The Batman 94.1: This Would Be a Good Town Not to Be From

At this point in the blog, Superman II has two current plot tracks. In one thread, three powerful, untouchable people drop from the sky, and immediately start exploiting and gentrifying, destroying both the environment and the economy of a struggling rural town. Meanwhile, nerdy Clark Kent finally gets a date with the girl he’s been crushing on by revealing to her that he’s secretly rich and famous, and now he’s driving that point home by whisking her off to the ice mansion party palace that his dad built for him.

In other words, this is a movie about white people.

Now, obviously, that’s not unique for the genre. It turns out that big-ticket superhero movies tend to be produced by rich white people, so they’re usually about an individual or a small group of people who become immensely powerful, often from birth or by accident, who then battle the forces of disruption and social change, in service of the status quo.

And then there’s The Batman, which is all about how terrible white people are. And I have to say, it makes a compelling case.

Now, in this blog, I’m usually taking the long way through the history of superhero movies, but when a new movie comes out, I write one of these weekend popcorn posts, to keep an eye on how things are unfolding.

And this weekend has unleashed The Batman, a movie that follows the historical throughline of Batman movies, in the sense that this one is even more dark and whispery than the last version.

This movie finds the Batman at his most Rorschach-y, starting out with a whispered monologue from his journal.

We have a signal now. For when I’m needed. But when that light hits the sky… it’s not just a call. (dramatic pause) It’s a warning. (even more dramatic pause) To them.

Fear is a tool. They think I’m hiding in the shadows. Watching… waiting to strike. But I am the shadows.

Which is adorable. In this movie, the Batman wears an enormous rubber suit, with lots of high-gloss padding and shiny silver accessories. You are not the shadows.

But I get his point, which is that Bruce Wayne has a lot of complex feelings, which he expresses mostly through his bangs. He doesn’t have any friends, he doesn’t have a job, he doesn’t buy anything, and he doesn’t do any rich-person charity stuff. He just stays at home, naked and alone in his huge dark mansion, writing in his diary, and drawing pictures on the floor that help him to solve crimes.

After eight increasingly grim Batman movies, they’ve finally gotten to the point where they say fine, this one is so dark that he doesn’t even brush his hair. The only time he goes outside as Bruce Wayne is to go to a funeral, where the people of Gotham City gather to scream abuse at him. Then somebody drives a huge car through the door and into the congregation, with a guy inside that has a collar bomb locked around his neck. This is why Bruce doesn’t go out much.

It’s a three-hour movie that only feels like two and a half, because every single scene has a plot twist. It plunges on from one urgent conversation to the next, constantly uncovering something new to accuse somebody of, and then someone finds another mean greeting card, and they have to go and chase down a new lead. The movie keeps you so busy that you don’t have time to notice that the lunatic plot contrivances don’t really add up, and it accomplishes that goal, which means it’s a good movie.

I think the nuttiest scene is the thrilling and unmotivated car chase, where the Batman decides that he needs to talk to the Penguin, a character who he has spoken to several times already and is not very helpful. But all of a sudden, the Batman needs to see him in a tremendous hurry, and they embark on a high-speed chase going the wrong way down a turnpike, with lots of screeching tires and near-misses, until the cars finally lose patience and start crashing into each other, and then some trucks turn over, and one of them explodes, to the obvious detriment of whoever happens to be in the area.

Which does not matter. All the Batman cares about is that he can walk purposefully towards the now-injured and upside-down Penguin with a huge eruption of fire behind him, which is ludicrous and also legitimately one of the coolest things ever.

And then we’re somewhere else, with the Batman and Lieutenant Gordon backing the Penguin up against a wall and asking him important questions. There’s no explanation for how they suddenly got to wherever they are, and no follow-up on the many casualties of the thousand-car pile-up that they created. We don’t have time to waste on that; we have to figure out these riddles before something terrible happens!

Spoiler alert: Something terrible happens anyway. The Riddler is a classic movie serial killer, who is always exactly where he wants to be at the crucial moment. He gets all the lucky breaks, his henchmen and dupes are deployed with pinpoint precision, and his victims always have just enough time to blurt out the next clue before they messily die.

But that’s okay, because everyone in Gotham City is guilty of everything. There’s a whole sequence where we walk through a seedy underground late-night head-pounding opium den for rich white people on what I suspect is probably a weeknight, and every single person that we see is either on the City Council, a member of the police department, or on the staff at the DA’s office. Gotham City rolls deep.

