Film Features

What Comes First, Nukes or THE BATMAN 2?


The more time that passes with Ukraine at center of the global stage, the more it’s evidently clear that Volodymyr Zelensky has spent the majority of his professional career as a screen actor. The charismatic, PADDINGTON 2 war hero who the United States has decided to idolize the image of rather than providing ample humanitarian aid to (only seven refugees have been accepted into the U.S. between March 1-16) has, understandably, taken to declarative calls for World War III in the name of Ukraine. I, too, in moments of stress, forget to bury the lede. What’s been fascinating to behold the past month are how this president appeals to NATO countries; early pleas to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in anticipation of such a catastrophe were met with silence, so now he’s grasping at straws referencing DON’T LOOK UP. In last week’s speech to Congress, he desperately waxed for artillery support. To his potential American allies, and in line with the digital offensive Ukraine has taken on TikTok, his team assembled a manner of proposal that has directly influenced American sentiments for a century: they cut together a movie

So much raced through my head during these horrific few minutes of footage. 

  • Whenever I think I’ve seen the most heinous bodily mutilation, there will always be another war crime that outdoes it.
  • Zero snark, actual question: Is it actually necessary to dramatize footage of a dead baby?
  • In the historical record of enumerated appeals for nuclear war, I won’t lie, this is a pretty effective one.
  • History does not exist unless you’ve filmed it and set it to musical montage. 
  • I can’t fucking believe it’s been a month.
  • Jesus Christ, how does this feasibly end without international conflict?
  • Poggers, this is just like when Bane and Talia al Ghul took over the city.

Throw a stone and you’ll hit an establishment Democrat fan-casting Jeremy Renner as Captain Ukraine for the inevitable Zelensky biopic, a film he will likely vie to make himself. Superhero fan-fic of non-fic is classic Facebook cringe, but it’s also a show of results: the movies work. For decades we’ve filtered reality through the screen narratives we understand most intimately. As Vladimir Putin continues to defy international intelligence by leading by what can only be described as precipitous instinct, most predictive logic has been tossed aside. Who knows what happens next! And who knows if we’ll even be informed of it! Now that American sanctions on Russian oil have skyrocketed the average prices of gasoline, most Liberals have firmly tuned out the war crimes being committed in Ukraine, it’s a wrap on sympathetic media coverage. Who needs another useless Western perspective on international relations that do not directly affect their own material surroundings, yet speak on as if they lord over? Nobody, so let’s do as we are all conditioned to do in America and discuss Matt Reeves’ THE BATMAN instead.

The Batman

It’s a tremendous pitch: during a mayoral campaign crushing the airwaves with a crime wave platform, Batman’s bloodlust is worsened as he’s continuously called on like an attack dog by the Gotham Police Department, brutalizing a city enshrouded in violence that may or may not have been accelerated by the very presence of Batman. To compound that with a tale of two creeps on each other’s tails? You’re teasing a better retread of HEAT than Nolan had been previously capable of. Unfortunately, this is all THE BATMAN remains: a pitch. In practice, Jim Gordon whispers, quite literally, sweet nothings as Batman single handedly solves remedial riddles, and Zoë Kravitz is filmed drinking a glass of milk. As you can tell from that one-sentence description, the highs are high and the lows are low. This isn’t a radical retelling of the mythos, unfortunately; being inspired by SE7EN and CHINATOWN doesn’t score you brownie points when everything else is, too. It’s Reeves’ take colliding with Warner’s demands emerging as Nolan’s whole trilogy jammed into a sausage casing: a sullen bulk of the film working its hardest to dust off the millions of bored children who are being sold $24.99 action figures with its branding, a catalyzing video tape of profuse torture by a clownish villain televised on the evening news, and surface Occupy Wall Street critiques of Chicag– I mean, New Yor– I mean, whoops, Gotham.

