Movies

The Batman Wrestles With a Gloomy, Problematic Billionaire Version of Batman

It's a Batman movie that seems distinctly uncomfortable with the idea of Batman.

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Did you ever stop to consider that Batman might be…problematic? After all, he's a handsome billionaire white guy born into privilege who has apparently decided that the best way to improve the lot of his fellow Gothamites is to engage in some pretty cringe rich-bro cosplay that, at minimum, skirts the law and definitely makes the whole thing about him. If you think about it, shouldn't Bruce Wayne step back and let the city's true heroes—young reformist mayors, nightlife workers who moonlight as catburglars—take center stage? You have to admit, he could be a better ally. Again, I would just remind you: He's a billionaire. And billionaires are, well, you know, kind of bad.

If you've been on superhero Twitter too much recently, you've probably encountered a smattering of this sort of talk, at least some of which is surely working at some level of irony such that even its authors aren't really sure whether they mean it. But the filmmakers behind the new Batman movie, The Batman—not to be confused with A Batman—appear to have given these questions a little bit of thought too. And thus we are treated to the spectacle of a massive Hollywood tentpole production about one of the most popular fictional characters of the post-war era that at least entertains the idea that perhaps this character, the ostensible reason for the movie's being, is kind of, maybe, a little bit bad. It's a Batman movie that comes across as somewhat uncomfortable with the whole idea of Batman.

I include these qualifiers—a little bit of thought, somewhat uncomfortable—because The Batman isn't an anti-Batman screed, nor is it an overt identity politics rant. The nearly three-hour movie is too sprawling, too messy, too structurally awkward and unfocused to seriously explore a single Big Theme. And director and co-writer Matt Reeves, who previously gave us Cloverfield and two truly superb Planet of the Apes installments, does at times traffic in moody Batman essentialism.

Perhaps more than any other entry in the Bat-film franchise, this is a Batman movie steeped in darkness and gloom and grimdark signifiers, more than a few of which are borrowed from David Fincher, with Fincher's Zodiac and Seven serving as the most obvious inspirations. And for the most part, its Batman—a haunted, surprisingly gaunt, emo-revival-guy Robert Pattinson—does the things you expect Batman to do: He punches street thugs, battles costumed wackjobs, hunts for clues at surreal crime scenes, treats brooding as a lifestyle, drives a custom black car that he parks in a cavelike area, and spends his evenings flapping around angrily in a cape.

Often, this material works rather well. The gloom is well-wrought. The punching, occasionally a weak point in previous Bat-films, is fast and furious. This is not some entirely new counter-vision of the Caped Crusader, and Batfans probably won't be disappointed.

And yet, this is a movie that sometimes comes across as uncomfortable with the whole idea the Batman mythos, the idea of a lone avenger setting out on a personal—one might even say private—quest to save his city by donning a rubber suit and punching criminals. And it sometimes seems to undercut those classically Batman-ish moments. At one point, Batman makes an escape from a building using a wing suit—a Bat-wing suit?—which lets him dive off a skyscraper, but results in him crashing and bouncing awkwardly off a bridge. The scene, which drew laughter at my screening, seems to ask: Does this gadget-costume-obsessed weirdo actually have any idea what he's doing? Isn't he just a rich dork with too many toys and an elaborate fantasy life? 

Throughout the movie there are invocations of whiteness and privilege, networks of urban corruption, and a mayoral race between a young black woman and an older white man who we are supposed to understand represents Gotham's dark side. The film's finale hints at fears of climate change and the January 6 Capitol riot. Batman starts the movie by explaining in a voiceover that he wants to help the city, which is struggling, but he doesn't quite know how. Sure, he's out there knocking down costumed goons every night, but it turns out that doesn't make as much impact as he hoped. The city is corrupt to the core, and money, especially the accumulation of money in the hands of a wealthy few, is at the heart of it all. So he has to learn to find other ways to be a hero.

In some ways, this isn't new: Batman has often reflected the mood of the times, especially on the big screen. Tim Burton's 1989 Batman was a goth freak who took the fight to muggers and clowns. Joel Schumacher's late '90s Batman was a camp throwback who emerged from the carefree silliness of the late Clinton era. Christopher Nolan's Batman riffed on the surveillance debates of George W. Bush's second term in The Dark Knight and used the excesses of the Occupy Wall Street movement as fodder for the villainy of Bane in The Dark Knight Rises.

