Gotham’s newest vigilante has arrived

Supporting cast shines in new “Batman” picture

Jack Jamieson, Guest Writer

“The Batman” starring Robert Pattinson and Zoe Kravitz is in theater’s now. (Annie Symons)

The Dark Knight of Gotham has been omnipresent in cinemas ever since the first motion picture adaptation of the DC Comics character in 1966, and audiences have been treated to four different interpretations of the character by four different actors within the last 25 years.

The first hour of Matt Reeves’ “The Batman” makes a compelling case for the character’s return to the big screen, delivering a moody, atmospheric detective film whose generic tropes drive the film closer to the noir films of the 1940’s than they do the latest Marvel film. The following two hours of the film, however, undermine this original praise, revealing the film to be an overlong and tonally-inconsistent mess.

The leading man in Reeves’ adaptation is Robert Pattinson, who made a name for himself in the late 2000’s with a role in the “Twilight” franchise before exploring more independent routes and turning in stellar performances in films like “Good Time” and “The Lighthouse.”

The film opens on Halloween and follows the Caped Crusader’s run-ins with The Riddler (Paul Dano), Catwoman (Zoё Kravitz), Penguin (Colin Farrell), Commissioner Gordon (Jeffrey Wright) and various other friends and foes from Batman’s gallery of rogues. When The Riddler starts killing off government officials and leaving letters for Batman at the crime scenes, the Dark Knight must try and stop the madman before it is too late.

When Pattinson is underneath the mask, his performance is great, bringing a raw physicality and brooding nature to the character that separates his interpretation from any previous ones.

Where Pattinson falters, however, is when he loses his ominous disguise and is Bruce Wayne instead of Batman. His interpretation of the billionaire playboy is the exact same as his interpretation of the vigilante, leading his performance to come off one-note and hardly dynamic enough to carry a three hour film.

From the opening moments of the film, Reeves establishes a specific tone that is unlike anything seen in a Batman film before. Reeves’ version of Wayne is scored not by blaring horns and orchestral strings, but rather by the solemn guitar picking and pained vocals of Kurt Cobain.

Reeves’ Batman keeps a journal of his thoughts and feelings regarding the ongoing decline of Gotham. He struggles with the idea that the city he grew up in is gone for good, that Gotham cannot be redeemed or renewed. He wants to be a beacon of hope to those he cares about, but he is still consumed by the trauma in his past and can only think of vengeance.

This inventive characterization extends to others as well. Riddler is portrayed as a serial killer with an online following. He uses cyphers, and hid mannerisms are more akin to the Zodiac Killer than anything else. Dano’s performance is bound to split fans, but his interpretation will never be confused for any other. His exaggerated vocal cadence and tendency to break into outbursts feel ripped from the pages of the comic books that inspired the film.

The other villainous standout of the film comes in the form of Colin Farrell’s Oswald Cobblepot, otherwise known as the Penguin. Farrell is unrecognizable underneath layers of makeup, but he makes his presence known whenever he is on screen. His version of the character is loud, boisterous and commands the audience’s attention. He provides some needed comedic relief at certain moments within the film.

Despite these noteworthy performances, the film struggles to balance tone and never truly justifies its ridiculous runtime of nearly three hours. The film jumps from scenes with characters cracking one-liners to scenes where Pattinson broods into the middle distance, pondering the nature of vigilantism, and the film never connects between the two disparate tones.

“The Batman” desperately wants to break the boundaries of the current blockbuster landscape set by the washed-out color scheme of films like “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” and Reeves and cinematographer Grieg Fraser’s establishment of a cinematic language through moody lighting and long shots makes for one of the most visually sumptuous superhero films of recent years.

These ambitions, though, are not enough to make up for the lackluster screenplay at the center of everything. Reeves’ screenplay wears its influences on its sleeves, eventually revealing itself to be nothing more than an unbalanced mix of “Se7en” and “Saw.”

Actors like Dano, Farrell and even the usually stoic Jeffrey Wright are game to lean into the film’s more absurdist elements, but Pattinson never fully commits, which leaves the film in an awkward, disappointing rut. Audiences may think that Pattinson is in a completely different film compared to the other actors, and constantly comes off as a charisma void when the script and the other actors involved are begging for a little bit of energy.

Riddle me this: Why is Batman’s return so mediocre?