Review: ‘The Batman,’ starring Robert Pattinson, Zoë Kravitz, Paul Dano, Jeffrey Wright, Andy Serkis, Colin Farrell and John Turturro

February 28, 2022

by Carla Hay

Zoë Kravitz and Robert Pattinson in “The Batman” (Photo by Jonathan Olley/DC Comics/Warner Bros. Pictures)

“The Batman”

Directed by Matt Reeves

Culture Representation: Taking place in the fictional U.S. city of Gotham City, the superhero action flick “The Batman” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some African Americans and Latinos) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: Vigilante superhero Batman—the secret alter ego of orphaned billionaire Bruce Wayne—battles several villains (some more obvious than others) in a race against time to stop psychopath The Riddler, who is intent on destroying Gotham City.

Culture Audience: “The Batman” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in superhero movies with a dark and brooding tone that’s similar to director Christopher Nolan’s “Batman/The Dark Knight” movies.

Robert Pattinson in “The Batman” (Photo by Jonathan Olley/DC Comics/Warner Bros. Pictures)

Richly layered in dark intrigue and life’s shades of gray, “The Batman” takes viewers deeper into Batman/Bruce Wayne’s mind than previous “Batman” films have ever ventured. This top-notch superhero film makes pointed social commentaries about greed, corruption and responsibilities of the wealthy, in addition to delivering plenty of stunning action sequences. The movie’s total running of time of 175 minutes doesn’t make the movie feel too bloated, although at times the filmmakers’ ambitions to make “The Batman” an epic superhero film seem forced into the story a little too much, in order to justify this nearly three-hour movie.

Directed by Matt Reeves, “The Batman” is not an origin story, such as director Christopher Nolan’s 2005 movie “Batman Begins,” which was the first in Nolan’s Batman movie trilogy that continued with 2008’s “The Dark Knight” and 2012’s “The Dark Knight Rises.” Reeves co-wrote “The Batman” screenplay with Peter Craig, with the movie based on DC Comics characters created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger.

In the beginning of “The Batman,” billionaire Bruce Wayne (played by Robert Pattinson), whose secret alter ego is vigilante superhero Batman, has been fighting crime as this caped crusader for two years, mostly at night. And it’s drained his finances to the point where his trusted butler Alfred Pennyworth (played by Andy Serkis) warns Bruce that if Bruce keeps doing what he’s doing as Batman, he’ll have no more money left, and that Bruce is doing a disservice to his family’s legacy. “Alfred, stop,” Bruce says with impatience at Alfred’s worrying lecture. “You’re not my father.” Alfred replies grimly with a hint of sadness, “I’m well aware.”

As Batman fans already know, Bruce lives in the fictional U.S. city of Gotham City (also known as Gotham), which is designed to look a lot like New York City. (“The Batman” was actually filmed in the United Kingdom and Chicago.) In the movie version of the Batman saga, Bruce’s parents—billionaire philanthropists Thomas Wayne and Martha Wayne—were gunned down in front of him by an unidentified man when Bruce was 8 years old. The killer has not been caught, and his parents’ murders have haunted Bruce ever since. Thomas (played by Luke Roberts) and Martha (played by Stella Stocker) are seen in brief flashbacks in “The Batman.”

The murders of Bruce’s parents motivated Bruce to become a secret crimefighter as an adult. Finding out who killed his parents is never far from Bruce’s mind. He’s been investigating with the help of Alfred. However, Batman’s other crimefighting duties often get in the way of this investigation. In addition to being a philanthropist, Thomas Wayne was a medical doctor and a politician. He was a mayoral candidate for Gotham when he and his wife were murdered.

Bruce has no superpowers, but his wealth has allowed him to have highly sophisticated and top-level resources, weapons and equipment, including his famous Batsuit and Batmobile. In “The Batman,” Bruce also has special contact lenses, which act as hidden cameras. Gotham police summon Batman for his help, by sending out a lighted signal of distress called the Bat-Signal, which is the Batman logo that can be seen in the sky.

