“I think it puts far too much melodramatic weight upon a character that was never designed to carry it. It was too nasty; it was too physically violent. There were some good things about it, but in terms of my writing, it’s not one of my favorite pieces. If, as I said, god forbid, I was ever writing a character like Batman again, I’d probably be setting it squarely in the kind of “smiley uncle period where Dick Sprang was drawing it and where you had Ace the Bat-Hound and Bat-Mite, and the zebra Batman—when it was sillier. Because then, it was brimming with imagination and playful ideas. I don’t think the world needs that many brooding psychopathic avengers.”
Said Alan Moore in his interview about the renowned graphic novel, The Killing Joke, which has been celebrated throughout the years as a masterpiece. This interview seems to be most relevant today. Batman has never had to carry as much melodramatic weight as he is today.
“The Batman” much like “Joker” is one of the most controversial superhero movies of recent years. One thing that distinguishes this movie from previous iterations of the caped crusade on the big screen and television is its unique approach to Batman’s fundamental philosophy. Every single version of Batman, from Adam West’s goofy and ridiculous hero of the daylights to Christopher Nolan’s Police-loving Dark Knight of 9/11 counterterrorism, has been built on these simple facts: Batman is a good-hearted multi-billionaire who was born into a good-hearted multi-billionaire family and has made a promise to himself to fight criminality because of the trauma he once faced after losing his parents.
Matt Reeves is the first director who goes out of his way to question these fundamental facts about Batman. To the point that, even in the comics, we could hardly find such an iconoclastic approach to Batman mythos.
Chrishaun Baker has written a wonderful piece for Inverse titled “The Batman Finally Holds Bruce Wayne Accountable in one Historic Way.” in which he accurately says: The movie is intimately aware of Bruce Wayne’s material privilege, and instead of running from it, Reeves seizes the opportunity to make it a critical element.
I think the fact that the likes of Ben Shapiro got triggered by the movie should be evidence enough that Reeves has done something right with “The Batman.” However, I do not want to repeat or paraphrase what Baker and others have mentioned before; rather, I’d like to explore something that they have missed in their analysis.
Although, Reeve has done something different and undoubtedly plays with some really interesting ideas such as capitalism, class divide, corruption in the system, etc. I think it falls short in its execution, and as much as I want to love this movie and clap for all the things it does right, I cannot ignore the fact that it doesn’t live up to all the build-up it goes through.
There is a point in the movie where the Riddler, the villain of the story, unapologetically asks the audience that “is Batman’s trauma and backstory all that important?”, “Why should we cry for the likes of Bruce Wayne when there are hundreds of other orphans who are dying of hunger?”
These are bold and brave questions, but what does the movie do with them?
Right around the third act, the movie loses focus and throws logic out of the window to tell a more mainstream tale that is not too controversial. “The Batman” never dares to criticize the Riddler’s vision of real justice -cleverly so. As a result, it irrationally turns the Riddler’s intentions into something that is criticizable. The ingenious Riddler, who only targeted the powerful and the rich and wanted to make the masses aware of their exploitation, suddenly targets the innocent people for the stupidest reason possible.
Why should a movie that so heavily criticizes the socioeconomic conditions of the society and goes so far as to criticize the “good” billionaire Waynes ends with some progressive-democrat-looking candidate winning the elections?
“Capital is an abstract parasite, an insatiable vampire and zombie maker, but the living flesh it converts into dead labor is ours, and the zombies it makes are us.”
In the 90s, Mark Fisher published a revolutionary book titled “Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative?” which tackles a very disturbing fact about our being: our unusual understanding of the capitalist system. Unlike any other economic system, capitalism is perceived as the only possible and viable system of economics. Very similar to how people of the past could never imagine a grand society existing without kings and queens, we cannot imagine a world without capitalism.
“It’s easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism,” says Fisher. I think Capitalist Realism is very evident when we look at “The Batman.” A movie that is notably class-conscious, but instead of proposing a solution, it dodges the question by showcasing a ridiculous montage of Bruce Wayne in his Batman suit rescuing flood victims.
“The Batman” is not alone in its capitalist criticism of capitalism! Another great example of this would be “Moriarty the Patriot” which takes place during the industrial revolution and the revolutions of 1848. While I think Moriarty the Patriot does a better job at its commentary, it still falls short of seeing an alternative.
Of course, I might be too harsh on a Hollywood superhero movie and expect too much from it. That’s fair. However, I like to think there are more people like Bong Joon-ho who look at the window and see something beyond this rusty, cruel, old train.