Its highlights glister so as to distract from any in-the-moment grievances. Batman’s entire surveillance system is contingent on a STRANGE DAYS-style contacts lens camera—dear God, yes, daddy, more of this. When Pattinson tumbles into the cobblestone after his flight suit busts, rendering him as just another Gotham weirdo on his walk home? This is the movie at its absolute best. THE BATMAN admirably threads a delicate knitting of delivering the expected essentials of Batman mythology, while working to dismantle the expectations of a modern Batman. Look no further than the treatment of the Batmobile, a reveal in the shadows that both defies and celebrates iconography. It’s a suited muscle car, merely the result of a billionaire’s pet project, but it’s also a steel harbinger of that billionaire’s Biblical destruction. That destruction is felt in the impact of Greg Frasier’s images, fresh off the hype of Villenueve’s polarizing DUNE. He pivots from Arrakis’ melted waxes to hectic sparks of light embodying flurries of vengeance; it’s an expressionistic use of color and obtuse soft-focus that brings to mind Brakhage or, the similarly politically dubious and vengeful, 13 HOURS: THE SECRET SOLDIERS OF BENGHAZI. For a long time, THE BATMAN is a dense examination of Batman being his own Joker as the abstracts of his questionable heroism are mirrored in the bleary, nocturnal visuals the audience is subjected to. It rips.

Then comes the classic pitfalls of Hollywood’s political commentary. THE BATMAN adopts BLACK PANTHER’S Killmonger dilemma where The Riddler is basically The Joker as People’s City Council, distributing his own wretched brand of… comprehensive, independent local government journalism? The ZODIAC-inspired murders are definitely not super based, but the primary victims of this Batman tale are a corrupt mayor, a mob-canoodling District Attorney, and a center-right mayoral candidate hungry for police funding. I half-expected The Riddler to be an operative financed by the Bella Reál campaign, the aforementioned Afro-Latinx nominee whose hope-infused platform is window dressing for the carceral state she salivates over on the debate stage. But no, The Riddler’s a sovereign agent of chaos whose psychopathy is neither explored nor fully warranted. How do you have the “right” politics but get swayed by a white-anarcho-school-shooter agenda that serves directly against your previously stated interests? This is not to say this doesn’t happen in real life, because it does, all the time, but that Reeves presents The Riddler’s confusing questions with zero interest in providing an iota of his personal insight is indicative of so much of what neuters THE BATMAN. 

The Batman still

It’s not just ill-thought in its half-hearted politics. Reeves sets up a character piece then wastes Pattinson & Kravitz’s delightful anti-chemistry by, for example, making her vomit plot, his own authorial white guilt, and the word “dickbags” in the span of 40 excruciating seconds. Whereas Bruce’s interior and familial losses are the source of his multi-dimensional anguish, Selina’s traumas are treated as pulp fiction of the mafia gossip and femme fatale sort. He gets an introspective, gloomy study of his compassion only showing through under a cowl, and she gets a comic book movie. 

THE BATMAN is knotty insofar that it’s difficult to process a film that thinks so little about itself. It functions on a central contradiction, questioning the benefits of having a Batman at all while planting The Joker for future installments, Keoghan’s adventurous performance of “what if Heath Ledger had cold sores” be damned. In the concluding voiceover monologue, Batman deliberates that “I have to become more.” What if he doesn’t? How do you organically transform savage fear into hope? A bolder rendition of the mythology would stipulate on the turmoils of productively channeling such projective aggression, and if this stunted man-child is even capable of doing so. If you’re going to clip The Bat’s wings, let him run the course of torturing himself one snip at a time. 

I enjoyed THE BATMAN in the moment fine enough, entombed in a $25 admission recliner while a childhood blend of BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES and BATMAN BEGINS unfurled on a Dolby screen, but as with any of the last decade’s blockbusters, I felt the sweet, numbing brain rot. I love to order myself an oily drive-thru cheeseburger, baby. Will it make me feel worse about myself later, absolutely, but good God, I’m a dirty little slut for that grease. The one caveat is that it brings me no peace when the primary diet of my friends, family, and enemies comes from the same fryer. Ask any cult viewer of Joey’s World Tour and his merry band of phone-camera carseat food reviewers: seeing other people’s fast food makes you not want to eat fast food, and, as an impassioned eater, sometimes a shock tactic like this can stave off the immediate regret of a 1:30 AM McDouble. I was walking through an L.A. bookstore a few weeks back and overheard two clerks talking about “emo Batman” and how THE BATMAN “is just like SE7EN or SAW!” It was the same exact comparison point I’d seen dozens of times on Twitter, and it was the same exact conversation I’d overheard in numerous other public spaces. Movies still have a place in the public consciousness, but only by way of rattling off talking points. I can’t wait to door-to-door canvas for THE BATMAN. Remember that one Russian dude who chained himself to the McDonalds in Moscow in protest of its shut-down? I wonder if he prefers the Snyder-verse.

