“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.
“How long have we been on this rock? Five weeks? Two Days? Where are we? Help me to recollect.”
A bizarre dramatic thriller that veers into horror as two lighthouse keepers on an isolated island struggle to maintain their sanity, The Lighthouse relies upon the combative, escalating performances of the film’s only two characters. Willem Dafoe’s irascible senior “wickie”, showing occasional softness only when he drinks, seems at first less nuanced than Robert Pattinson’s increasingly manic role. As we realise we are seeing much through the unreliable eyes of the latter, it emerges that Dafoe is effectively playing two roles, with the audience left to determine (or perhaps decree) reality. The use of black and white is more than mere affectation, the starkly oppressive visuals matched by overbearing sound design, frequently interrupted by the blare of a passing ship’s foghorn. Robert Eggers is unafraid to have darkness swallow most of the screen during night sequences. Even the use of the Academy aspect ratio is claustrophobic by modern standards — pressed in at the sides — as much as it harkens back to classic 1930s horror.
“What’s happened, happened. Which is an expression of fate in the mechanics of the world. It’s not an excuse to do nothing.”
Leaving aside Christopher Nolan’s misguided messianic desire to be the saviour of cinemas in the midst of a pandemic, Tenet is an ambitiously crafted, big budget disappointment. Relative perception of time has a been a consistent theme throughout most of Nolan’s filmmaking, manifesting here in the form of “inversion” whereby people and objects can be manipulated to move through time in reverse. This culminates in a couple of densely choreographed action sequences in the film’s final hour which operate with some characters moving forward through time and others in reverse. Unfortunately, the preceding hour and a half of less creative action and obtuse discussion by emotionally vacant characters will exhaust many viewers’ patience, worsened by Nolan’s oft-criticised sound mixing, frequently rendering dialogue incomprehensible as it is muffled by masks or overpowered by the soundtrack. Nolan’s past scripts demonstrate his capability at effectively communicating high concept ideas, be it the realistic time dilation of Interstellar or the multi-layered dreamworlds of Inception. By contrast, the rules by which Tenet operates only really come into focus as the film ends, rendering most of the action little more than pretty spectacle without clear stakes. Perhaps the intention is to force multiple viewings but nothing about Tenet is engaging enough to warrant the time investment.