Out of all of the movie incarnations of Batman, “The Batman” has a tone that most closely adheres to Nolan’s “Batman/Dark Knight” trilogy, with some noticeable differences. Compared to all previous “Batman” movies, “The Batman” is much more immersive in the psychology of Bruce Wayne/Batman—so much so, that viewers can hear Bruce’s/Batman’s inner thoughts in voiceovers throughout the movie. It’s a filmmaker choice that might annoy some viewers, but in the context of “The Batman,” it works very well.

The movie’s opening scene takes viewers right into Bruce’s/Batman’s state of mind, as heard in a voiceover that says: “Two years of nights have turned me into a nocturnal animal. I must choose my targets carefully. It’s a big city. They don’t know where I am. The signal that lights up the sky is not just a call. It’s a warning to them. Fear is a tool. They think I’m lying in the shadows, but I am the shadows.”

This version of Batman has a type of inner turmoil and rage that hasn’t been seen in previous “Batman” movies. Batman famously has a personal policy to not kill people unless it’s justifiable self-defense. But in “The Batman,” this caped superhero unleashes some vicious beatings that go beyond what would be necessary to defeat an opponent. There’s a scene in the movie where Batman has to be physically stopped by law enforcement during one of these near-fatal assaults. It’s one of the reasons why Batman is feared and mistrusted by certain people who think he’s an out-of-control vigilante.

Previous “Batman” movies also made it very clear who the heroes and villains are. “The Batman” effectively blurs those lines, as secrets are revealed about several characters’ backgrounds. However, there’s no question that the chief villain of “The Batman” is a mysterious psychopath named The Riddler (played by Paul Dano), whose real name is Edward Nashton. “The Batman” reveals only a few other things about The Riddler’s personal background, since he operates and is seen mostly in the shadows.

However, there’s no doubt about The Riddler’s motives. He leaves notes and clues around Gotham to announce that his murder victims are being targeted because they are corrupt leaders who have betrayed the citizens of Gotham and beyond. The first murder is shown early on in the movie, which opens on Halloween night in Gotham.

This murder takes place 20 years (to the week) after the murders of Thomas and Martha Wayne. The target of this Halloween-night murder is “tough on crime” Mayor Don Mitchell Jr. (played by Rupert Penry-Jones), who is brutally tied up and assaulted in his own home, as he is watching himself in a pre-recorded televised candidate debate for Gotham’s next mayoral election. The incumbent mayor is home alone because his wife (played by Kosha Engler) and son (played by Archie Barnes), who do not have names in the movie, are somewhere else celebrating Halloween.

Is The Riddler acting alone, or does he have any cronies? One of the best aspects of “The Batman” is that the movie plays guessing games about where loyalties lie and whom Batman/Bruce can really trust. Bruce also finds out certain things that make him question his own motives and ethics, as well as how well he thought he knew his parents before they died. Throughout the movie, Bruce/Batman is a trusted ally of James Gordon (played by Jeffrey Wright), a lieutenant of the Gotham City Police Department, who includes Batman in the investigations and at each scene of The Riddler’s crimes.

In previous “Batman” movies, Bruce was an obvious playboy. In “The Batman,” Bruce is still a brooding eligible bachelor, but he isn’t dating anyone. However, when he meets Selina Kyle (played by Zoë Kravitz), also known as Catwoman, there’s a mutual attraction between them that sparks a little bit of romance. (They kiss each other in the movie.) Selina works as a bar server at warehouse-styled nightspot called the Iceberg Lounge, owned by shady and slippery business mogul Oswald “Oz” Cobblepot (played by Colin Farrell), also known as The Penguin.