Willem Dafoe Sad

To best understand your superhero movies, you should have a grasp on the North American political climate, but not too good of a grasp, lest Chapek, AT&T, or Comcast have any say in the matter. So we’re stuck in a feedback loop of only ever learning as much that can help us decode which Batman villain is most like which FBI-branded terrorist. You can point to any decade and pick out plucked-from-the-headlines Hollywood features, but were any of those decades as definitively climactic as this short one already has been? The 20th century laid out the sheets and fluffed the pillows for the end of history, and as the 2020s have proven, it’s almost bedtime. It’s difficult to judge how Russia’s invasion fits into our series finale, but if there’s anyone to best contribute to a discourse regarding an invaded sovereign neoliberal nation having its extremist ground force upswell fomented by a mujahideen-playbook-gaming NATO, it’s LIFE & BETH star Amy Schumer. It’s a delusional audacity to comment on the carnage beyond our borders, of which the United States has bloody palms for its near-direct causation, when we can’t even work up the courage or, more embarrassingly, the show of research to question our own. Our conversation on world leaders stops and starts at “Gay Putin has a micropenis, Gay Trump has a piss tape, I miss Obama.” 

Meanwhile, I still see desperate pleas to stop calling art “content” when entire social media platforms exist to facilitate new waves of “content” creators. TikTok officially sponsoring Cannes is maybe more of a death knell to cinema than Disney acquiring Fox, Amazon finalizing their $8.5 billion purchase of MGM, or SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME drawing crowds of thousands despite a global Omicron surge. The kids aren’t going to be conditioned, they already have been, and by faceless middle-aged programmers no less (sincerest apologies to Gen Z, but how can you straight-faced tell me your generational culture was cultivated by your peers?). Time to get the boomer flotsam on board. As discouraged peace negotiations for this ruthless war of attrition crumble amidst the debris-coated wails of innocents caught in the fog of war, while volunteer soldiers learn how to hotwire rusted tanks from a wartime influencer, all I wonder is if Mayor Don Mitchell’s son is being set up to be the Reeves universe’s Tim Drake.

Pre-pandemic, it was easier to create a disparity between the entertainment industry and the violence around you. As it always had, the world moved too fast. There was an inadvertent luxury to not keeping up, a luxury most governments banked their shadiest efforts on during the era of America’s global supremacy. Now, to combine 2019 grievances with the newfound struggle, and a dash of retrospective tally-marking of the United States’ direct hand in *gestures wildly* all this, is making myself and everyone around me go completely psycho. I mean, right? You’re going to tell me, reader, that you’re doing really well right now? Globally, the worst thing that could’ve happened to our dignities was for these structures to slow down for an observation of their nuts & bolts. Two full days of entertainment coverage on Rachel Zegler not getting invited to the Oscars while Mariupol sat in ashes was so nostalgically 2015 that I nearly vomited from the time traveling whiplash. We did it, Joe. What world are we working towards? Is it that no one has the balls to riot like Cannes 1968, or is cinema so irrelevant that there’s not enough horsepower to propel action of any sort. But surely cinema can’t be irrelevant if the moving image is still used to rile, to civilize, to normalize and to selectively enrage, right, now more than ever? Or maybe the romanticized protests in 1968 were in dire vain? Wait, what were the French even protesting in ’68? Will emo Batman have his own Batwing?

Solidarity with the civilians of Ukraine.

Kevin Cookman
Kevin Cookman is a Film Editor for Merry-Go-Round Magazine. Deserted in a video store as an infant, Kevin was raised on Fulci, Tarantino, Kubrick, and Whoppers. Now he's a graduate of Chapman University who acts as editor for Merry-Go-Round on the side: what a success story.

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