Random Notes on The Batman
“Why don’t we ever play NIGHTCRAWLERS anymore, Frank? Huh?!”
Is this anywhere near a perfect film? Fuck no. I think corporate superhero “IP” (guh that phrase) adaptations at this point have a central problem of cannibalizing more original movies for new material, and this isn’t far off from that (even if it’s far better at mashing up its influences and ideas because, well, that’s what Batman is: a mashup of Sherlock Holmes and various other pulp heroes of the 19th and early 20th century, along with silent movie villains and Da Vinci’s wing design).
But this is also the first superhero movie in years to comprehend that to put on a mask and take on another name, to use blunt violence to create action (of course condemned by the law and in polite society), means becoming something else. Pattinson plays Bruce Wayne/Batman with Cronenbergian logic: when he’s in the suit, he has transformed, except by the Year Two of the movie, he’s just full Brundlefly now.
There was some critique of Pattinson’s performance out of the Batsuit as not being different enough from the super, but he actually does change up his body language as Bruce Wayne. He’s stiffer somehow, robbed of his usual surveillance and the costume that clearly frees up the rage inside him, but he also doesn’t have much interest in even pretending to be this other not-Batman guy anymore.
The other smart thing this movie does is openly scoff at the notion in Dark Knight Rises that Bruce could ever walk away from Batman. Fuck no. He can’t stop and he won’t, ever. (Batman Beyond and Dark Knight Returns at least give plausible reasons for why he’d retire beyond emotional growth. 70 year fictional icons don’t need to stop. They’re goddamn icons.)
So many strong reds in this movie, from the title card, to Batman’s contact footage, to the Iceberg Lounge. Most of the Warner Bros DC films without Snyder have actually been pretty decent (Shazam, Aquaman), especially when they’ve accepted their inherent silly pulpiness, but this is easily the best-looking of them. Converting digital to film and back was also a smart choice, augmenting the colors to the point of artifice. The result has been compared to David Fincher but the photography brings things far closer to the comic book realm.
It helps that Pattinson’s strong chin and eyeliner-popped, vulnerable eyes, both in the suit and out, looks like a Tim Sale drawing, though without the tall horn-like ears. (R.I.P.) The mask really is a Bruce Timm lookalike.
The Batman costume here is closest to a combination of Batman: Year One, BTAS, and Dark Knight Returns, and some other Bat-comic I haven’t read. I just started catching up on the Morrison run, for fuck’s sake.
This film rewards the tiny, tiny minority of filmgoers who think Black Mass is a blah movie but love Peter Sarsgaard’s sweaty, stupid, pathetically doomed performance in it (the delivery of “OHHHHHH, I’M A FUCKING DEAD MAN!” is genuinely haunting) and wanted to see him in that mode again before they died.
I can’t decide if the pulpy, grungy noir tone here is exactly seamlessly integrated with the movie’s focus on some level of realism about poverty and the conspiracy that is basically vacuuming up the wealth of Gotham.
The Batman script is smart about how Gotham City needs to feel like an entity unto itself in the Batverse, a place of inherent corruption and violence, and how that rot is sometimes deeper than Batman, this weird patron saint of the place, can even comprehend. (In the comics this is even more literally gothic - Gotham is a location where time is inherently out of joint, not a real metropolis gone to shit but an artist’s vision of one.) However, this also consistently threatens to go into “Batman should feed the homeless” territory as well as Dickensian cliches like “my dead daughter” and “the babies died because it was so cold!” The Batman comics themselves have been addressing this shit for years with at least a bit more nuance for a series about, y’know, the inherent insanity of a man in a bat costume. It’s also implied at certain points in later issues that Wayne has single-handedly brought the city back with his money, even if irl billionaires appear unlikely to do that. But Bruce Wayne/Batman is not really a realistic person, he’s a traumatized genius ubermensch, and the people who want realism here just can’t play pretend for a few fucking hours, what you want a movie where Batman feeds homeless people for two hours, I mean god forbid a comic for children not cater to your adult demands for absolute political accuracy and complexity, and because you are incapable of reading actual books for grown-ups, you demand things aimed at young people now suck up to you, a person who says “adulting” and hates on Scorsese for suggesting corporate products aren’t cinema, ohhhhhh you goddamn geeks, your gleeful collaboration with Disney and corporations has ruined popular culture and media literacy, fuck you, fuck you all! *is restrained*
They have me captive to rehabilitate me and break my spirit, but it’s for the best. The point is that sometimes the shit Catwoman says about straight rich white guys feels like an inserted bit rather than part of the story.
