Starring Robert Pattinson as the third man in recent years, at least, to play the caped crusader, and Zoe Kravit as Selina Kyle (aka the Catwoman), this movie is a generally very good and very complicated picture of the titular character and his dark world that draws a lot on some of the better comic storylines that we have seen. Without spoiling too much, the movie draws on the contemporary concerns of a society with corrupt leaders and a growing cynicism about the possibility of progress and positive change and the threat of vigilante violence as well as illegitimate civil institutions to create a compelling picture of Bruce Wayne as the man in the dark mask seeking to decide which crimes to stop and how to try to deal with the mass amount of crime in the scarred and broken metropolis of Gotham City. If our own age is fairly similar to the 1930’s in terms of its geopolitical situation and internal mood, so too this portrayal of Batman is very much a contemporary noir film dressed up as a superhero movie.
One of my favorite aspects of this particular film is the way that Batman and his pal Jim Gordon seek to solve the mystery of a set of murders committed by the Riddler, who toys with the Batman and taunts him to solve the mystery and thus vindicate the desire of the Riddler to make Gotham City lose hope in itself and collapse into chaos and complete disorder. Meanwhile, Bruce Wayne struggles to deal with the legacy of his dead parents and their own connection to the corruption of Gotham City, which has been done through the 1B they donated to the city as part of a Renewal project that has then become a slush fund to be used by corrupt mobsters, policemen, district attorneys, politicians, and the like. The struggle to know the truth of one’s own family background while also seeking to uncover the truth and restore a sense of hope to a broken and cynical populace in the face of violence and deep social divisions makes this a compelling film that largely succeeds in both entertainment as well as the probing of our contemporary society’s sense of malaise under our governing corrupt kleptocracy.
But while this film is certainly good, it is by no means perfect. The film’s efforts to play up to Pattinson’s pretty-boy reputation fall a little flat, and the film’s attempt at portraying Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle’s collaboration as being an uneasy romance fails pretty badly, as Kyle is viewed a more convincing lover to her roommate and Batman comes off as distinctly asexual and nearly completely emotionally remote, not without reason. In addition to the total lack of chemistry between the two leads, the color palette of the film is almost as dark as it is possible to be, and I do not want to challenge future films to make it look even more grim and dark than it is now, or else it would be almost entirely in varying shades of black on black. Additionally, the film tries to eat its cake and have it too by showing how it is that Bruce Wayne’s wealth is essential in his role as a vigilante detective while also having a lot of people (especially Selina Kyle and the Riddler) spout off on populist comments against the wealthy painting Wayne as a child of privilege when he has certainly chosen a difficult path of noblesse oblige. The film does not shy away, though, from the way in which the film’s villains seek to connect themselves with Bruce Wayne and the Batman as being similar, and even ends with a somewhat obvious arc showing Batman’s revised goals for bringing hope and not only vengeance, which are likely to be challenged by the usual rogue’s gallery of baddies like the Penguin and the Joker.