While most 21st century films featuring Batman have cast him as a Caped Crusader or Dark Knight, writer-director Matt Reeves’s reboot/rehash, titled simply “The Batman,” attempts to revive another of the superhero’s venerable monikers: the World’s Greatest Detective.
Between sporadic flourishes of Gotham City’s winged vigilante (played by Robert Pattinson) roughing up some seedy ruffians, most of his early appearances involve visiting grisly crime scenes, ushered through a phalanx of disapproving glares from Gotham’s finest by seemingly his only friend, police lieutenant Jim Gordon (Jeffrey Wright). Gordon’s haggard desperation over the city’s sorry state has forced him to embrace the equally morose Batman, who plods into murder scenes with the slow burn of a Clint Eastwood antihero.
Batman is thrust into the hunt for the Riddler (Paul Dano), a crazed Zodiac-esque killer who is out to unmask and dispatch the city’s corrupt elite. In other words, the Joker in “The Dark Knight.” Batman is a whiz at solving Riddler’s esoteric wordplays, yet Gotham’s greatest detective somehow fails to detect the rank rot infecting every level and official in the city’s government, spearheaded by mob boss Carmine Falcone (John Tuturro). In other words, “Batman Begins.”
Batman is aided by the comely and morally complex Selina Kyle (Zoë Kravitz), a working girl of sorts who has the hots for Bats and tiptoes along the dividing line between hero and criminal. In other words, Catwoman in both “Batman Returns” and “The Dark Knight Rises.”
The man beneath the cowl is a glum and younger Bruce Wayne, whose parents’ untimely deaths have left an antisocial orphan whose only meaningful relationship is an albeit strained one with family butler Alfred Pennyworth (Andy Serkis). It is not a coincidence that Kyle twice conspicuously exclaims “Jesus!” when startled by the Batman. Yep, the film is also yet another stab at religious allegory: Batman’s walk through a proverbial Judean Desert in which he must choose between a path of Old Testament vengeance or New Testament sacrifice.
Stuck somewhere between “Se7en” and “Watchman,” Reeves’s rain-soaked redux succeeds along the margins, including its portrayal of the Penguin as an underworld underling yearning for greater power. Played by Colin Farrell beneath layers of fat prosthetics, Penguin looks like a Dick Tracy villain and is one of the film’s few entertaining elements.
So much of “The Batman” feels overly familiar and, at 176 minutes, monotonous. From Christopher Nolan to Zack Snyder, the modern push has been to conjure a grittier, realistic Batman, patterned largely after Frank Miller’s graphic novels and their progeny. However, Reeves’s “The Batman” suffers from being both too derivative, too literal and too detached from its underlying mythos. If you strip down the character’s iconography deep enough, you are left not with a film about capital-B Batman but rather just a sullen sociopath who dresses up like a bat to fight bad guys. The former carries nostalgic and thematic import; the latter is bemusing and tedious.
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