The Batman

The Batman

I’ve been late to the Batman game. Determined to watch every superhero movie in chronological order, I did see Tim Burton’s Batman in high school, but I abandoned my marathon sometime after the X-Men movies. 

I didn’t get around to Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy until two years ago; I only just watched Batman Begins in anticipation of Reeves’ entry. I was surprised by how much I liked Batman Begins, actually—The Dark Knight is, well, The Dark Knight. It’s so good because Heath Ledger’s Joker is so awful, psychopathy unexplained and mythos forgone in favor of senseless chaos. We tell ourselves stories to live, etc. etc.—but Nolan’s Joker evades narrative, resists explanation. You cannot impose order upon something which inherently won’t bend to rules of logic, of the linear, of understanding. The Joker is a boogeyman with no origin, no end—or maybe his is an origin so old, it’s just as daunting trying to reckon with decades of systemic failings and injustice in Gotham.

But what makes The Dark Knight great is that Christian Bale’s Batman rises to meet Ledger. Suave, stubborn, and stupidly rich, Bruce Wayne could sit pretty in his dark castle while the rest of the world burns. But love—because isn’t it always love?—draws him out of the cave and into the night, and we get one of the best hero vs villain dances of them all. 

The Dark Knight Rises is also good, albeit more bloated, but Batman Begins sets an interesting foundation I was missing before. It’s Bruce’s relationship with Rachel—that she more or less chides him into choosing justice over apathy, but nonetheless propels him forward toward redeeming a hopeless humanity.

Bloated, senseless, justice, humanity, vengeance—this is a big, busy stage for Matt Reeves to enter. Nevermind that we’re living in whatever phase of the MCU that necessitates everything is interconnected: multi-verses and reboots, sequels and pseudo-prequels, crossovers and do-overs. We’re so far up our asses in content we’re making biopics about fictional characters to be franchised (to infinity and 3+ more movies?). I left out Snyder’s DCEU because I’ve only seen a smattering of the movies, but I get the consensus well enough: bloated, senseless, justice, onward…

So what is this Batman? One of the best sets of trailers we’ve seen in a long fucking while. Robert Pattinson, looking properly like an underslept Bruce Wayne and unsuspecting Batman. But also the expectation that when you’re sitting down, you’re buckling in for three hours. With more than a pick of Batmans—more than a pick of anything—why this?

Because Reeves’ Batman is so wholly unlike any others. To begin, it’s more noir-western than superhero; this genre distinction matters.

Batman, the character and all preconceived notions of the franchise, the property, is a vessel, not the thing itself. I went in expecting Batman, dark knight of justice and Bruce Wayne, vigilante of Gotham. We get those things, but this isn’t a sloggy origin story. We’re as in media res as you can get—Gotham, corrupt as ever, is on the cusp of collapse. And no one cares, because it’s been like this for so long, for so long no one has cared, and it’s a violent cycle with violent ends. Instead of Bruce Wayne’s proper philanthropy parties, we see the aftermath of the rich’s mess: abandoned projects, targeted drugs on the street, men in power turning it on everywhere but those in need. It’s hopeless. It’s futile. In this way, Reeves’ Gotham becomes Nolan’s Joker: senseless chaos, whose roots might be traced if you look back far enough through all the shit, but still all you’re left with is an answer and some rotting fucking fruit.

And yet—and yet. It’s not actually hopeless, maybe not futile. Because this movie is situated at a turning point, where the fulcrum of the future is as imminent as a coming election. Will the people of Gotham elect change? Is it too late to inspire a new kind of hope? Or is any of that even possible, when those in power are the status quo, and thus can keep on as they have been: willfully ignorant, greedy, dirty to the core.

Where we come in, Bruce Wayne doesn’t know. He’s a vigilante sleepwalking, punching blindly in the dark as if he alone can stop crime. When you’re drowning in it—in all this pain and suffering and injustice—you can’t always know which way is up. If there’s anything you can do. If maybe giving up is as good an act of mercy as killing can be.

But just because the answer isn’t simple, doesn’t mean it isn’t there. The Riddler knows this, and somehow, he knows that Batman knows, too. Dano’s Riddler and Pattinson’s Batman play a perfect game of cat and mouse, two rats running around each trying to get the upper hand. Know this: they’re not fighting each other. They might even be fighting the same fight. One of them, blinded so long by the night, is only now realizing this problem isn’t his alone to fix. But he might be the only one who can turn the black lights on across the grim and grit and long years’ of systematic, institutional, and intentional failings.

What drives us to answer a riddle? To respond to a calling? Maybe a sense of justice. Maybe need for order, for narrative, for understanding. Maybe it’s love. That’s what moves Kravitz through the night, stealth and vengeful. Love, that terrible salve, that stupid poison. It’s enough to get you drunk, thinking you’ve found someone in all this shit worth keeping on for. And when that love is threatened, when it’s taken away—she turns to the night, and runs into the steely shadows of vengeance walking.

Pattinson and Kravitz nail it. They are fully submerged in the pain of this world, which, surprise—doesn’t look too different from our own. But they put one foot in front of the other until it leads them closer to the light, to an answer, to something that might be the truth to set them free. Reeves’ has a great noir-western here, but maybe even a better love story.

The world here too is rich, dark and dangerous and almost hyper realistic. I loved the action, which does that incredible thing of obstructing the violence so as to deny confirmation—leaving your terrible imagination to run wild wondering what a ruined face actually looks like, the denied gratification that onscreen violence should never provoke taken away like sweet candy from a sourpuss baby.

I’m thinking of this old video game called Pathologic. It’s about a rotting town, slowly dying, yet still fighting violent tooth and nail to survive. You come in as different characters to investigate. What happened? What is happening? These questions lead you to the root, back to the core—a well of water poisoned by slaughtered animals’ toxic blood. The town is literally rotting. You’re literally in the bowels of hell. It’s all fucked, there’s no justice.

Except when that terrible truth is discovered, it begins life again. As hard as it is, the town can heal from this. Those lost can’t be brought back. And maybe the trauma of the years of suffering will linger forever. But there’s a chance. There’s hope.

There’s hope at the core of this Batman. It’s almost as senseless as chaos itself, but it’s there, and it’s marvelous. And yes, Reeves’ does justify just about all 3 hours of this. How you could have a love story disguised as a noir-western, dressed in a vessel of political and socioeconomic vengeance, looking like a proper “whodunit,” be anything less than—we’re not out for settling for good here. We’re after greatness. We’re asking for a second chance. This is hope, after all, as improbable and frightening and challenging and precious as it always has been.

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