Arts & Life

‘The Batman’: Incels, the Bechdel test and Robert Pattinson’s best looks

March 27, 2022, 8:51 p.m.

Spoiler warning: this review contains spoilers for “The Batman.”

The Batman” was stunning in the same way “Cats” (2019) was stunning — I was continuously aware that I was sitting in a theater, watching a movie starring the “Twilight” guy, but I was blissfully entertained. Between over-the-top characters, eye-catching costumes and a truly terrifying villain, I could tell I was watching a movie everyone would be talking about. I didn’t itch to check my phone once, which is pretty impressive given the film’s two-hour-and-56-minute run. However, rather than actually getting absorbed into the world of the film, I was more drawn to taking mental notes of the bizarre, beautiful and, at times, outright hilarious experience of watching Robert Pattinson as Batman for the first time.

“The Batman” fits right in with the darker, grittier trend we’ve seen in remakes for the past few years. Yes, Batman has always been the Dark Knight, but this version really feels just a few blocks away from “Riverdale” or “Euphoria”-ville, starring a 20-something protagonist with smeared eyeshadow. Don’t get me wrong, I love it: the acting is excellent, the sets are gorgeous, the plot is engaging. It just occasionally breaks the audience’s immersion in the same way a millennial author trying to write teen characters’ text conversations does. 

It might be that I’ve simply reached my limit on gritty social commentary and commercial media, or that I’ve seen too many “Robert Pattinson lying in press interviews” compilations, but I felt a strong inclination to not take “The Batman” seriously. Maybe I’ve met too many wealthy, self-isolating, self-sacrificing Bruce Waynes in real life to empathize with the dude. How far can we push “gritty” and “dark” until audiences are pushed to either genuinely stop enjoying a movie, especially as these plotlines often contain abuse and discrimination against women and people of color, or to laugh off the movie’s efforts for hyper-serious plotlines?

This is not to say that Pattinson did a bad job playing the Dark Knight. On the contrary, I think Pattinson captured exactly who Batman, especially this version, is supposed to be — a brooding, disillusioned 20-something, both privileged and unstable enough to take justice into his own hands. In fact, I think our view of Pattinson is similar to Gotham City’s view of Bruce Wayne: a somewhat reclusive, hot, loner guy with a weird past, who seems almost reluctantly famous. Such could be the description of Wayne or Pattinson. Likewise, seeing Edward from “Twilight” beating up the police department in a cape gives us the same disconcerting delight that Gotham City would feel seeing high society’s golden boy tazering gang members outside a subway station. Perfect casting. 

I would be remiss to not also mention Zoë Kravitz’s brilliant portrayal of Catwoman (also known as Selina Kyle). Of course, her costuming was impeccable: a chic pixie cut paired with a timeless belted catsuit and a bright bob working with a miniskirt and platforms suited Kyle’s effortlessly cool persona. Kravitz excelled in the role; the audience is immediately endeared to her determined Kyle and charmed by her cunning Catwoman. Kravitz captivated the screen in every scene she was in. 

Sadly, there were markedly too few of them. Kravitz first dons the Catwoman bodysuit to aid her wronged girlfriend, Anika. Soon, if you couldn’t guess, Anika is murdered, and Catwoman gets to grieve her for about two seconds before the plot moves along — that is, until about an hour later, when Catwoman sets out to avenge Anika by killing her own father (it’s a long story). Batman suddenly decides to be anti-violent and talk her down, painting Catwoman as young, misguided and reckless because of her childhood, while “I am vengeance” himself, who kills in the name of his own parents, is the voice of reason. Interesting.

With a total of three named female characters, one zip-tied in the District Attorney’s trunk and the other a mayoral candidate with a story arc flatter than Kansas, “The Batman” passes the Bechdel Test on only a technicality. While undercover in a mob-run club, Selina interrogates another woman, whose name is technically identified by Selina’s high-tech contacts, about Anika’s disappearance. Regardless, I sincerely hope we get more of Catwoman, and perhaps another female friend or two, in the future of this movie series. 

