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

Did you ever stop to consider that Batman might be…problematic? He is a white billionaire who was born to privilege. His decision to help his fellow Gothamites by engaging in some very cringe rich-bro cosplay, which at best, skirts the laws and makes everything about him, seems to be a wise one. 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? He could have been a more reliable ally, you must admit. Let me remind you again, he’s an ally. billionaire. Billionaires, however, are, well… kinda bad.

You’ve likely been following superhero Twitter too often in recent times. encountered a smattering of this sort of talkSome of it is working with some degree of irony, so even the authors don’t know if they meant it. The filmmakers of the Batman film are not. Batman—not to be confused with Batman—appear to have given these questions a little bit of thought too. We are then treated to the spectacular spectacle of an enormous Hollywood production about one the most beloved fictional characters of post-war America. It even entertains the possibility that this character is, perhaps, just a bit too bad. This Batman movie is somewhat uneasy with Batman’s whole concept.

I include these qualifiers—Just a bitOf thought Etwas uncomfortable—because Batman The movie isn’t an anti–Batman rant, and it isn’t an overtly political rant about identity politics. The movie, which runs nearly three hours, is too large, too complicated, too awkward structurally, and not focused enough to explore any one Big Theme. Matt Reeves is the director and cowriter. CloverfieldTwo truly outstanding. Planet of the ApesInstalments can sometimes be a source of moody Batman essentialism.

This is perhaps the most important entry of the Bat-film series. BatmanDarkness, gloom, and grimdark symbols are infused into the movie, which is more than just a handful of examples borrowed from David Fincher. Fincher’s. Zodiac Seven Serving as one of the greatest 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.

This material often works well. This film is full of gloom. Fast and furious punching is a characteristic of previous Bat-films. Batfans won’t be dissatisfied by this new counter-vision to the Caped Crusader.

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. Sometimes, it seems to overshadow those classic 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? He isn’t just an extravagant dork who has too many toys and a fantasy lifestyle? 

The movie contains references to whiteness, privilege, urban corruption networks, and a mayoral race that involves a young woman of color and an older man of the same ethnicity. This is supposed to represent Gotham’s darker side. Finale of the movie hints at climate change concerns and January 6 Capitol riot. Batman opens the movie with a voice-over explaining that he is trying to save the city. However, he does not know exactly how. He’s not out knocking down goons in costume every night. But it doesn’t have the impact he expected. This corrupted city has money at its heart. Therefore, he must find ways to make a difference and be a hero.

This isn’t a new concept in some aspects. Batman often mirrors the current mood, particularly on the big screen. Tim Burton 1989 BatmanHe was a freakish goth who took on clowns and muggers. Joel Schumacher’s late 1990s Batman was a camp throwback, who rose from the carefree silliness during the Clinton era. Christopher Nolan’s Batman referenced George W. Bush’s second term surveillance issues. The Dark KnightAnd used Occupy Wall Street’s excesses to fuel the evil of Bane The Dark Knight Rises.

The Batman persona was sometimes challenged by all three directors. Would he not have been an eccentric? This whole situation is absurd, not? Is this really how a billionaire playboy would have set himself up to be a vigilante criminal fighter? They praised Batman’s character and his goodness, as well as the righteousness of the cause.

In contrast, inBatman, 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. It’s not a new idea to see Batman as a rogue in his gallery. BatmanDoesn’t believe the Riddler theory. The movie does not absolve the hero, but it ends with what amounts to the promise that Batman will continue to try and do the job. He will try to be better. But, you know…he’s a self-absorbed white guy billionaire, after all, so how good could he be?