Absolutely feels like a Batman movie where Reeves had seen the previous ones and thought that he wanted more tactile, fluid action scenes compared to what had come before, and he was right. Even my beloved Batman Returns is the work of an Expressionist weirdo who just learned how to stage action. When Pattinson hits people here, you can hear the blows, feel the damage he’s doing, and it’s hard to lose track. The club scene especially is excellent - sad that it’s just impressive when an American director’s action has clarity and good blocking.
Favorite ownage bit aside from the “Batmobile shot” and Batman using a bat (hey!) to disarm a guy: the Bat-POV of one sniper about to get a beatdown, and he basically throws his hands up in absolute terror of this wraith just coming for his ass.
“Hi guys, thanks for the comments…” The Riddler as a classic Twitch/YouTube vlogger is bleakly hilarious.
“OHHHHHHHHHH this is NOT the way this was supposed to go!” is weirdly applicable to many real life situations - disappointing dates, movies, handjobs, true crime podcasts, that time you met up with your friend Anthony and well, he just wouldn’t let that money go, could he? and you couldn’t let him tell Julia, nope, and well, he had to take a ride out to the Pine Barrens, etc.
Someone should make an erotic thriller with Pattinson and Kravitz, it’s the chemistry of two hot people who actually might have some real kinks. No one else would get a Basic Instinct remake right, though I’d prefer an original script.
Crucial to this, The Lighthouse, and Good Time is that Pattinson’s performances capture a person who is capable of violence. He seems like a goofball in person, or someone who copes with his weirdness through dark humor (hi!), but this is not a quality that is always easily faked with actors (see Antony Starr, Sean Connery).
Would like some real sex in a superhero movie and have long pitched an R-rated version of one, maybe a notch down from Always Sunny (“Penetration, fights crime, penetration”). But I will also take Batman and Catwoman’s breaths slowly moving into sync with each other and a good kiss. To quote one Twitter account, “nothing like an emotionally damaged man breathing up right behind you.”
My father recently argued during a visit, to my surprised agreement, that Batman is easily the best superhero because he chose to do this. He wasn’t called up to do it by a wizard in a cave, or bitten by anything, there’s no cosmic rays, and he has the most limitations. But how he finds ways past those limits is compelling as hell.
Hoping for a sequel that, like Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, escalates the strengths of the first film and comes up with something really great. Also no need for a 3 hour long film, god.
Other biggest problem here is the mystery, because, well, there really isn’t one. Batman is always one step behind Riddler and this does really undercut him as a detective, even if this works for the film’s story about a fighter realizing his tactics aren’t doing any good for him when what the people need is a hero.
The arc of the film for Batman here might be the strongest of any of his live-action joints then, with The Dark Knight second, because it’s the live-action version with the empathy that underlies his actions in the DCAU (“He stayed with her until her time came”), and dozens of comics. (Pattinson next to Alfred’s bedside and with the injured girl makes the correct choice each time of seeming truly surprised at how much he cares.)
Batman is a brutal, semi-conservative character, a figure of vigilante justice and individualism. But if there’s anything beautiful or truly heroic in this very American, iconoclastic creation, it’s the spirit behind Batman cutting the rope here, ready to die for the people around him, or silently, quite literally leading Gothamites out of the dark, into the light. At best what Bob Kane and Bill Finger captured, perhaps totally by accident - because they were twenty-somethings writing children’s comics trying to make a buck and put out the next issue - is this: there are some people who have been traumatized to the extent that their lives have been shaped by this fact. At worst, they will inflict this damage onto other people. And at best, they will try to make sure this level of pain never happens to anyone, ever again. Batman isn’t a “real” person, but he does clearly embody both of these impulses. That contradiction is hard to accept for some, but it is part of what makes him, and the literally gothic city whose fate ties into his, such a powerful fictional creation.
Openly cheered in the theater when the Batmobile came out, and when it went through a giant wall of flame. What a scene, I tell ya.
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Major updates right here:
Well, shit, seeing my monologue get performed in a Brooklyn backyard, even with accursed low-hanging planes right ahead, was pretty cool, and I got to hang out with my cousin of the great Cold Cube Press. Would like to write more theatrical stuff soon. Thanks to Boog City Poets Festival for the evening.
New flash memoir of sorts: a Film Diary on Robert Eggers’ great The Witch for In The Mood Magazine. You can read it here.
Poem “I Survive” will be out in the November 2022 issue of Better than Starbucks.
“Bend” will be in the new issue of Very Magazine, so I’ll be at Tattooed Moms Thursday, October 13, tabling at the issue launch party. To paraphrase the podcast with the Benzo-esque voice, join me there, won’t you?
On another note, the publisher of my previous chapbook (and a subscriber), Josh Dale, wrote a novella, The Light to Never Be Snuffed, now out in paperback. Do check it out here.
And finally, here’s another silent guardian, a watchful protecter, a Dark Knight:
*DUN-dun-DUN-dun, DUN dun DUN dun*