The Batman is a weird, dark, often exhilarating trip to Gotham | Screen | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

The Batman is a weird, dark, often exhilarating trip to Gotham

click to enlarge The Batman is a weird, dark, often exhilarating trip to Gotham
Photo: Courtesy of Warner Bros. Entertainment
The Batman
I was worried about the fun. The Batman, the latest take on the Dark Knight, this time by Planet of the Apes director Matt Reeves, was impressive, exhilarating, bleak, and interesting in its first hour, but was it too serious? Could it unlock how to have at least a little fun, to acknowledge that it was still a comic at heart, and avoid the all-too somber tone that has plagued a lot of recent DC properties?

Then a man dressed as a bat and a man dressed like the Zodiac killer with too much Scotch tape had a full conversation on FaceTime, Batman tucked in the corner screen and all. Everything was right in the world once again.

Set to hit theaters nationwide on Fri., March 4, the much anticipated new film about Gotham’s favorite masked vigilante is a bizarre experience. A nearly three-hour detective movie disguised as a massive superhero blockbuster, The Batman takes its fight cues from John Wick and its narrative cues from pulp author Raymond Chandler. Reeves was given an infinite budget and used it to let his freak flag fly, including casting Hollywood’s number one weirdo of the moment in Robert Pattinson as his leading man.

Choosing Pattinson may piss off a lot of die-hard purists, but he fully inhabits the corner of the world that Reeves asks him to. This isn’t the campy Batman of the late '80s or even Christopher Nolan’s revered stoic hero of the mid-2000s. The Gotham that this Bruce Wayne inhabits is the product of noir lineage, a truly unholy cross between Taxi Driver, Blade Runner, Zodiac, and Se7en.

The Batman opens with rain, and rarely lets it cease. Right away, we see the tortured billionaire-turned-vigilante Bruce Wayne/Batman spying on an upscale family, then a burst of immediate violence. It’s the work of The Riddler (an astonishingly unsettling Paul Dano), a serial killer/terrorist/psycho who’s hell-bent on exposing the rot that has corrupted every corner of the city of Gotham.

All of the major characters join the fight for the city’s soul, from Andy Serkis’ loyal butler Alfred, Jeffrey Wright in a pitch-perfect turn as Gordon, Zoe Kravitz as the badass femme fatale Catwoman, and an always-welcome John Turturro as the crime boss Carmine Falcone.

There are a lot of ideas going on over the three-hour runtime. And some of the choices are less inspired than others, like casting Colin Farrell as The Penguin and then making him a relatively one-note character. (Note to studios: You can just cast plus-size people as plus-size characters, and not drape Hollywood stars in 50- pounds of prosthetics).

Yet, what Reeves has done here should be taken as a remarkable accomplishment. In an era of studio properties, especially superhero movies, aiming for the safest possible outcome, The Batman is a legitimately out-there film. It pulls inspiration from a lot of different texts and gives essentially every scene over to Pattinson, who is completely unafraid of making the weirdest possible choice, scratching and clawing at his tortured past and retreating into a shell of himself that boils over into a cauldron of pure vengeance.

Giving yourself wiggle room as a daring superhero movie is also a little easier when it looks as consistently beautiful as this one does. Outside of a few moments that fall victim to the sepia-blasted aesthetic that has sunk so many other big-budget movies in recent years (Including a car chase that is technically impressive but so murky that it doesn’t realize its full potential), Reeves and cinematographer Grieg Fraser achieve a gorgeous look, one filled with grungy beauty and attention to detail that fills out its world very naturally. The set pieces don’t have the wow factor that Nolan’s films did (which is an admittedly high bar), but they still have the grandeur to show you that you’re watching something epic, even as they’re more interested in the minutiae than most recent Batman films.

Overall, The Batman is long, incredibly self-serious, and suffering from unnecessary narration in parts. The film is also an all-caps success, a “you’ve got to see it in the theater” no-doubter that also challenges your intellect and makes you think about what it's trying to accomplish. Living up to its hype will prove a tough task, but damned if it doesn’t put up a hell of a fight.
The Batman opens in theaters nationwide Fri., March 4. Find local showtimes at thebatman.com.