The inescapable campiness of ‘The Batman’

With a whopping three-hour long runtime and a cast full of attractive faces in silly costumes, “The Batman” exemplifies the inherent silliness of Hollywood’s attempts to transform comic book schlock into material worthy of criticism.

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Susan Behrends Valenzuela

As a revamp of classic superhero movies or as a gritty crime drama, “The Batman” has failed to live up to critics’ standards, instead devolving into the realm of campiness. (Staff Illustration by Susan Behrends Valenzuela)

Nicolas Pedrero-Setzer, Arts Editor

When Bill Finger and Bob Kane’s Batman first jumped from the comic book page to the silver screen, he did so wearing an excessively tight gray undershirt complemented by two overblown bat insignias and a child’s cape to top off his silly look. Since then, a lineage of filmmakers have undergone the task of reinventing Batman’s signature cinematic look: Joel Schumacher accentuated his nipples, Christopher Nolan his penchant for croaking rather than speaking, and Zack Snyder his proclivity for doing crossfit. Matt Reeves’ latest reconfiguration of the famous bat-loving vigilante continues this tradition, immersing itself in the inherent campiness of its main subject and giving us a “Batman” film that acknowledges its own ridiculousness.

When asked about what films influenced his take on Batman, Robert Pattinson pointed to Al Pacino’s legendary performance as Michael Corleone and grunge legend Kurt Cobain. Unfortunately, Pattinson’s channeling of such dynamic pop cultural figures under pounds of muscle pads only brings out the most caricaturesque qualities of Corleone and Cobain. This results in a performance that more closely resembles the most exaggerated emo characteristics of Robert de Niro’s desperate loner Travis Bickle from “Taxi Driver” and My Chemical Romance frontman Gerard Way.

Reeve’s new vision of Batman is brought to life by the perfectly chiseled and overly pouty British sex symbol Robert Pattinson. He wears eye shadow, emo hair, listens to Nirvana and angrily journals while sulking after playing vigilante every night. It’s hard not to laugh at him. Similarly, it’s not hard to cackle through the entirety of “The Batman.”

The fact of the matter is that the superhero genre’s constant attempts at being serious have only accentuated its ridiculous campiness. As directors attempt to deliver grittier versions of everyone’s favorite masked vigilantes, it becomes harder to suspend disbelief and derive enjoyment from watching a 20-year-old character dressed up as a bat beat up mafia henchmen. This tonal clash between forced hyper-realism and cartoon logic puts “The Batman” somewhere between “Chinatown” and “Scooby-Doo.”

Paul Dano’s villainous Riddler is a perfect example of this. Inhabiting the persona of brainy incel with a tragic past, Dano’s performance simultaneously mythologizes the malefactor with a proclivity for riddles through its own clump of over-stylized characteristics — strange social media following, fondness for scribbling and erratically alternating vocal modulation — while arguing he could exist in the real world by emphasizing his mental illness and neglected upbringing. 

These elements of Dano’s performance clash on screen, collapsing any sense of believability in “The Batman,” a motion that reinforces the brokenness of the modern superhero film by inhibiting the ability to enjoy them as either campy works of escapism or gritty crime dramas. Even worse, the conflation of exaggerated comic book traits with real-life problems casts an insulting shadow on topics such as mental illness and impoverishment which are trivialized as ramifications or catalysts of villainy.

The film’s further decision to dig into classic Italian mafia territory, which involves a whole cast of goons with last names that rhyme with cannoli — Falcone (John Turturro) and Maroni to name two — does not help Reeves’ attempts to revamp Batman as a high-stakes detective-crime epic one bit. Colin Farrell under two pounds of prosthetics as The Penguin, a slimy club owner whose choice to wear high heels makes his walk look more like a waddle, makes matters even worse. As a product of camp, the film fails due to its unwillingness to embrace the silliness at its core. And as a high drama worthy of its three-hour runtime, “The Batman” crumbles under the weight of its eponymous hero’s Halloween costume.

Reeves’ hopeless attempt at transforming Batman into a serious franchise only reinforces the notion that superhero films are desperately contained within their own campy aesthetics, vampirically drawing from other genres in futile attempts to gather ounces of respectability. At the end of the day, “The Batman” is Hollywood schlock at its most bloated in terms of budget, runtime and self-importance.

Contact Nicolas Pedrero-Setzer at [email protected]