“Fear is a tool. When that light hits the sky, it’s not just a call. It’s a warning.”
Matt Reeves’ The Batman is the stylish reboot that (non-comedy) superhero films have needed, with their ever-increasing scale and shared-universe homogeneity. The “Year 2” storyline thankfully avoids yet another origin story, though parallels are drawn early on with the murder of Bruce Wayne’s parents. Instead, we see an established Batman dealing with street-level crime (emerging from the shadows like Vader to Michael Giacchino’s imposing brass score), already mistrusted by the police though he is called in to investigate crime scenes and track down leads. Grounded in realism with noir and gothic cinematic sensibilities, The Batman‘s greatest inspiration seems to come from another dark, winged creature, Alex Proyas’ The Crow, with its relentless pursuit of thugs through stylised streets soaked in shadows and rain. It seems most overt when Batman removes his mask to reveal a smear of black around his eyes and matted hair, reminscent of Eric Draven’s iconic appearance. The open jawline of the redesigned cowl allows Robert Pattinson to emote far more than recent incarnations, perhaps essential when he spends so little time as a reclusive Bruce Wayne. Despite spending most of the time as Batman, the action is rather limited though it oozes style: a brief corridor fight lit only by bursts of muzzle flash, or a car chase in the rain with near-zero visibility. It is a rare superhero where the climactic set piece is actually the film’s most satisfying. Greig Fraser’s cinematography deploys sharp camera angles, high contrast and often limited colour in a creative interpretation of some of the most striking Batman comicbook art. The ensemble cast excels, with few simple caricatures. Paul Dano’s Riddler is deliberately ordinary, like the Zodiac Killer crossed with Jigsaw, as the film briefly explores Batman’s complicity in inspiring his villains as well as the Internet incubation of rightwing extremism. An unrecognisable Colin Farrell is underused as Penguin, though the stage has clearly been set for him to take a central role in the future. The Batman‘s chief flaw is in editing, running too long with intermittent pacing issues affecting a number of scenes, but that only slightly diminishes the overall accomplishment.
Disclosure: I know personally at least one person involved in the making of this film.
“Dreams make good stories, but everything important happens when we’re awake.”
Creating an epic space opera without “Star Wars” in the title is a financially risky proposition, and the chief criticism of Denis Villeneuve’s Dune is that it tells only half a story if its A-list cast fails to attract a wide enough audience for the second film to be made. I approach the film as a fan of the director rather than Frank Herbert’s novels but the script maintains the rich political intrigue between the familial houses laying claim to desert-planet Arrakis. The scenes of violence and war are always in service to that story. Timothée Chalamet is an excellent choice for Paul Atreides, making him seem vulnerable despite his lineage and skills. This is a man driven by dreams and visions, a storytelling device that I always find less compelling on screen than in writing, an indulgence detrimental to pacing. Nevertheless, Villeneuve’s own uncompromising vision is evident in almost every frame, from the ruggedly realistic clothing and stark geometric sets to the insect-inspired vehicle designs and a desaturated colour palette so tightly controlled that merely seeing green on Arrakis comes as a shock. Indeed the inhospitable world of Arrakis is utterly absorbing (even as the plot slows) in a way I have not felt since Avatar‘s Pandora, but the rest of the galaxy feels strangely empty — we may see large armies on different planets, but there is no sense that these are living, populated places. Dune is beautiful in its detailed grandeur which excels on the big screen but it can also be sluggish and bleak, held back from greatness by an ultimately unsatisfying ending, even if there are thematic justifications for where the line was drawn.
“It’s no surprise that when a monotone bureaucratic Vice President came to power we hardly noticed. As he achieved a position of authority that very few leaders in the history of America ever have.”
Dick Cheney is a strange choice for a biopic: despite his impressive consolidation of power and unprecedented control of the White House during his tenure as Vice President, the man himself was, for the most part, a dull bureaucrat. We already know how the key events unfolded with 9/11 leading to the devastating wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the film largely glossing over the darkest results of Cheney’s policies in a strange montage. Adam McKay conveys little new information in Vice, though he deploys moments of directorial flair like an amusing false ending early in the film or a waiter offering scheming politicians a menu of unorthodox ways to expand their power. As Cheney, Christian Bale undergoes another incredible — clearly unhealthy — physical transformation (he says it will be the last time), though Sam Rockwell’s performance as George W Bush stands out in particular. The film’s most interesting dynamics are probably the familial, from Lynne Cheney’s role in motivating her husband’s ascent to his supportive relationship with his daughters despite political ramifications. Ultimately, however, it is difficult to identify what one takes away from Vice beyond the closing accusation to the American people, “You chose me. And I did what you asked.”