All three directors sometimes questioned aspects of the Batman persona: Wouldn't he have been a freak? Isn't this whole scenario ridiculous? How would a billionaire playboy actually have set himself up as a masked vigilante crime fighter? But in the end they fully affirmed the character, the essential vitality and goodness of Batman, and the righteousness of his cause.

In contrast, in The Batman, the villain, The Riddler, sees himself as Batman's flip side, participating in the same quest to root out villainy from the city—to the point where he even suggests a connection between Bruce Wayne's fortune and the city's corrupt, power-seeking elite. This sense of connection between Batman and his rogue's gallery isn't entirely new, and The Batman doesn't buy the Riddler's theory. But the movie doesn't quite absolve its hero either, and it resolves in what amounts to a promise that, going forward, Batman will try to do the work. He'll try to do better. But, you know…he's a self-absorbed white guy billionaire, after all, so how good could he be?

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  1. "Problematic Billionaire"

    Oxymoron. In fact, billionaires are the best people on the planet.

    Consider for example Charles Koch. Rising from humble beginnings, he became one of the world's wealthiest people through hard work and talent. Now he funds organizations like Reason and Cato that promote his financial interests by demanding unlimited, unrestricted immigration (even during a pandemic!) and a $0.00 / hour minimum wage.

    #BillionairesKnowBest

    1. “The Batman Wrestles With a Gloomy, Problematic Billionaire Version of Batman”

      This is EVERY version of Batman, with the exception of the campy 60’s version. What a snit review.

      I think this was written as a lead in to a pitch for ‘The Adventures of Suderman’.

  2. Did you ever stop to consider that Batman might be…problematic?

    "No." - every non-retarded person on the fucking planet.

    1. Well said 🙂 I think this is the worst movie review I have ever read, at least from deciding if I wanted to see the movie. All I gathered is that it's almost three hours long. Oh, and there's at least one laughable moment. Otherwise ... . zip zero zilch, nada, nothing, no idea whether the movie would be interesting or boring.

      1. Hint. It will be boring

        Sounds like they rehashed the plot of KickAss and added the woke component and required virtue signaling elements to appeal to the crowd that doesn't like to go to the movies anymore. Streamed, with the ability to stop it and start it again later or watch it in segments like a Netflix series.

        My guess is the young woman next to him is androgynous Robin.

        Yawn.

        1. Worse, that's the androgynous Catwoman.

          What's her name from the mumble-core one was more feminine - Hathaway.

      2. I thought the review was pretty clear - three hours long, meandering, not particularly coherent, and a thread of SJW bullshit woven through it.

        In other words, give it a miss.

      3. No offense to Suderman, but I seriously doubt his ability to judge a movie as "an overt identity politics rant." However, given that Suderman actually talked about these issues, I'm assuming they are so in your face and over the top that even he managed to see them this time around.

        I'll look at a few more reviews, but so far this is looking like another movie I will avoid. I've just seen too many franchises and characters I love torn up and destroyed to push "The Message" over telling a good story.

      4. I totally agree. Worst review ever. And am so tired of people having to insert race and being white into everything- even if subject has nothing to do with it. So Batman is white- who freaking??! It has nothing to do with the plot so should have nothing to do with the review- just saying.

  3. "Throughout the movie there are invocations of whiteness and privilege, networks of urban corruption, and a mayoral race between a young black woman and an older white man who we are supposed to understand represents Gotham's dark side. The film's finale hints at fears of climate change and the January 6 Capitol riot."

    Thanks for saving me the trouble of watching this movie, but you had me at Robert Pattinson.

    1. "Throughout the movie there are invocations of whiteness and privilege, networks of urban corruption, and a mayoral race between a young black woman and an older white man who we are supposed to understand represents Gotham's dark side. The film's finale hints at fears of climate change and the January 6 Capitol riot."

      Well, they are almost certainly setting this up to be as hated as the Dark Knight trilogy was loved. Im sure they will have 100 reasons why the "alt right" "review bombed" it

  4. It's a Batman movie that seems distinctly uncomfortable with the idea of Batman.

    Too toxically masculine? Too white? Too straight? Too...

