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Dark nights for the dark knight

Jake Coyle

AP – Batman, who is never a day, is plunged into perpetual night in Matt Reeves’ nocturnal, nihilistic, neo-noir version of The Caped Crusader.

The three-hour long The Batman features plenty of action, character introductions, gadgets, and other superhero paraphernalia. But this is no extravagance. This Batman is a moody mood piece, steeped in shadow and rage, that has reduced comic book archetypes to abstract silhouettes and grimy human figures.

Robert Pattinson is a young Batman, relatively new to the gig and suffering mightily from nighttime battles with Gotham’s most depraved. A feeling of helplessness consumes him and the feeling that he can never stem the tide.

Reeves, the filmmaker of Planet of the Apes, begins The Batman with many such serious intonations – “They think I hide in the shadows, but I AM the shadows” – in a superb operatic montage on Something in the Way of Nirvana. It’s an electric fusion of sight and sound, and the most complete section of the film. This Batman is a dirge.

The problem, however, is that The Batman, having found its immersive tone and atmosphere, wallows in it. There’s surprisingly little suspense as the film struggles to find more than one note (however powerful) to hit. Even Pattinson’s Bruce Wayne is just as pessimistic and serious as his Batman. Like a Paul Schrader character, he has abandoned nearly all social involvement, instead torturously writing a diary to document the horrors he witnesses at night. Pretty much since Adam West put on the cape and cowl, Batman has gone darker and darker. But Pattinson’s despondent Dark Knight takes the cake.

Robert Pattinson and Zoe Kravitz in a scene from ‘The Batman’. PHOTO: AP

The blueprint for the comic is Batman: Year One, the four-issue 1987 series by Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli in which Wayne becomes a vigilante. This stage – a citizen taking violence in the name of justice – is largely what The Batman is about.

The Batman is structured like a crime novel. There’s a delightful scene where he, in costume, is stalking a crime scene he’s been sneaked into by Detective Gordon (a fabulous, melancholic Jeffrey Wright). It’s a setting – a Batman with dubious vision and even more dubious self-awareness hunting cues – that sets The Batman apart from previous cinematic iterations of the character.

But as Reeves and co-writer Peter Craig weave in the antagonists of this Gotham underworld – a serial killer named Edward Nashton aka the Riddler (Paul Dano, leaning into serial killer tropes), the overlord of the crime Carmine Falcone (a suavely villainous John Turturro) and mid-level gangster Penguin (Colin Farrell, unrecognizable) – The Batman bears other influences, like David Fincher’s Seven, more obviously.

As firmly gripped as The Batman is at the start, you can feel its grip slipping as it drags on into its long runtime, and I think that’s partly because Pattinson’s performance is in much of it limited to sudden outbursts of fury or timid stealth in the shadows. For an actor who has long stayed away from the mainstream, it’s exciting to see him take on something so ambitious. But Pattinson’s talent lies in his enigmatic charisma, and that’s not always a compelling choice for a three-hour psychological portrait. He’s not a talker, this Batman.

Zoë Kravitz, however, has a more instantaneous and intimate connection with the camera. As Selina Kyle/Catwoman, she gives The Batman a major boost even as she leads him through some of his darkest alleys. After Selina joins Batman as they investigate the corruption surrounding Falcone and others, he teams her with videotaping contact lenses. In one of the film’s most gripping sequences, we see from her perspective as she sneaks into the villains’ nightclub and, in night vision, we feel them leering at the men rushing her.

The Batman is a dark, powerful yet erratic thing. It’s as if the filmmakers, working in the very long shadow of The Dark Knight, chose not to compete with the brooding majesty of Christopher Nolan’s genre-redefining 2008 film, but rather to simply go “stronger.” – blacker, more cynical, a total eclipse. This may make The Batman well suited to its time, but it also, in the end, feels like a somewhat hollow, but often startlingly dark, exercise in an imaginary arms race of severity. The Dark Knight had a visceral touch in Heath Ledger’s Joker that Batman sorely lacks. Someone somewhere here should be wondering why this is so serious.