Unfortunately, Kravitz wasn’t allowed to lend much of her comedic skill to the film, either. When the movie intends to be funny, it falls flat; Batman and Commissioner ask the Penguin if “el rata al lada,” a clue from the Riddler, meant anything to him. The Penguin says something along the lines of, “that’s not grammatically correct, don’t you guys habla español?” which might’ve landed 20 years ago, but throwing in a random sentence in Spanish isn’t as hilarious for a 2022 United States with a huge Spanish-speaking population and easy access to Google Translate. The heroes then drive off, leaving the Penguin’s wrists and ankles tied despite his pitiful complaints, which didn’t elicit laughs either.

However, unintentionally funny moments occurred throughout the film. The prime example is a scene where, midway through confronting an Italian mobster in an alleyway, Batman has an epiphany about the Riddler and whips out a laptop. He inputs the Riddler’s latest code directly into the browser, which brings him to a neon-green-text-with-black-background chat room where he messages with the villain. There were laughs in the theater, but I don’t think the movie was going for humor. I think the movie was going for an Anonymous, “Mr. Robot” atmosphere, but the portrayal of Batman’s negotiations with a threatening, hacker type villain hasn’t quite caught up with the times. In practice, it felt like Batman could’ve busted out a “c u l8r” or “lmfao,” and it wouldn’t have been out of place. 

Another scene eliciting laughs comes when Wayne has just been shaken by the possible death of the only family member he has left. We cut from this classic dude-who’s-never-vulnerable-becomes-vulnerable scene in the BatMobile straight to Pattinson wearing only slim-cut black pants, with dirty, dirty bare feet pushing a heavy wooden table across a room (in a very brooding way). After about 15 seconds of this shot, he then whips out some spray paint and starts making this mood-board-slash-serial-killer style mind map on his wood floors with a collage of all his evidence and some ominous Riddler slogans. Maybe it was meant to be hot, if you’re into intense, shirtless guys with dirty feet reeling from the death of their father figure (which, no shame, I support it!). Maybe this was Batman at his most unhinged? Or saddest? But for a man knocked off his axis, the mind map looked pretty nice aesthetically. The size of the letters was very consistent. The map was very balanced. With Pattinson’s constantly moody, at times monotonous, mad-at-the-world expression, it was often hard to tell what exactly Wayne was feeling, which left the scene feeling humorous from an absurdist lens.

In another stunning moment of either oversight or comedic genius, we touch on the  typical Bruce Wayne plot line, where the sad, isolated rich kid needs to break out of his shell and care about his family legacy. Arthur tells Wayne he’s having guests over, so he needs to get dressed. Though at first reluctant, Wayne then walks out in a black T-shirt and pants combo, which surely costs more than the average Gotham City resident makes in a week. But then he whips out these black, rectangular, early 2000’s Bratz sunglasses to match? It brought me to tears. 2022 Batman is, as always, too counter culture to wear any color whatsoever, but he still wants to look cute. I mean, he needed a little accessorizing to try to keep up with Catwoman’s unflinchingly jaw-dropping looks. I sincerely hope we get to see more of Wayne’s story, or at the very least his outfits, in a sequel.

I missed the (perhaps unintentional) goofiness, though, when things got serious in the film’s third act: The Riddler is revealed to be an incel in clear millennial glasses (the incel identity is unconfirmed, but he is a reclusive, self-pitying white guy who thinks the world is against him, so I’m generalizing. Yes, he’s an orphan, which sucks, but he could really put this energy into a career in computer science and become a villain the normal way, by working for Facebook). He escalates from his hobby of assassinating corrupt public figures and raises an army on Twitch to mass murder the people of Gotham City. To put it simply, things got a little too real, and I wished for a good laugh again so I could push away the impending dread. For those who enjoy a truly terrifying antagonist, this would do it for you; though I would guess that the prospect of a group of white men feeling wronged by society armed with rifles is going to be more uncomfortable than exciting for much of our generation.

With the trigger warning of a truly disturbing mass shooting scene in mind, I was thoroughly entertained, briefly horrified and filled with pure batty bliss by “The Batman.” I hope these tidbits have encouraged you to watch, if only for the undoubtedly incredible debriefing session you’ll have with your friends afterwards.

Editor’s Note: This article is a review and contains subjective opinions, thoughts and critiques.

Cameron Duran '24 writes for the Arts & Life section. Contact The Daily’s Arts & Life section at arts ‘at’ stanforddaily.com.

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