So the whole movie is about exposing one terrible white person after another, figuring out their dark secrets and either killing them on the spot, or throwing them back in the pond so they can be killed later. The movie’s not going to be over until all of the white people are either dead or in prison; it’s like a video game that plays itself, and hates most of the audience.

Delightfully, the only sympathetic characters in the movie are Black, and the blacker the better. (Alfred is disqualified, because he’s keeping important secrets from Bruce, and is just as untrustworthy as all the other white people in town.)

The Batman’s only trusted friend is Lieutenant Gordon, who’s Black.

The only honest person in Gotham City public life is Bella Reál, who’s Black.

And then there’s Catwoman, who’s biracial, and therefore she’s half hero and half criminal.

Plus there’s a young Black kid who’s painted half of his face white in order to hang out with scary white people, but he clearly doesn’t want to be there and regrets getting mixed up with this crowd. Once he goes home and washes the white off, then he’s probably a hero underneath, like all the other Black people in Gotham City, and in the real world that we live in.

But white people in The Batman suck, which is a theme that I expect many audience members will not recognize, because they are clueless fucking white people.

There’s basically three tiers of white people in Gotham City, and each of them is the worst. In the middle, there’s the mayor and the police commissioner and the DA and all of their drug-addled bribe-taking staff, who are universally corrupt and tainted and inexcusable. At the top, there’s privileged white people — Bruce Wayne very much included — who get all the attention and money, and profit off the suffering of others. And in the bottom tier, it’s all radicalized MAGA antivax incels, who organize on Telegram and Gettr to conspire against Black people and ruin the world.

It’s not a coincidence that all of the Black people in The Batman are awesome, and all of the white people are corrupt and insane. This is one of the vanishingly rare superhero movies that are actually about something, and engage with the politics and technological trends of its time.

It demonstrates how viral videos and disinformation memes can turn ordinary people into an insane, merciless mob. It identifies money and privilege as an inherently corrupting force that destroys individuals and degrades society. It deploys a mopey emo hero to take on the burden of white guilt, and actually recognize and own it, rather than dispute it and pretend it isn’t real.

Honestly, if this movie was half an hour shorter and didn’t have five endless epilogues, it might actually be the first worthwhile Batman movie ever made. We live in interesting times.

Monday:
Superman battles aliens and audiologists in
2.31: War of the Wordles

Chapters
Movie list

— Danny Horn

21 thoughts on “The Batman 94.1: This Would Be a Good Town Not to Be From

  1. I made the mistake of reading this while eating. Rorschach’s journal has ruined beets for me forever.
    “Fear is a tool.” Yes, and world events are demonstrating how effective it is.
    I keep trying each new iteration of Batman but they are just too dark for me. Horrible things happen in Marvel movies but they don’t leave me with a dark cloud overhead. I can appreciate DC movies but I rarely enjoy them and enjoyment is mostly what I want from a popcorn movie.
    I do like the poster, though.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. “I keep trying each new iteration of Batman but they are just too dark for me.”

      Same here. Great review, Danny, to let readers know what to expect from the movie without giving away the whole plot. This one sounds brutal and grim. Full of serious issues and themes, wrapped up in a brutal story about a vigilante as unhinged as the crazy mass-terror criminals he chases down. Good to know what it’s about.

      Knowing that, I’m going to skip it. I don’t like movies that are so violent and depressing. For a serious education and discussion about social issues like economic injustice, political corruption, and racial inequality, I have better sources than superhero movies to help enlighten me.

      A superhero movie should be an escape. Donnor’s escapism was grandiose. Lester’s is mostly whimsical. Both sound about as far as you can get from this new Batman film.

      I think Watchmen should have been a phase comics went through, like a teenager chagrined now at some goofy kid stuff from earlier years. Bury super-weaving forever? That’s fine. But it’s not healthy for either a person or a storytelling industry to stay mired in teen angst forever.

      Liked by 3 people

    2. When horrible things happen in the Marvel movies they happen to a world that may be troubled but is not irredeemable. The people aren’t all rotten to the core walking corpses that nobody cares enough about to bury. When Thanos snaps half the entire universe’s population out of existence he’s been developed enough that you understand why he did it, but you also understand that it was an unforgivable crime committed by someone who appointed himself to a position of judgement he had no right to hold.

      In the DC movies every single person, including babies, is a wretched, sin-riddled horror show of amorality and self interest, with no free will or ability to form cogent or rational thoughts. They are utterly addled and enslaved to sensation and whim and willing to follow any random jabbering lunatic off the nearest cliff for no more reason than they happened to post something funny on Twitter.

