Robert Pattinson is a demoralized, tormented Batman playing a dark Pokémon game in Gotham City

Reviews by Joyce Glasser The Batman (March 4, 2022) Certificate 15, 175 mins

After a dozen Batman movies (not counting the 1940s series) starring A-list actors like Michael Keaton, Christian Bale, George Clooney, Val Kilmer and Ben Affleck, and a dozen more spin-offs like Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice and justice league, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find new ways to spend the massive budgets required to attract large audiences. Along with changing the lead and his nemesis the Joker, how do you justify another Batman movie?

For starters, director Matt Reeves (War on the Planet of the Apes, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Cloverfield) and writer Peter Craig (The Hunger Games: Mockingjay) added the definite article “The” before Batman in the title, perhaps suggesting that this is the final or real deal.

Second, Reeves, the successor to Ben Affleck who retired as director, severed ties with the expanded DC Comics universe and made a standalone film noir. The Batman confronts a confident serial killer who leaves enigmatic clues behind his grisly assassinations in a film close to that of David Fincher Seven. If Fincher has broken new ground for a dark procedure, Reeves adds dark, profound language. “You think I’m hiding in the shadows,” Bruce murmurs in his first-person narrative, “but I am the shadow.” Elsewhere he says, “I am vengeance” — not to be confused with “legend.”

Then there’s heartthrob Robert Pattinson. Interest is in his unmasking, with his more approachable, handsome, pale, brooding face and long dark brown hair that serves as a shadow if not a mask. Radiating pain throughout his unmasked body, Pattinson hammers home that Bruce Wayne feels the weight of the world on his shoulders.

In it, Pattinson’s Wayne is close to Edward Cullen, the Twilight vampire role that made him famous, and Wayne at times looks like he longs to possess Edward’s powers. He might have one since we never see him eat it throughout the movie.

But even with the mask and the black synthetic armor suit making him look big, tall and intimidating, this Bruce Wayne can’t fly (we see him try and rely on the wings in his cloak, but he falls and rolls on the sidewalk, bruise). He certainly can’t cover the territory like Edward could The Twilight Saga and he is aware of his limitations. “It’s a big city,” Wayne defensively reminds us in a first-person narrative. “I have to choose my targets carefully. I can’t be everywhere’.

While Batman is unique among superheroes in that he lacks superhuman powers, he can take on a dozen goons at once without breaking a sweat. That said, we don’t see him working out in the gym, taking steroid shots, or even developing gimmicks to improve his fighting prowess. He’s as far removed from Tony Stark’s Iron Man as you can get in terms of Ironman’s interest in and dependence on science and industry.

The player role, as it is, falls to Alfred Pennyworth (Andy Serkis), the family’s trusty butler, an ex-soldier. Bruce shows no interest. He’s now more interested in finding out his father’s role in an apparent web of corruption that the Riddler references after each murder. Unfortunately, this leads us to the plot. It’s way too much of it, but it starts with the Halloween murder of Don Mitchell Jr., the mayor of Gotham City. Dubbing himself the Riddler (Paul Dano, disturbing but typecast), his killer leaves an enigmatic clue for The Batman. “What does a liar do when he’s dead?” Bruce, a vigilante for two years and already disillusioned, is at the scene with Lieutenant James Gordon (Jeffrey Wright), his only ally on the force.

Local DA (Peter Sarsgaard) and Gotham City Police Commissioner Pete Savage (Alex Fern) are no supporters. Wanting to get this vigilante off the scene, Savage pokes fun at his childish Halloween costume, which of course he wears whenever the “bat” signal in the sky alerts him to a new crime. But The Batman is the only one who can guess the solution to the riddle. “He lies still.”

Things get dead serious when Savage is the Riddler’s next victim. Someone has dirt on the top officials who run the crime-ridden city, but that someone, The Riddler, makes it personal by using and embroiling Bruce Wayne.

Since the film lasts three hours and Pattinson stars, the plot calls for a pretty girl his own age. When The Batman and Gordon discover a USB stick in the mayor’s car containing compromising images of the mayor in the Iceberg Lounge, they actually have to investigate. This is where Bruce meets lounge waitress Selina Kyle, aka Catwoman (a skinny, fit Zoë Kravitz), although the only thing we see is her stealing a passport later in the film.

When the Catwoman’s roommate, who also works at the lounge, goes missing and is believed to be kidnapped and murdered, the two have a common reason to work together. What Bruce learns is that Commissioner Savage is on the payroll of mobster Carmine Falcone (John Turturro, Barton Fink). You can’t blame The Batman for being suspicious when he discovers that Selina has a very close relationship with Falcone and that Falcone had Bruce Wayne’s father in his grip.

The Batman targets the Iceberg Lounge’s manager, Oswald Cobblepot aka The Penguin, who is the most amusing character in the film. If you’ve heard that Colin Farrell was one of the co-stars but can’t find him, that’s because he’s buried under hours of prosthetics and unrecognizable. But thanks to The Penguin, we get a fantastic car chase that ends with a great, dramatic shot of the caped man emerging from an inferno and being eyed upside down by the hapless penguin from his wrecked car.

It doesn’t take long before we share the first part of The Batman’s take on “The City Can’t Be Saved, But I Have To Try”. Corruption starts at the top, and the Riddler has arguably done more to clean up the town than The Batman, who is a basic trawler. But how can a mentally ill and loner like The Riddler (if you meet him, you’ll understand) organize the terrorist takeover of the city that takes a good fifteen minutes towards the end of the film? Hackers are one thing, but you need explosives experts and reliable, armed militants across the city. How does The Riddler organize and pay for them?

Maybe these aren’t the questions to ask, but I almost preferred underground martial arts battles to all those puzzles, distractions, and pained stares from our demoralized anti-hero trapped in a Pokémon game with no rules. But the box office needs a blockbuster, and The Batman is exactly that.

Robert Pattinson is a demoralized, tormented Batman playing a dark Pokémon game in Gotham City

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