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.
Superman battles aliens and audiologists in
2.31: War of the Wordles
— Danny Horn