‘The Batman:’ Bold and brooding

By Wendell Gaa

Batman has been my favorite superhero from as far back as I can remember.  Yes, the fact alone that he is a mere mortal with no superpowers yet relies solely on his wit and resources makes him unique, but moreover he is such a complex and multidimensional antihero who has been reinterpreted and reinvented countless times throughout the past decades since he made his comic debut in 1939. It is a testament to the character’s enduring lore and imprint on popular culture. 

The very first Halloween costume I wore as a toddler was a mini-bat suit with a cape which my mother had given me as a gift.  My brother and I first began watching reruns of the campy 1960s-era “Batman” TV show with Adam West way back in the 1980s while growing up in Palisades, N.Y., and some of the best memories I’ve had at the cinema houses in the succeeding years have been watching the past editions of Batman films.  In the summer of 1989 in Los Angeles, we watched the first big-screen adaptation of “Batman” starring Michael Keaton as the Caped Crusader together with our father, the late Ambassador Willy C. Gaa, who thoroughly enjoyed that movie. 

Fast forward to July 2008 when director Christopher Nolan’s now-classic superhero/crime thriller epic “The Dark Knight,” starring Christian Bale as Batman and the late Heath Ledger in his posthumous Oscar-winning role as the villainous Joker, was released. I together with a few other friends hosted a very enjoyable joint birthday bash with an exclusive screening of this film for our other friends at this private theater at the Greenbelt Cinemas complex in Makati City.  Eight years later I then got to watch 2016’s “Batman Vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice,” with the role of Bruce Wayne played this time by Ben Affleck, at the AMC Lincoln Square theater in Manhattan, an experience which I still found worthwhile however critically polarizing that movie was.

Now my lifetime viewing of my favorite superhero on the silver screen continues with the newly released “The Batman,” which stars British actor Robert Pattinson as the titular vigilante.  Of all the past adaptations, this latest film is the darkest live-action interpretation of the character which I’ve personally seen yet, and I absolutely loved it! 

“The Batman” depicts the young Bruce Wayne’s mission in battling the corrupt elements of his crime-infested hometown of Gotham City.  His crusade to rid the city of corruption is only further complicated by the presence of a deranged serial killer who calls himself the Riddler.  The murders committed by the Riddler are unlike anything which Gotham’s citizens, and even the Batman himself, have witnessed. 

Pattinson with Zoe Kravitz playing the feisty Selina Kyle/Catwoman.

Unlike the Tim Burton and Joel Schumacher-directed films of the 1980s and 1990s, this latest Batman flick which runs nearly three hours long is not kid-friendly, and its grounded realistic portrayal of criminal underworld societies may even come across as disturbing for some.  On the other hand, this dark element is a key characteristic of the Batman legend and is a part of his comic book roots.  I admire this movie for being so bold enough to delve into this side of the vigilante.

Arguably Batman’s detective skills and abilities are given so much more focus here than even Christopher Nolan’s “Dark Knight” trilogy.  The brooding neo-noir atmosphere of “The Batman” duly reflects this core component of Bruce Wayne, and it works rather well in moving the plot forward. 

Robert Pattinson, to my pleasure surprise, does a solid performance as Bruce Wayne/Batman, and whatever image I’ve had of him as an over-glossed love object vampire in the “Twilight” film series was totally absent while watching him throughout this movie, where he conveys a well-rounded combination of broodiness and vengeful indignation. 

The two other big standout actors are Paul Dano as the main villain the Riddler, who injects such a level of sadistic creepiness which I have never seen before in any other past rendition of this classic Batman comic villain, and Zoë Kravitz as the sultry and feisty Selina Kyle/Catwoman, the sometime lover/frenemy of Batman. 

It was also a wonderful treat to see Jeffrey Wright adding something fresh and new to the supporting role of James Gordon, Batman’s closest law enforcement ally.  Also, not to be overlooked is Irish actor Colin Farrell, who is totally unrecognizable as crime boss Oswald Cobblepot A.K.A. the Penguin, and my personal favorite Batman villain.    

Director Matt Reeves has surely done the Batman franchise good, just like what he did for his superb “The Planet of the Apes” trilogy.  Count me excited for the sequels!

© The FilAm 2022

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