      Every single person in a DC movie should be taken behind the barn*. The only reason Bruce Wayne is presented as a hero in them is that he’s too fucking depressive to wallow in his ill gotten billions and tortures himself instead. That’s what passes for an moral code in Gotham City.

      *The exceptions being Commissioner Gordon, et.al., who, no matter what race the actor is, has to be presented as free of the corrupting influence of capitalism–that is, without money. Not indigent, but with only the most nominal power of their own. That’s why they can grant Batman the ethical exemption he needs to perform horrific acts of mass violence and ghastly rampaging. Their only real moment of power is summoning a white billionaire and telling him what all white rich guys want to hear: you’re in charge and everything you do is okay.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. “When horrible things happen in the Marvel movies they happen to a world that may be troubled but is not irredeemable.”
        I think that is exactly right.
        The welcome sign to Gotham could read, “Abandon hope all ye who enter here” and it would not be out of place.
        No matter how bad things get in the MCU, there’s still a feeling that all is not lost.

        Liked by 3 people

  2. Dang, this essay makes me want to give this movie another chance. The one I went to see on Friday, I walked out after 20 minutes because it was just some gross, boring serial killer movie with nothing fun or interesting about it. You talk about “Make a friend, make a joke, advance the plot.” Nobody’s making jokes in this funeral movie, at least in the part I saw. The only “joke” was that the commissioner says “Happy fuckin’ Halloween!” to show how edgy this PG-13 Batman movie is.

    I am truly glad you mostly liked it. But man, once we see the Riddler (The Riddler! A fanciful character from comics!) bludgeon a guy to death with a trophy, I thought “Coming here was a mistake.” And once that same brutal killer left a half-hearted birthday card riddle, I thought ” I definitely don’t need to see 2 1/2 more hours of that.” So I went for a long walk outside, and I enjoyed that so much more.

    That’s the second time I’ve ever walked out of a movie in the theater. The first was Ernest Scared Stupid because my mom thought it was too scary for my little brother.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I hear you. Back in the day, I walked out of Batman Begins for exactly the same reason. I was not wild about this movie until I realized that it hates white people, and that made me kind of love it.

      As far as “make a friend, make a joke” goes, the heart of the movie is the Batman’s adorable bff relationship with Gordon, and the comedy is Bruce’s fierce hairstyle game.

      But your mom was right. Ernest Scared Stupid was fucking terrifying.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. I don’t know if you know this kid Max Jessop. He’s a young Muppet fan (22, I think), he’s been on the podcast before, etc. He adored this movie, and I realized that I had become Danny in our Batman Begins discussion on the forum back in the day.

        Liked by 2 people

    2. They don’t do comedy, do they? The only time I remember smiling during a DC movie was Tim Burton’s Batman–the “wonderful toys” line.
      I know that there are daylight scenes in DC movies but the over-all impression they give me is one of a never-ending night. For me, Marvel is light and DC is dark. There’s humor and camaraderie in Marvel that I find mostly lacking in DC. To be fair, I’ve seen many more Marvel movies than DC so maybe I missed the good ones?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Right? My main question about all Batman movies as they currently stand is why the hell does anyone live here?? I don’t care how desperate your circumstances, walking the hell out of town has to be better than staying, and if you’re part of the moneyed elite there is literally an entire planet full of better places to be, that you can afford to go to.

        Liked by 4 people

  3. Sounds awful.

    For the first 45 years of Batman, his stories were made of four elements- the dark and gritty gangbuster was there from the beginning, as was the camp silliness. So too was a science fiction/ fantasy side, and a Sherlock Holmes-style World’s Greatest Detective. The fun was in watching those four elements swirl around each other. There were a couple of years when the Adam West show gave the tongue-in-cheek side a disproportionate emphasis, and in recent decades the dark and gritty side has obscured everything else, killing the fun.

    I think Stephen Robinson gets it exactly right when he says that the Batman we see now is a character created by Frank Miller in 1986. And your suggestion that Miller’s universe is a poor imitation of Watchmen is pretty convincing as well.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. There were *some* humorous moments in the movie, though. “You have a lot of cats,” observes Batman stoically while in Catwoman’s apartment, as the cats wind around his legs affectionately. There’s a few others that I forget now. They even attempt some levity by having the Penguin self-righteously lambast Batman and Gordon for their poor grasp of Spanish, though this part doesn’t really work and no one in the audience laughs because it’s just too weird.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. That’s it? And it’s what, three and a half hours long? I’m not looking forward to watching it. Which I probably will do when Danny gets to it, in the year 2525 or whenever.

