Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Wed Mar 23, 2022 10:22 pm 
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Another feather in Bob's cap, a dark one

To cinemabon of Filmleaf:

Thanks for this, cinemabon. I am out of my element here. You shed light, and it's helpful to be taken through some of the key scenes. I'm impressed that you say this may be "perhaps the greatest Batman film of all time," because I'm a fan of Robert Pattinson. This is a new field to conquer for an actor who started as a teen idol and then moved on to offbeat, challenging work for auteurs like the Safdie brothers, Robert Eggers, and the great Claire Denis, with a brilliantly successful effort for David Cronenberg in Cosmopolis, (which he's named as his favorite) and a a lively Down Under outdoors adventure with David Michôd. Closer to the genre involved here of expensive action blockbuster, he recently worked for Chris Nolan in Tenet. He's not just lucky: he has chosen well, and those are two classy blockbusters.

Pattinson has shown himself to be a real chameleon in this variety. He's a dreamboat who also turns out to be a good character actor, with no desire to go on being a dreamboat (the same is true of his original partner in crime, Kristen Stewart). But since it's the same face and body, it might be worth contemplating the link between Pattinson's Bruce Wayne and his Edward Cullen. They do have something moody-broody in common that sets the two roles apart from Pattinson's other ones and links them together. Not all the roles or the films have been successes like Cosmopolis and The Lighthouse and High Life; the last one before The Batman was Antonio Campos' The Devil All the Time, which is considered to be a flop, and his own performance, though enjoyable, some think too caricatural and out of tune with the rest of the cast. But he's an interesting actor to watch.

I get that this is considered to be a "noir" reworking of the Batman story with elements from David Fincher's Se7en and Zodiac. But this Bruce Wayne has a lot to do. He's not only playing detective and figuring out riddles, searching for the identity of a serial killer not revealed till near the end of the film, but also drawn into a sexy (but not sexual) flirtation-collaboration with Zoë Kravitz's Selena Kyle/Catwoman. Kravitz stands out in a movie that's overloaded with self-important men and lugubriousness. Her scenes are relaxed, sprightly, a breath of fresh air. In addition The Batman not only engages in problem-solving and flirtation but does a lot of serious kicking butt - reportedly taking on more bad guys in hand-to-hand combat than other movie Batmen have done.

As noted by many reviewers, this plot devised by Matt Reeves with Peter Craig has many twists and turns. The numerous colorful secondary characters, represented by: Jeffrey Wright (whose Basquiat is still my favorite of his movies; too often, as here, he is little more than a good journeyman); Colin Farrell (but what is the point of a famous actor disguised beyond recognition, except to give a makeup artist a chance at an Oscar nom?); John Turturro (in a plot where most of the city corruption belongs to men with Italian names), doing a good standard gangster drawl; Paul Dano; Andy Serkis, not disguised, for once; Peter Sarsgaard, very frightened; and Barry Keoghan, whom I barely noticed, regrettably, since he was riveting in Dunkirk, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, and The Green Knight) - all of these characters, save, for me, Keoghan's, are clearly brought forward. One reason the movie doesn't get out of hand with all this complication is the vary toned-down score, and what for this kind of movie is a fairly judicious use of fires, floods, and explosions, holding the big ones till late in the film, and then almost forgetting before the end that Gotham was drowning. One might add that Gotham this time, in keeping with the general (dark, moody) realism, looks a lot more like New York than usual, and less like the generic, simplified comic-book Gotham we've learned to expect.

As someone who's so not a fanboy that I'm still confused about the apparently crucial difference between DC and Marvell Comics, by far the main appeal of The Batman (apart simply from its relative restraint) is its visual beauty. I would be prepared to say maybe this movie has the best-looking cinematography (by Greig Fraser, also responsible for the beautiful look kof Dune) of any comic book superhero flick. Every shot, however dark, however complicated, is pleasing to the eyes - beautifully lit, beautifully composed, subtle, pleasingly colored (often with a top note of amber), and sharp or blurry in exactly the right places and proportions. Of course this eye candy aspect of a film can be dangerous, and might be a reason why some, like Richard Brody, accuse The Batman of being shallow and empty. Visuals can be a distracting pleasure and for someone like me who's not deeply engaged with the material risks starting to seem the only pleasure (which it really isn't; if only the images had mattered I'd have fallen asleep, and I didn't).

I like that the bad guys are more realistic and less grotesque and also liked the absence of the rich playboy paraphernalia. Yes, paradoxically, while like others of the genre this movie seems plentiful very nearly to excess, in retrospect what one admires about it most are all the things it leaves out.

While you write of the movie's Batsuit that "He appears as others have in the past with a similar uniform, " as some, like Chrishaun Baker, have been at pains to point out, this is a pretty different suit, not only in having a less notable logo (and being charcoal or gunmetal gray instead of black), but in being bigger and bulkier and having much more distinctively the look of leather, not totally new in Batsuits but welcome for those of us who have had our fill of lycra tights.

Some reviews, such as A.O. Scott's for The New York Times, run through the history of Batman movies - and he notes that this hero "used to be playful," later "was a bit of a playboy." But since Nolan's trilogy (which was much admired, but for me a slog), "onscreen incarnations of the character have been purged of any trace of joy, mischief or camp." Is he saying these movies might just as well be made by the forbidding Hungarian auteur, Bela Tarr? I think Robert Pattinson (who in person is a guy who likes to laugh) carries his gloom lightly enough. But this is the big problem, that these comic book epics have gotten a little too full of themselves. It's not only the famousness of the stories, I reckon, and the weight of being the savior of a city. It's all the money involved, and all the fans' expectations.

This Batman, as incarnated by Robert Pattinson, and the darkness of things and gloom of mood, brought back memories of 1994 and Brandon Lee in Alex Proyas' The Crow, not only a marvelous piece of atmosphere but a lead character with his long, dank hair and pale Joker-style made up face and haunted eyes, not so very far from Pattinson's Edward Cullen, and perhaps a distant kin to his Bruce Wayne as well. Sadly, as we know, Lee died from a misfired weapon on set and the film was unlucky in multiple other ways as well, but went on to be a cult film and a lasting memory for those of us who saw it at the time. Could the truly electrifying gloom of The Crow by an influence on the mood of the Nolan and post-Nolan Batmen? Anyway, Matt Reeves' The Batman, whatever its plusses and minuses, is a must-see for all fans of comic book genre films - and of Robert Pattinson.

The Batman, 176 mins., released in theaters in many countries in the first week of March, 2022, in the US Mar. 4. Screened for this review (with four other customers) at El Cerrito Rialto Theater, Mar. 23, 2022. Metacritic rating (based on 68 critic reviews): 72%. AlloCiné press rating 3.9 (78%) and a rave from no less than Yal Sadat of Cahiers du Cinéma who wrote: "Reeves never gives in to the easy abstraction and celestial antics favored by the competition. The Batman is a earthbound film, harnessed to the exploration of a teeming but restricted map, where Snyder's characters are constantly rushing into infinite and interchangeable parallel dimensions." (The Batman has passed 2 million ticket sales in France; it's the biggest film of the year there so far.)

©Chris Knipp. Blog:

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