Apr 242022
two reels

In a world of stunted emotions, a strung-out, emo Batman (Robert Patterson) is called in by Lt. James Gordon (Jeffrey Wright) to help solve the gruesome murder of the mayor by a new costumed vigilantly, The Riddler (Paul Dano). The Riddler is a BDSM gimp merged with an insel, who somehow is very effective at killing people. To solve the crime, Batman—there is no Bruce Wayne, only Batman—with the help of his Butler Alfred (Andy Serkis) must confront the gangsters Carmine Falcone (John Turturro) and the Penguin (Colin Farrell), and dig into his own past. He also encounters Catwoman (Zoë Kravitz), who he uses for his investigation, but then she sticks around in the movie for no reason and the two kinda-sorta have a romance because the script tells them to (really, there is no other reason).

My god it never ends! Some movies are 3 hours because they have 3 hours of story to tell. And sometimes, rarely because studios know better, a movie is 3 hours because the director is unwilling or incapable of editing his film. This is the second case. Scene after scene is too long; each says all it has to say, and then says it again. And again.

But the length points to a second problem, which is this isn’t a movie; it’s two movies that don’t belong anywhere near each other, squished together. One of those is a gritty, intense, crime movie, where an off-putting private detective works with a hostile police force to find a serial killer in a very corrupt city. This is the good part of The Batman, which would have been much better if it wasn’t a Batman film. There’s no need for Batman to be in this movie. It would be more suited to Benedict Cumberbatch‘s Sherlock Holmes, but a new quirky detective would have probably been better. Everything Batman-like doesn’t fit and Patterson showing up wearing little ears is just silly. Focus on the mystery and make it a hard-R, and we’ve got a good thriller.

Then there’s the second movie; it’s a children’s, action, superhero origin story where an immortal being with variable powers takes mind-bogglingly stupid actions and laughs-off death over and over (oh god the bomb in the face was ridiculous) on his way to learning that vengeance is morally (or strategically) wrong. This movie was always going to be weak, but the real problem is how unnaturally it fits with the crime section. In this section, no one acts in any sensible way, physics doesn’t work, and nothing matters:

  • Machine gun to the chest. No problem.
  • Semitrucks exploding. No big deal.
  • Bomb in the face. Minor inconvenience.

And it all ends in a big explosion-filled climax because that’s what superhero origin movies do.

Even saying all that, there are additional problems with the main character. Our Batman shows little emotion besides moping and rarely speaks in anything outside of a monotone. He also has boots heavy enough for Frankenstein’s Monster to suggest he go buy something lighter (it’s just funny; he can be heard long before he shows up in scenes, clomping along). And he has an unnecessary voice-over that blends in to his stereotypical 1950s teen girl diary. Yes, Batman keeps a diary. It adds nothing and turns the film into a comedy. And like many bad narrations, it vanishes for most of the film, only to return at the end when the filmmakers didn’t trust their images.

What bugs me with The Batman over other failed DC projects is that there’s a really good movie here. Even now if they cut it down to 90 minutes and trashed the action set pieces, you’d have something worth seeing. But director Matt Reeves and company had no concept of restraint or control, producing a mess.

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Jan 092022
three reels

Callie (Carrie Coon) brings her teenage son Trevor (Finn Wolfhard) and awkward, precocious daughter Phoebe (McKenna Grace) to live on her recently deceased father’s ramshackle farm. Phoebe quickly discovers a connection to the Ghostbusters and with the aid of her teacher (Paul Rudd) and new friend (Logan Kim), sets out to solve the mystery of the farm and the nearby mountain.

I don’t recall a sequel going so far from the mark. Ghostbusters was an original, zany comedy that fired on 12 cylinders with improve-like jokes flooding every moment between over-the-top slapstick. Ghostbusters Afterlife is a semi-serious, sentimental (very, very sentimental) light family picture that from time to time drifts into drama and then veers into straightforward comedy. It’s laid out like a children’s movie, but it isn’t one. This isn’t for kids and it isn’t about mining new comedy. This is a pure nostalgia trip. It target is the middle-aged who grew up with the 1984 movie and have forgotten what it was and why it was funny, but instead treat it like holy writ. It’s for those who take Ghostbusters as part of their identity and demand respect. It’s pandering of the highest order to those yearning for childhoods that were nothing like what they now falsely remember.

The mass of sentiment increases until at the end of the movie we are tossed into a black hole of nostalgia.

In short, the concept of Ghostbusters Afterlife is terrible.

And yet, it’s not a bad film. It may be supercharged schmaltz, but it’s executed with professional hands and a watchful eye. When it tries for humor, it usually manages it, and when it goes for emotion, it succeeds far beyond what it has any right to. I could see all the gears in motion, and still those gears turned and pulled just the way they were meant to. It’s easy to criticize the film in general, but there’s little to complain about once you get to the specifics.

The kids are surprisingly likable, particularly Phoebe who is supposed to be uncharismatic while the young actress playing her, McKenna Grace, positively shines. The on-the-nose silly kid, Podcast, avoids becoming annoying. And Paul Rudd brings all the charm that is Paul Rudd in the unenviable role of sidekick to children.

The movie goes to all the places it has to fill in all the dots for its faux children’s plot, but knows to get out quickly on the details that normally would be a drag: The older teenagers, adjusting to the new town, not being believed by the adults. It does what it must, but then dashes on to more rewarding material. In fact it is always moving.

It would be a better world if there were no call for films like this. But as there are, this is how you do it. I may have hated the idea of what I was watching, but I was entertained.