Set in New York City’s dreary DC-universe counterpart, Gotham City, the Batman (aka orphaned Bruce Wayne, played by Robert Pattinson) is out to catch some wrongdoers. But, as his latest movie progresses, it’s no longer exactly clear to Bruce who those wrongdoers are. By the time The Batman begins, the titular hero is already a pretty well-established vigilante: the police department is aware enough of him to include him in the murder investigation of a mayoral candidate, and he has all of his wonderful toys. I know I wasn’t the only one impressed with all the technology in this movie – I’m sure we’ll see some tech billionaire trying to impress us with self-driving cars that can drive through explosions in the next Superbowl commercial.
Batman’s view of justice seems clouded by his relationships almost from the outset. He seeks to bring criminals to justice but isn’t bothered by an obviously corrupt police department. After all, how squeaky clean could they be if they let a masked vigilante (vigilantism is still a crime in this alternate universe) into a very public, high-profile murder investigation? But Batman overlooks this minor detail in his pursuit of Gotham’s bad guys. One such bad guy: The Batman‘s villain, Edward Nashton, also known by his vigilante name, the Riddler (Paul Dano). His signature is the grotesque murder of high-powered people in charge of Gotham’s corruption – and, of course, leaving little notes and clues for the Batman to unpack. (And they say chivalry is dead.)
Batman teams up with Detective James Gordon (Jeffrey Wright) and Selina Kyle, aka Catwoman (Zoë Kravitz), to take down the Riddler. In the process, Batman learns the truth about his own family, and the movie enters deeper, more complex territory. The Wayne family’s extreme wealth comes from their involvement with the Gotham Renewal Corporation. The Renewal was supposed to improve the city but ended up being exploited by the mob, the mayor, and countless other corrupt Gotham institutions. The Riddler, in his eerie explanation, cites the Renewal Fund as his reason for going off the deep end. As a forensic accountant, he saw firsthand how funds were shifted and siphoned from places like orphanages into the pockets of high-level officials.
The Riddler’s story about living in the Gotham Orphanage, as well as its destitute appearance, must have had an impact on the Batman. Bruce knows the pain of being orphaned all too well (though, as one who was practically raised by the wait staff in his mansion, his situation was just a tad different). Despite all the wealth, power, and status afforded him by his parents, and Bruce becomes the Batman to clean up the city. But his and the Riddler’s rhetoric are frighteningly similar: “cleaning up the city” and “protecting the city” become one and the same. Their connection is revealed to Batman upon his visit to Arkham Asylum when the Riddler suggests they watch the downfall of Gotham together.
For me, the scariest part of The Batman was the reality of it. In the past Batman movies, like The Dark Knight Rises, I didn’t feel the same connection to real-life events. Maybe that was a good thing. With this telling, I was engrossed by the familiarities of the Riddler’s attack on Gotham. Radicalized by the corruption in his city, and finding compatriots in online chats, the Riddler was able to orchestrate an devastating attack on Gotham from an asylum, without internet access. As part of a generation raised by the internet, we all know the dangers that life online poses; but, until the January 6th coup attempt, organizing attacks online somehow seemed like the material of sci-fi thrillers. Unfortunately, it’s all too possible.
The Batman is a great movie for showing a regrettably realistic path that a privileged, wealthy white person could take in response to unimaginable childhood trauma. His parents’ murder leads Bruce to put on Batman’s latex suit (kinky!), but leaves him with huge blind spots when it comes to corrupt figures in Gotham. Carmine Falcone (John Turturro), Selina Kyle’s father and Bruce’s parents’ killer, was the most notorious crime lord in Gotham City; yet, for most of the movie, he was also portrayed as just some off-color character who knew Bruce’s dad. Really, his critical thinking skills didn’t impress me much.
Overall, The Batman will thrill you if you’re a fan of crime noir films and superhero movies; you’re a Marvel ride-or-die who isn’t that into Moon Knight; or you really love Mitski’s 2016 album Puberty 2. I can’t possibly be the only one who thinks Bruce Wayne would blast “I Bet on Losing Dogs” in the Batcave. In any case, it would be good to throw Matt Reeves’s The Batman into your queue before the sequel, which is set to come out sometime before 2027.