A few not-so-shocking giveaways about this week’s new movie releases, including Justice League and Frank Serpico
Matthew Lickona 6 p.m., Nov. 17
The DC Comics superhero, inadequately incarnated in Michael Keaton. (Batbrat, maybe. Batpunk, perhaps. Batguy, at best.) Even so, the movie is indisputably an impressive thing to look at. The production (with its feel of futurism circa the 1940s: sort of what Brazil ought to have looked like) doesn't suffocate the action to the degree it did in Tim Burton's previous project, Beetlejuice. Maybe that's because the action here has been commensurately inflated. In particular, the ride to the Batcave in the Batmobile creates an interlude of almost Wagnerian exaltedness, as does the ascent in the cathedral tower at the climax. And there are incessant little examples, in the painterly use of color and light and shadow and the rest, of the pains which this director is prepared to take. For all that, Batman started as and still is a comic book. And it seems to be near impossible to do this sort of thing on screen without falling thuddingly between the two stools of the child's world and the adult's world -- without, in other words, dishonoring both the humble source material and the higher (or hipper) fictional realms inevitably striven for. (Well, there's Franju's Judex, but that movie increasingly has come to seem nothing short of a miracle, or at the very least a work of genius.) The present attempt, essentially and typically a spoof, attains greater heights of seriousness (darkness, grimness) than, say, the Superman or Indiana Jones films, but it keeps being dragged down by things like the electrocutional handshake buzzer or the Ed Koch look-alike for the Mayor of Gotham City. Alternately gaggy and grandiose, the movie never finds a comfortable middle ground, much less a traversable bridge across the gap; it lacks the personal investment in the material (cf. Judex) for anything like that. With Jack Nicholson and Kim Basinger. 1989.