Last night I went to go see the “The Batman” with my two older grandsons. We hadn’t gone to the movies since before the whole COVID mess and I figured with them on Easter vacation from school it was now or never. They’d heard good things about the movie. I was skeptical about it because Batman was being played by Robert Pattinson. And I remember he’d been the actor in those lame Twilight vampire movies that teenage girls were so excited about a while ago. But I figured it would still be fun hanging out with these descendants of mine.
So, we met up after their work hours. These two guys are working on their holiday and doing nine hours a day of manual labor. I told them I was embarrassed that I never had the work ethic they have at that age. I drove to the nearest cineplex for the last night of the movie’s run. But I wasn’t familiar with the town or mall it was in, so I was amazed to see that the mall was almost completely empty. All the biggest chain stores like Macy’s and Target were vacated and even most of the smaller stores were boarded up. It felt like we were walking onto the set of a zombie movie. There were barely a dozen people walking around in the mall at 6:45 at night. The theater was empty except for the ticket seller, popcorn girl and the ticket taker. It was pretty creepy. But they still got their popcorn and drinks.
The plot of the movie revolves around the familiar scenario of Bruce Wayne acting as an avenging angel stalking the streets of Gotham City fighting against organized (and disorganized) crime as the caped crusader. In this iteration James Gordon is a police lieutenant who has teamed up with Batman to allow the city to benefit from Batman’s vigilante activities. The current crime spree is a series of high-level city government officials being murdered by the Riddler. The mayor, police commissioner and district attorney are murdered gruesomely and their killings are videotaped by the Riddler and shared with the public on-line. The Riddler highlights the corrupt activities of the men he’s murdered and announces that he will be “unmasking” the full depths of the partnership between organized crime and the present city administration.
Batman starts following clues that the Riddler provides specifically for him. And in the investigation, he meets up with Selena who has her own secret identity as the Catwoman. They become romantically involved, sort of, and together they discover the link between Batman’s father and the crime boss Carmine Falcone (played ably by John Turturro). We find out that Falcone is also Selena’s father. Mixed up in Falcone’s vice trades like drugs and prostitution is Oswald “Oz” Cobblepot also known as the Penguin. The Penguin ends up shedding light on the origins of Falcone’s control of City Hall. The details of this old history illuminate the basis for the Riddler’s campaign of vengeance against the city’s power brokers including Bruce Wayne. By the end of the movie, it’s clear what the Riddler was up to but it isn’t in time to prevent a plot to blow up the sea wall that keeps the river out of Gotham’s downtown. And it also barely allows the foiling of a massacre at a political rally being held for the reform candidate running for mayor.
Of course, Batman must almost single-handedly prevent thirty, gun wielding acolytes of the Riddler from shooting Gotham’s citizens like they were literally fish in a barrel. But in doing so he learns that his negative role as a vigilante seeking vengeance is too limited to help save Gotham City. And that he must become also a positive force to help people survive the mayhem all around them.
So, what did I think? Well first of all, this movie is almost three hours long. That’s really long. And the movie is unrelentingly bleak. Bruce Wayne in the few scenes when he is not Batman looks almost suicidal. There are no lighter moments in this movie at all. There is a grittier and uglier feel to this movie than, for instance, in Nolan’s Dark Knight movies. On the other hand, the action scenes are very well done. This Batman apparently has a much more capable armor than the Dark Knight had. He is blasted by machine guns and even a shot gun and not only survives but doesn’t even show any damage to his suit. And a chase scene on a crowded expressway is pretty spectacular, even if absurdly unrealistic. On the negative side, Selena does utter the phrase “white privilege” at one point which annoyed me mightily. But on the whole the movie is an effective and enjoyable Batman movie. I recommend it to fans of the genre.
Leaving the theater, we were the only people in the huge mall except for a guard who escorted us to the only door still open in the building. Our car was the only vehicle in this enormous parking lot and as we walked through the eerily empty space, we reflected on its resemblance to some of the darker corners of Gotham City that we had recently visited. We spent the long ride home discussing the pros and cons of the film and all decided that it had been a worthwhile expedition. I got them home an hour later than I had estimated and their parents told me of the unbelievably early hour they had to get up for work the next morning. I felt awful getting them home so late but the boys still claimed it was worth it. Score one for nonconsecutive generational male bonding. Now, bring on the great grandsons.