Selina is an emotionally damaged soul whose Catwoman alter ego is a skilled and clever thief. Selina also “collects” stray cats and takes care of several of these cats in her home. In “The Batman,” Selina and Bruce cross paths because she’s investigating the disappearance of her Russian immigrant roommate Annika Kosolov (played by Hana Hrzic), whom Selina thinks has been kidnapped because Annika knew too much about a powerful man whom Annika was dating. The reasons for Annika’s disappearance (and how they all connect to a larger story) are eventually revealed in “The Batman.”

Even though Selina describes Annika to people as her “friend,” the movie hints that Annika was also Selina’s lover. Before Annika disappeared, Selina is shown comforting a distressed and fearful Annika in their apartment. Annika won’t tell Selina what’s wrong, and Selina keeps calling her “baby” and touching Annika in the way that someone would touch a lover. The movie leaves Selina’s sexuality open to interpretation because it seems the intention is that Selina is the type of person who doesn’t want to put a label on her own sexuality. Whatever the nature of Selina’s relationship is with Annika, it’s a departure from previous movie/TV characterizations of Selina, who is usually depicted as a social outcast who lives alone.

The potential romance between Batman and Catwoman is fraught with trust issues and the taboo of Batman dating someone he knows breaks the law. However, their emotional connection is powerful. Bruce and Selina both know the pain of growing up without parents and having a parent murdered. Selina’s single mother Maria (who is not seen in the movie) was strangled when Selina was 7 years old. Bruce and Selina also have the shared characteristic of having secret identities that are often misunderstood to the point where certain people don’t know if Batman and Catwoman are heroes or villains.

During the course of the movie, these other characters come into the orbit of Bruce/Batman: Carmine Falcone (played by John Turturro), a ruthless mob boss who has The Penguin as his “right-hand man”; Gil Colson (played by Peter Sarsgaard), Gotham’s district attorney who’s at the center of one of the most suspenseful scenes in the movie; Pete Savage (played by Alex Ferns), the Gotham City Police Department commissioner who doesn’t trust Batman as much as Lieutenant Gordon does; Gotham City Police Department chief Mackenzie Bock (played by Con O’Neill), who also has mistrust of Batman; and Bella Reál (played by Jayme Lawson), the young and progressive mayoral candidate who was Don Mitchell Jr.’s opponent in the mayoral race, and she is elected mayor after his death.

During all of this murder and mayhem in Gotham, Bruce finds out that he’s the target of The Riddler because The Riddler thinks that Bruce is corrupt too. Does The Riddler knows Batman’s real identity? The answer to that question is shown in the movie. There’s also some intrigue around the Wayne Foundation Renewal Fund, a charitable venture launched by Bruce’s father and is worth millions.

And in “The Batman,” the Iceberg Lounge has a “club within a club” that’s exactly what you might think it is for a nightclub that attracts a lot of powerful figures involved in criminal activities. The movie has several references to an opioid-like liquid drug called “drops,” because people take the drug through eyedrops, and addicts are called “dropheads.” Years before this story takes place, a crime lord named Salvatore Morrone (who’s never seen in the movie) was a major dealer of drops, and he got busted while Don Mitchell Jr. was mayor of Gotham. This drug bust has had long-lasting repercussions.

“The Batman” offers some biting views on how rich people throwing money at society’s problems doesn’t necessarily erase those problems if systemic inequalities still remain. Catwoman shows she has a side to her that’s about disrupting or challenging society’s institutions that are constructed to keep corrupt, privileged people in power. She’s not really an activist, but more like a social anarchist. And, for the first time in a “Batman” movie, Bruce is really taken to task by certain people for being perceived as a spoiled, wealthy heir who hasn’t really done much to help underprivileged people.

It’s not really “social justice preaching,” but it somewhat shocks Bruce to see that people seem to resent that he appears to have an “ivory tower” mindset while people are suffering around him. And to be fair, this Bruce is such a depressed recluse in “The Batman,” he’s not exactly hobnobbing at charity events as much as Bruce did in previous “Batman” movies. Alfred has to practically beg Bruce to go to a high-society fundraiser, so that Wayne Family charities can continue to operate.

