Batman -- or should we say The Batman -- is riven by doubt, unsure that battling one villain after another has done anything to win the war on crime.
Such is the grim environment director Matt Reeves (Cloverfield and a couple of Planet of the Apes movies) creates in The Batman, a movie whose Neo-noir ambitions overshadow attempts at comic-book verve.
Robert Pattinson's despairing Batman seems as likely to take a suicidal jump off a tall building than to leap to the rescue of an endangered stranger.
And in his Bruce Wayne identity, Pattinson looks like a refugee from a Grunge rock band, a shaggy-haired rich kid unsure of his place in an irredeemably corrupt city.
Batman is more isolated than ever. The cops view him as a vigilante and intruder. Only detective James Gordon (Jeffrey Wright) regards Batman as an invaluable crime-fighting resource.
Reeves and co-writer Peter Craig have concocted a plot that plays out against the light-starved cinematography of Greig Fraser. If you live in Gotham City, you don't need a weather report; you can bank on rain and a near-morbid gloom.
A couple of things need to be said early on. It's possible to view The Batman as a cousin of director Todd Reid's The Joker, although it contains nothing quite as daring or startling as Joaquin Phoenix's performance. It's also a clear descendant of Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight, only meaner.
Moreover, dystopian visions -- even when as well-executed as the one created by production designer James Chinlund -- aren't as shocking as they once were. A three-hour running time -- makes for a long wallow in the darkness of a movie that's hot for rot.
Is that appropriate? We’re living through an extremely disturbing — some would say dire moment — but The Batman is not a response to global crisis; it’s a step in the evolution of a comic book character filmed before events sent people scurrying to find Moldova on a map.
However it may be seen, the movie loads up on villainy. Principal villainous duties fall to Paul Dano (masked until the movie's finale) who plays The Riddler, a serial killer introduced when he murders Gotham's mayor.
An emotionally wounded maniac, The Riddler has lost all tolerance for hypocrisy, which means he's basically unfit for life in society.
We also meet The Penguin (an unrecognizable Colin Farrell), who looks as if the might have been recruited from Al Capone's old gang.
The movie also includes conventional mob figures. Carmine Falcone (John Turturro) wields behind-the-scenes power in Gotham. He knows everyone's dirty secrets and uses them to make sure that he controls Gotham's lucrative corruptions.
If you're looking for rays of light, you'll find some in the performance of Zoe Kravitz, whose Selina Kyle is in the process of emerging as Catwoman.
Selina flirts with the impassive Batman but he's hidden in his creaky redoubt of uncertainty. He's too busy looking for reasons to carry on to pause for either sex or love.
Reeves doesn't skimp on action. Fight scenes and an old-fashioned car chase satisfy the need for speed.
At its best, The Batman drips with shuddering dread. Too bad the movie concludes with a half-hearted attempt at a hopeful resolve, a letdown after so much dark commitment.
I wish I could say that The Batman was a triumph. It's not. But it's no schlocky misfire either. Reeves asks us to join Batam as he tries to determine whether his work has meaning.
Maybe it's a stretch, but I wondered whether Reeves hasn't ----- in that way -- made us partners in the effort to keep a franchise alive, to keep Batman functioning in a badly compromised world. He probably has.
Of course, I recognize that you may have more important things to worry about -- at least I hope you do.