‘The Batman’ completes the circle from sitcom to self-parody

The Batman, as far as you remotely care about the plot, kicks off with the murder of the Mayor of Gotham in his own home. The movie starts out pretty creepy with us being her overseer, watching through the windows until her family leaves. His body presents The Batman with a murder mystery that quickly turns into a paranoid thriller: we know the Riddler is responsible, and he’s embarked on a campaign of revenge against Gotham’s hidden real villains.

The film offers more suspects than last week’s episode of Midsomer Murders, with quality actors Peter Saarsgard, John Turturro and Colin Farrell paid to access different levels of humiliation. The Batman gains a female ally (and a potential love interest, not that he’s able to feel anything) in Zoë Kravitz, who’s also driven by – guess what? – revenge.

Didn’t Quentin Tarantino and Liam Neeson squeeze the last drop of “justice” penny ante out of this trope? Uh huh. So Reeves and company aspire to elevate those base impulses by emulating the moral imperatives and social commentary of an earlier generation’s “B” movies, the most resonant film noir.

Alas, The Batman missing a fair hero, a fighter for fair play, a good guy with a tool belt. His would-be champion is so stuck in his own head, so obsessed with his father’s reputation and legacy, that he has abandoned the great fight against corruption, exploitation and injustice for selfish and petty concerns. Gotham drowns and Bruce Wayne dusts and straightens family photos in the lobby.

Robert Pattinson as Batman. (© Warner Bros. / Courtesy Everett Collection)

The Batman is dull, humorless work, so I enjoyed myself how and where I could. Versatile butler Alfred (Andy Serkis replacing Michael Caine) enters with a cane and an English accent; for a hot second I thought Bates of Downton Abbey got a job in America. (Coming to think of it, it would be a hoot to see Maggie Smith’s Lady Crawley get full license to flaunt her inner supervillain. Paul Dano has the dubious honor here.)

Jokes are rare in The Batman (hence the desire to write mine), and the laughter is even rarer. My great regret is that Ingmar Bergman is not alive to refine the screenplay, flesh out the dialogues and inject a little humor.

It’s a cheap shot, and I apologize. Bergman had a formidable wit, and his most serious films contain a few ironic laughs. Occasionally, he might even laugh at himself. Until The Batman can do that, he’s just Batman to me, no matter what his business card says.

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