As well-written as “The Batman” screenplay is, it’s hard to go wrong with such a talented group of cast members, who embody their roles as if they were born to play these characters. Pattinson has already demonstrated in plenty of his independent films that he’s got the gravitas and empathy to personify the dual roles of Batman and Bruce Wayne. Kravitz is all kinetic grace and seductive street smarts as Selina Kyle.

Farrell (who’s unrecognizable underneath exceptional prosthetic makeup) does one of the best supporting-role performances of his career as The Penguin, a menacing and sarcastic thug who isn’t in the movie as much as “The Batman” movie trailers would suggest, but he still makes an undeniable impact. Dano is chilling and unnerving as The Riddler, who’s a combination of a calculating mastermind and a loose cannon. This is not a fun-loving, impish and giggling Riddler, as seen in other “Batman” movies or TV shows. This Riddler is genuinely an infuriated and deeply disturbed villain. The cast members in the other supporting roles do their jobs well in characters that are less complex.

In the 2010s, “The Batman” director Reeves helmed two stellar “Planet of the Apes” movies: 2014’s “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” and 2017’s “War for the Planet of the Apes.” With the “The Batman,” Reeves raises the bar considerably for all other “Batman” films to come. “The Batman” excels in numerous areas of filmmaking to make this superhero movie true visual art. The captivating cinematography (by Greig Fraser) is bathed in hues of black, dark gold and crimson red to bring viewers into a very specific and fascinating world. In addition to the cinematography, the movie’s costume design (led by Jacqueline Durran), production design (led by James Chinlund), musical score (by Michael Giacchino), makeup, sound, visual effects and stunts are all worthy of awards attention.

The musical choices in “The Batman” are particularly effective. For example, Batman’s theme in this movie, which is a nod to composer John Williams’ Darth Vader theme in 1977’s “Star Wars,” is quite possibly the most memorable Batman movie theme to come along in years. It’s a stirring musical signature that evokes the despair and determination that weigh heavily on Batman/Bruce Wayne’s soul. The musical interludes in “The Batman” also include Nirvana’s melancholy song “Something in the Way,” which is woven into the story in such a distinctive manner, viewers will get this song stuck in their heads long after seeing this movie.

But one of the ways that “The Batman” truly stands out from other superhero movies is that it doesn’t necessarily follow the predictable formula of all the villains defeated at the very end. (And “The Batman” has are no mid-credits scenes or end-credits scenes.) The movie takes on some heavy issues, including how society places a stigma on mental illness, and how this stigma has serious repercussions on people’s lives.

“The Batman” also has a few twists and turns that might surprise audiences. (For example, people will be talking about Barry Keoghan’s cameo as a “mystery character” near the end of the movie.) Most of all, “The Batman” accomplishes what many other superhero films don’t: The movie shows the vulnerabilities of a troubled superhero protagonist, who doesn’t have bunch of superhero friends to back him up, and who is at war with himself as much as he is at war against crime.

Warner Bros. Pictures will release “The Batman” on March 4, 2022, with official sneak-preview screenings on March 1 and March 2, 2022. The movie is set to premiere on HBO Max and will be released on digital and VOD on April 18, 2022. HBO will premiere “The Batman” on April 23, 2022. “The Batman” will be released on 4K, Blu-ray and DVD on May 24, 2022.

Review: ‘Waiting for the Barbarians,’ starring Mark Rylance, Johnny Depp, Robert Pattinson, Gana Bayarsaikhan and Greta Scacchi

August 9, 2020

by Carla Hay

Mark Rylance and Johnny Depp in “Waiting for the Barbarians” (Photo courtesy of Samuel Goldwyn Films)

“Waiting for the Barbarians” 

Directed by Ciro Guerra

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed frontier settlement in the early 20th century, the drama “Waiting for the Barbarians” features a racially diverse cast of white and indigenous people representing the British military and native people.