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      2. I mentioned that there were a few other jokes that I forget now, but I think the bigger question is what you’re looking for in a superhero movie. I enjoyed the Marvel movies well enough, but I’ve always been a DC guy at heart, and I like the more serious tone of their movies. A joke every 30 seconds limits the dramatic depth of the film and frequently shatters the fourth wall, whereas a few jokes here and there are welcome comic relief. I see more comedic potential in having Batman seriously intone something funny than in watching an MCU movie where every character is a standup comic who never stops performing.

        P.S. to Danny: One of my comments seems to be in comment approval prison; I’d be obliged if you are able to release it. It’s a reply to davidspofforth about Bruce Wayne’s presence in the movie.

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  4. There was comedy in the movie. I laughed out loud at Krypto with the Batman squeaky toy. Oh wait, that was the Super Pets preview. Nevermind.

    I’m still trying to make up my mind about the movie. At least I’m happy to have a couple of questions answered. We can infer that Thomas Wayne made his fortune from vibranium smuggled in a previous life by Alfred. And that, too, is why the batsuit is so invulnerable–it has vibranium woven through it. (I had to think about *something* during that interminable car chase.)

    While the film might have hated white people, I’m not too sure how it felt about women. Catwoman was the only real speaking part for a woman. The dead girl got a few lines, the new mayor got a few lines, and then a little hooker conversation at the club. I’m not remembering anything else. Oh, the newscaster with a few lines. Is that it?

    Liked by 2 people

  5. It sounds like the film really needs a Bruce Wayne. The Bruce Wayne disguise, that is.

    Bruce is supposed to be a happy-go-lucky wastrel. A shallow but light-hearted party-goer with a girl draped over each arm, dancing the night away until he has to ditch them to go to the next party (ie answer the bat-signal!)

    Apart from his high-profile philanthropy, Bruce is seen by all as a laugh-a-minute waste of space – everything to avoid any connection with Batman.

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    1. Yes, that aspect of Bruce is missing entirely from the movie, but I think it’s intentional, to show that he has some maturing to do. He’s been so driven in his new mission as a crimefighter that he forgot (a) money can be used for charitable purposes, not just to fund Batman, and (b) it makes Wayne look less suspicious if he actually shows up for civic events, parties and fundraisers. Hopefully they show that he learned this lesson in the next film.

      However I think it was an oversight on the movie’s part to have the rescue work Batman participates in at the end of the movie done in costume rather than as Bruce Wayne. This was an opportunity to build a positive image of Bruce Wayne in the public eye, but instead he only builds up Batman’s positive image. It’s a reverse of Nolan’s take on Batman, where the Dark Knight would rather look the villain if it takes heat off other people, martyring his reputation for their sake. In this version he wants to be a symbol of something positive, not just vengeance or anger.

      Which is an interesting alternate take, but unfortunately it also violates the rule that Batman should never appear in broad daylight lest he look ridiculous in his bat costume. Experienced Batman writers have known this for a long time, but somehow the memo never got to the writers of this movie *or* Dark Knight Rises.

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  6. Hmf. I finally got around to seeing “The Batman” in the theater two days ago, covering my ears to save my precious hearing for about 27% of the movie, and I was delighted to re-find this post just now, having forgotten its finer points. A perfect assessment of the movie’s significance. But so many of us commentators think the movie was too grim? I’m a gentle soul and don’t want innocent people killed, but I’m a lifelong Batman fan and I thought this one was worthy. I said farther on in the superhero journey that I don’t care if the actors in a superhero movie are hot, but it does make me happy when they’re emo, and Robert Pattinson, of all people, looking gloomy with his long, stringy bangs over his eyes is emo to the max.

    I liked when Batman’s arc was that he thought he was the spirit of Vengeance, but then he saw how awful that looked when the MAGA people did it and he ended by realizing his role was to give hope instead. That’s not so grim. There’s hope for Gotham City, though I was surprised after all these years to learn that midtown was below sea level.

    AND, Danny is absolutely right that the movie means something about the real world. When the Riddler’s Internet followers continued his evil by attacking the refugee crowd, I surprised myself by bursting loudly into tears (luckily covered by the soundtrack) because… the insurrection.

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