Welcome to “The Batman,” yet another lugubrious, laboriously grim slog masquerading as a fun comic book movie. At almost three hours, director Matt Reeves’s latest iteration of the endless Batman cycle seems determined to outdo even the most self-consciously glum visions of Christopher Nolan and, more recently, Todd Phillips. Unfortunately Reeves — best known for “Cloverfield” and smart adaptations of the “Planet of the Apes” movies — has fully bought into the darker-equals-deeper myth, delivering a film that’s as ponderous as it is convoluted and, ultimately, devoid of meaningful stakes. From the pretentious strains of “Ave Maria” that accompany its opening scenes, the viewer is put on notice that “The Batman” will be taken seriously or bust a cowl trying.
It’s Halloween in Gotham, and the citizens of a dejected city look like “Joker” extras who were too scary to make the final cut; while Batman — sorry, the Batman — is swooping in to pummel a group of subway bullies to a pulp, an even more heinous crime is going down, a murder that will send the Batman to Gotham’s sleazy underworld, where criminals and politicians make common cause with such casual frequency that it’s impossible to tell who the good guys are. Is it the D.A. played by a skin-headed Peter Sarsgaard? The vaguely mobbed up impresario played by John Turturro? The stylish nightclub waitress played by Zoe Kravitz? Gotham police detective Jim Gordon (Jeffrey Wright)?
Granted, most fans know Gordon’s on the up and up. But the overarching stench of corruption that suffuses “The Batman” eventually engulfs the title character, as he is forced to examine what it meant to grow up as Bruce Wayne, son of wealthy businessman and civic leader Thomas Wayne. He’ll make new friends and enemies along the way, including some iconic Batman foes; the plot doesn’t thicken so much as congeal, as windy explanatory speeches fill in for compelling or surprising action.
Underlit and overlong, “The Batman” draws its references from sources as diverse as film noir, Scandinavian death metal and garden-variety serial-killer pulp. Pattinson’s performance evokes not just Eastwood but Edward Scissorhands, Kurt Cobain and, in a weird way, Crispin Glover. (Nirvana’s “Something in the Way” provides a musical motif throughout the film.) Pale and wraithlike, Pattinson’s bummer of a Batman slugs and slashes his way through his crime-fighting duties, at one point introducing himself as Vengeance. That’s what Kravitz’s character, Selina Kyle, calls him — at least while she’s on screen before disappearing for minutes at a time, during which more mopey speeches will be delivered, more rain will fall and more minutes of the viewer’s only life will tick by, never to be regained.
Ostensibly, “The Batman” is about Pattinson’s character solving a string of sadistic murders, but thematically it’s about his personal transformation: For most of the movie, he’s needed but not loved, in Gotham, where he’s seen as a freak. In Reeves’s murky, dystopian vision, Batman’s evolution from pariah to messiah isn’t a triumph so much as a grunge-worthy shrug. He may be fueled by newfound righteousness, but “The Batman” is still kind of a drag.
PG-13. At area theaters. Contains strong violence, disturbing images, drugs, coarse language and some suggestive material. 176 minutes.