely, he doesn’t do a very good job at bringing the confident, playboy Bruce Wayne from the comics onto the screen but I’ll definitely cut him some slack here because a) I don’t think that’s his fault, its the way the character has been written here, as a damaged Bruce Wayne who has never gotten over the murder of his parents and b) it’s not a bad route to go in and Pattinson conjures the character as its supposed to work here pretty succinctly. And he’s not seen as Bruce Wayne too much anyway, mostly sticking with his Batman personae (and thankfully, his chin just about measures up).

He’s also surrounded by a tonne of great actors including such heavy weights as John Turturro as Carmine Falcone (yeah, their are some shout outs to the Batman comic book mini series The Long Halloween here), Zoë Kravitz playing Selina Kyle aka Catwoman (for the second time in her career as this character on the big screen), Jeffrey Wright as James Gordon and Paul Dano playing a very interesting version of The Riddler. About Dano... he’s not hamming it up for the majority of the movie but there is a point in at least one scene near the end where he definitely seems to be channeling the speech patterns of Frank Gorshin, who used ot play The Riddler in the 1966 TV show and movie. So that was nice because, it’s just such a grounded version of the character that I really wasn’t expecting it to come up but, he does go quite broad and large by the end. Also, the fact that certain modus operandi of both Riddler and Batman are identical, brings another question to the way their personalities work within society.

And I’m not going to talk about the plot of the movie at all, it’s not exactly original and you’ve seen it all before. This doesn’t invalidate it in any way and it’s very entertaining. And also very dark, not just in tone but, also, in that the majority of the film is set in darkness. There are very few daylight shots here. There’s also, thankfully, a realisation which seems to have been seeping through the current trend of comic book hero movies which this continues in that... you don’t have to show the origins of the character yet again with every new iteration, people know this stuff pretty well already. This is a Batman Year Two kind of story for sure.

Okay, I said the film is eclectic so, let me just talk you through a few things i noticed on my screening (I booked time off from work so I could go to a show with no Covid zombies in the audience and thankfully there were only three of us in total in the screening).

Okay, so there’s a nice shout out to Hopper’s famous painting Nighthawks which really is in your face in its on-screen rendering. I literally groaned to myself when I saw it pop up on screen. Also, the Bruce Wayne voice over narration to the audience seems like it’s been ripped straight out of Travis Bickle’s lips from Taxi Driver. Or, if you want a DC equivalent analogy... like it’s been filtered through Rorschach from the Watchmen comic book (and subsequent movie, if memory serves).

Another big thing which hit me straight away was, well, Mat Reeves is obviously a Kurosawa fan (as are we all, I suspect). There’s a scene where Dano is in a prison cell and Pattinson is talking to him as The Riddler reveals his character’s motivation. The sequence is like a mini version of a scene in Kurosawa’s High And Low, where Toshiro Mifune is talking to the kidnapper in his cell, to find his motivation... only to find his motivation is him, perceived as an upper class and highly successful businessman who lives in the high ground in the city and seems to look down on/at the working classes. It’s a direct steal, I think but, since I love that movie with its pink smoke and rendition of the psyche of the villain, it’s a big nod which I appreciated.

Another thing is the vigilantes. You have two sets of a kind of gang or cult of vigilantes in this movie and at least one set, its revealed, are as much inspired by Batman (who is as yet un-named in this version of the franchise and is generally just known as Vengeance) as they are by the villain who inspires their dress sense. Much to Batman's horror. And comic book fans will probably realise straight away that both this idea of thuggish motivation and the idea of a band of vigilantes being manipulated are straight out of Frank Miller’s influential The Dark Knight Returns comic book Batman mini series from the mid-80s. It’s not the first time this issue has been tackled in a Batman movie either.

About those villains. Asides from Falcone, who is a mafia inspired villain from some of the later comics (like the aforementioned The Long Halloween, I think that was the first time I came across the character)... there are actually four characters in this movie which would qualify as ‘super-villains’ in the comic. I won’t name them all here but the way they are portrayed here is really grounded and much less over the top than their original inspirations. The costumes, if they have any at all, are not haute couture but just things a poor, working class criminal could put together on the sly with a low budget. These costumes do not look great but, that’s kind of the point and, especially where The Riddler is concerned, sometimes lends the character an air of authenticity or menace which might be undercut by something slicker. So that was a nice touch.

The film looks great in shades of browns and dark palettes and even though the action scenes are few and far between, it all comes together very well on a visual level. It sounds pretty great too. Michael Giacchino, who has a long standing work relationship with this director, delivers an incredible score which is really the only reason I was keen to catch this before it hit the home market. Like many of my friends, I’ve become jaded by the exposure the character of Batman has gotten over the last ten years or so. Warner Brothers seem to be taking a page out of Disney’s book and running their franchises into the ground, diluting them constantly to the point where a lot of people are losing interest... like their Marvel and Star Wars franchises. It’s become the same way with Batman and some of my friends who are usually first in line for this sort of thing can’t even be bothered to go out and see this one. But Giacchino’s score, which I bought on CD before seeing the film because I like the composer’s work in general, is really a great piece of art and it hooked me into seeing how the visuals would mesh with score and, yeah, he’s the only reason I gave this movie a shot so soon.

There’s a Nirvana song featured twice in the movie and it’s not a group I know much about. But it seems to me the main Batman theme (at it’s best when woven against the Catwoman leitmotif) is based on the baseline of that song. It’s all over the score... but it doesn’t bother me and, as I said, Giacchino does a great job here.

And that’s me done on The Batman. It’s very much an old school detective movie which looks at the method and reasoning behind the various murders and plots of the film’s primary villain rather than focusing too much on the comic book action scenes. It still definitely feels like a comic book but it’s not all just about the flashy gadgets and fist fights often associated with the character. So, yeah, a little different to the usual take and, that could have gone either way, truth be told but... I think it worked out rather well here and I suspect most fans of the source should appreciate this one. Maybe give this one a chance if you’re one of those suffering from bat fatigue, for sure.

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