Culture Clash:  A magistrate in charge of the settlement resists his government’s attempts at brutal colonialism.

Culture Audience: “Waiting for the Barbarians” will appeal mostly to people who don’t mind seeing a frontier film that doesn’t involve epic battles but instead shows the effects of racist imperialism in a more intimate and introspective manner.

Robert Pattinson in “Waiting for the Barbarians” (Photo courtesy of Samuel Goldwyn Films)

“Waiting for the Barbarians” is about the insidiousness of racist colonialism, but people might be surprised to find out that it’s not the kind of movie filled with soldiers stampeding through an area to conquer the land and people. Instead, “Waiting for Barbarians” is more of a meditative character study where many of the scenes are slow-paced and the movie’s impact comes gradually rather than hitting viewers all at once. People are either going to appreciate this less predictable approach to telling this story or they’re going to dislike it if they’re expecting something more conventional.

Ciro Guerra directed “Waiting and Barbarians,” which is based on J.M. Coetzee’s novel of the same name. Coetzee also wrote the movie’s screenplay. The movie’s slow pacing is indicative of life on an isolated settlement, but there are some moments in the film (particularly in the scenes that take place outdoors) that have some dramatic visuals that are quite suspenseful and emotionally riveting.

The story’s central character is an unnamed British magistrate (played by Oscar-winning actor Mark Rylance), who’s in charge of an unnamed frontier settlement in a desert area in the late 1920s or early 1930s. (For the purposes of this review, this character will be called the Magistrate.) The Magistrate, who is not married and has no children, is a mild-mannered leader who has been living peacefully among his colleagues and the indigenous people in the area. One of his trusted co-workers is a lieutenant (played by Sam Reid), who willingly obeys orders.

It’s established early on in the story that Magistrate is a pacifist who doesn’t believe that his home country should kill and torture the natives in order to have control of the area. He doesn’t like to call the indigenous people “barbarians,” as his fellow countrymen call them. Instead he calls the indigenous people “natives.” And the Magistrate doesn’t hesitate to correct people who call them “barbarians,” because he thinks it’s a racist and derogatory word for the indigenous people.

The Magistrate’s relatively tranquil life is disrupted one spring day when a pompous bureaucrat named Colonel Joll (played by Johnny Depp) arrives to complete an inspection of the settlement. The biggest clue that this story takes place sometime in the late 1920s or early 1930s because Colonel Joll is wearing a new invention: sunglasses. He likes to show and explain this new invention to anyone who asks about it.

Colonel Joll isn’t a member of the military. He works for the police bureau of state security. And he isn’t just there for an inspection. He wants to interrogate the indigenous people in the area about their rumored plans to attack and start a war with the white colonial settlers. And he drops some not-so-subtle hints to the Magistrate that his interrogation methods include torture.

The Magistrate isn’t too worried that there will be an attack. He says, “Once in every generation, there is an episode of hysteria about the barbarians. It’s the consequence of too much ease.” But Colonel Joll doesn’t respect the Magistrate’s laid-back approach to leading the settlement. And the Magistrate soon finds out how sadistic Colonol Joll is when several indigenous men, including some in the local jail, end up brutally tortured by Colonol Joll and his minions.

Colonel Joll leaves the area, much to Magistrate’s relief. And then, a mysterious young indigenous woman (played by Gana Bayarsaikhan) shows up at the settlement during the winter. She doesn’t have a name in the movie, which only identifies her as Girl, but she has obviously been tortured. Her broken ankle hasn’t properly healed, she’s mostly blind, and she has scarring on her face that was made with a heated fork that was used in the torture.

The Magistrate tells her that vagrants aren’t allowed in the settlement, but he has compassion for her and lets her stay in the settlement in exchange for her doing work there. It’s also hinted a little later in the story that he’s sexually attracted to her, but he’s too much of a gentleman to make any moves on her. However, he invites her to live with him on a platonic basis, and he starts giving her leg massages.

