Batman 2022

BY ANDREW MOODY

In a recent article about the onslaught (and danger) of Franchise pictures in the New York Times, fabled director Martin Scorsese wrote:

Some say that Hitchcock’s pictures had a sameness to them, and perhaps that’s true — Hitchcock himself wondered about it. But the sameness of today’s franchise pictures is something else again. Many of the elements that define cinema as I know it are there in Marvel pictures. What’s not there is revelation, mystery or genuine emotional danger. Nothing is at risk. The pictures are made to satisfy a specific set of demands, and they are designed as variations on a finite number of themes.

I was six years old when Tim Burton’s Batman (1989) was released. Regarded in the industry as the Trump Towers of films, I remember throwing an enormous tantrum when I found out that it had been rated 12, and I couldn’t legally see it. I had been taken to the cinema to see other hits that year, Ghostbusters II, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?  & Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, pre-digital classics of a Hollywood era long since disappeared.

Aged 12 I went to see Joel Schumacher’s fetishistic Batman Forever (1995), the successor to Burton’s own Batman Returns (1992) which had seen a breathtaking performance by the beautiful Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman and a grotesque Danny De Vito as The Penguin. The Burton Batmans were gothic, theatrical, overblown, with a glorious score by Danny Elfman and giving off the impression of too much money and not enough sense, but they had a certain, tongue in cheek, comic book style, and still remain enjoyable to this day.

Schumacher’s follow up, Batman and Robin (1997) was a calamitous critical failure and Box Office disappointment, regarded as one of the worst films ever made. The franchise wasn’t rebooted until Batman Begins in 2005 by Memento (2000) writer/director Christopher Nolan. Nolan’s trilogy of Batman movies followed with The Dark Knight (2008) which saw Heath Ledger win a posthumous Oscar for his astonishing turn as The Joker. Nolan concluded his Batman films with The Dark Knight Rises (2012), forever scarred with the horrifying shooting in a cinema in Colorado that was playing the film.

Ten years later, after many comic book spin offs, the Batman franchise has been re-booted (yet again) by Matt Reeves in The Batman (2022), which sees Robert Pattinson donning the (well worn) batsuit and gearing up for battle in a video game style CGI dirge of rainstorms, brown, neon and black. Taking its cues from Blade Runner (1982) and Se7en (1995) as well as neo-noir video games like Max Payne and Grand Theft Auto, I saw this movie in a mostly empty cinema one evening in late March. A couple there on a date walked out after an hour. Earlier that week, two enormous tragedies hit Hollywood. First, the death of Foo Fighters drummer Taylor Hawkins from a drug overdose, and later the scandalous scenes at the Academy Awards that saw Will Smith punch host Chris Rock shortly before winning the Best Actor Oscar. Ironically The Batman features the use of the Nirvana track Something in the Way, the drummer for which, Dave Grohl, is the frontman for the Foo Fighters.

Neither I nor anybody else in the cinema much enjoyed the movie, especially in an age when the reputation of artists in the entertainment industry could not be lower. The last true Hollywood movie for me was Scorsese’s Gangs of New York (2002), since it was the last time the movie industry would build sets for their films before CGI took over.

The Batman is like a cover-version of a Batman film, a phony, CGI dirge made by unimaginative, effects-obsessed filmmakers operating in an almost uniquely anti-literary industry.

The Batman, then. Portentous, uninvolving, indulgently edited and at least an hour too long. On a budget of $185M-200,0000M it has so far made nearly $700M at the Box Office. A reasonable take for the filmmakers then, sadly ensuring that we will all have to endure more boring, Franchise films for the foreseeable future.