    1. Symbolic of the CisGendered patriarchal capitalist regime.

      In other words distinctly uncomfortable with the idea of Batman as the comic superhero he was originally written as. So, let's alter the DC universe, darken it, fill it with hyper micro-aggressive angst driven victimization, litter it with LBGTQRST warriors, blame the rich white guy and film that drivel for an hour more than is needed to tell the tale.

  5. Throughout the movie there are invocations of whiteness and privilege, networks of urban corruption, and a mayoral race between a young black woman and an older white man who we are supposed to understand represents Gotham's dark side. The film's finale hints at fears of climate change and the January 6 Capitol riot.

    Oh for fuck sakes.

    Zzzz....

  6. Hard pass.

    You know, in a way, I have to thank Hollywood. They have been saving me quite a bit of money. There was a time when I would get excited for a movie and tell myself, “This one is going to be worth going to see on the big screen.” That would typically happen at least a few times a year.

    Now, when a movie comes out, I either think, “Ah, another beloved franchise bites the dust,” or “I wonder if this one will be worth seeing for free on home streaming, because my leisure time has some value to me.” Actually paying to see these new movies is nearly out of the question.

    1. Absolutely the same here. The wife and I have been waiting for something to come across that is worth actually going to the theater for now that they are all opened again. So far everything has been a "ehhhh, do I really want to give up an evening for THAT".

  7. I've already decided that I will see it - if I see it by accident.

  8. Comic books make terrible movies.
    Woke movies made using comic book characters are the worst of them.
    *searches netflix for John Wayne*

    1. Depends on the writers and directors. Some comic book movies have been excellent. Some have been bad. Most have been pretty formulaic and predictable, but good for a couple of hours of entertainment.

    2. *searches netflix for John Wayne*

      Just finished up the latest Yellowstone season. Casey's kid finds a stray dog and they don't name him right away, just call him dog.

      Homage to Big Jake or an accidental coincidence?

      If you're looking for a western Old Henry isn't bad.

  9. They need to give Batman a rest.

    1. Really. I've lost track of how many "Batmans" there are.

      The '60s TV show was goofy, but that was on purpose.

  10. If billionaires want to do good, they can run for President and then drop out to endorse Biden. Oh wait, that was last time.

    1. The prequel...

  11. Problematic Billionaires would be a good name for a band.

  12. young reformist mayors

    That's a villain, like The Joker, right?

  13. Not sure how people miss the fact that Batman has eventually always come to realize that corruption in Gotham didn't come from evil villains. The true source material of the comics plays on the riff of the rich elite in the city controlling everything - specifically with the Court of Owls. The guy who wrote this obviously knew something about it but was too cowardly to write it, when he said "again this isn't completely new material." He just wanted the easy clickbait out of saying, omg its so woke and horrible.

    Thats the main crux of Batman. He starts to realize that the bad guys like Joker are simply a product of the rich elite Court of Owls fucking everything up in the city. And he must strive to be better than the villians in his solution to corruption.

  14. All Batman's have been problematic. But they've rarely been the lone confused hero against all the corruption in the world. Usually he's working with Jim Gordon, in a strange hands-off (sometimes on) relationship with Selena Kyle. He's looking for allies in a city that has none. He's going after the ring leaders, even though the muggers get punched along the way.

    1. Read Batman: Year One. The elite and the mob are thrilled with Batman when he’s cleaning up the streets. Street crime is down and people feel more secure. Until this……

      https://www.reddit.com/r/TheBatmanFilm/comments/n0dl9w/my_favourite_moment_in_batman_year_one_i_really/

      “Ladies. Gentlemen. You have eaten well. You’ve eaten Gotham’s wealth. Its spirit. Your feast is nearly over. From this moment on…none of you are safe.”

      -Batman: Year One

  15. We need a new movie rating. No one over the age of 12 admitted.

  16. They lost me at three hours long. Sorry, this isn't a Lord of the Rings film or DUNE. It's a story about a rich guy that goes over the edge of being nuts, and then proceeds to punch a lot of other much crazier people. What Gotham really needs is Billy Crystal from Analyze This.

    If you're going to make a three hour long movie, the only chance you have of me seeing it is if it comes out on streaming.

    1. I think a lot of Batman stories would work better as television limited series. Especially if they want to showcase the character’s detective skills. Which are usually downplayed in the films.

  17. It sounds like Russia is the real winner of Warner's boycott.

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