It isn’t long before she’s sharing the same bed with him—not as his lover but as a close companion in a situation where two very lonely people without family have turned to each other for emotional comfort. She opens up to the Magistrate a little bit about her past, including her experience being tortured, and she tells the Magistrate that she eventually wants to go back to her people in her original home several hundred miles away. It would

This living arrangement inevitably causes gossip amongst the white colonials in the settlement, including a widowed grandmother named Mai (played by Greta Scacchi) who seems to be attracted to the Magistrate. Meanwhile, a British military visitor to the settlement asks the Magistrate why the native people in the settlement seem so unhappy. The Magistrate answers, “It will take years to patch up the damaged Joll did in a week. They still think of us [colonials] as visitors, transients.”

The last half of the movie involves a fateful trip that the Magistrate takes, the return of Colonel Joll, and the arrival of a Brit named Officer Mandell (played by Robert Pattinson), who makes his views on colonialism very clear. All of the cast members do a good job in their believable character roles, but Rylance’s steady, often quiet portrayal of the Magistrate is the emotional heart of the story.

People who know that Depp is in the film might expect him to play an over-the-top flamboyant character. There are elements of flashiness in Colonel Joll’s demeanor, but his menacing evil is more controlled. He’s not the type of villain to have raging temper tantrums. His icy personality is a true reflection of his cold-blooded detachment from the mayhem and torture that he inflicts. As such, people who are expecting Depp to play the type of kooky protagonist (and leading role) that he tends to have in his movies might be disappointed that he has a supporting role as a villain who’s only in this movie for about 20 minutes.

“Waiting for the Barbarians” gets its title from the paranoia that the colonials feel about waiting for the native people to attack them, because the colonials know that they have invaded the native people’s territory. The movie doesn’t sugarcoat the racism and torture that were committed in the name of colonialism, but it doesn’t have a traditional narrative of groups of people rising up against each other. “Waiting for the Barbarians” might frustrate or bore people expecting an action-packed war movie. However, the movie gives some compelling insight into one man’s resistance to racist colonialism and how this struggle wasn’t necessarily fought on a battlefield.

Samuel Goldwyn Films released “Waiting for the Barbarians” on digital and VOD on August 7, 2020.

Charlie Hunnam, Robert Pattinson search for a mythical culture in ‘The Lost City of Z’

April 14, 2017

by Carla Hay

Sienna Miller, Robert Pattinson and Tom Holland at the 2016 New York Film Festival press conference for "The Lost City of Z"
Sienna Miller, Robert Pattinson and Tom Holland at the 2016 New York Film Festival press conference for “The Lost City of Z” (Photo by Carla Hay)

Based on author David Grann’s non-fiction bestseller, “The Lost City of Z” tells the incredible true story of British explorer Percy Fawcett (played by Charlie Hunnam), who journeys into the Amazon at the dawn of the 20th century and discovers evidence of a previously unknown, advanced civilization that may have once inhabited the region. Despite being ridiculed by the scientific establishment who regard indigenous populations as “savages,” the determined Fawcett—supported by his devoted wife Nina (played by Sienna Miller), son Jack (played by Tom Holland) and aide-de-camp Corporal Henry Costin (played by Robert Pattinson)—returns time and again to his beloved jungle in an attempt to prove his case, culminating in his mysterious disappearance in 1925. An epically scaled tale of courage and passion, told in writer/director James Gray’s classic filmmaking style, “The Lost City of Z” is a stirring tribute to the exploratory spirit and a conflicted adventurer driven to the verge of obsession. “The Lost City of Z” had its world premiere at the 2016 New York Film Festival, where Gray, Pattinson, Miller, Holland and co-star Angus Macfadyen gathered for a Q&A after a press screening.

 

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