The Batman (2022) marks the fourth reboot of Batman (not counting the DC crossover films). Starring Robert Pattinson as Bruce Wayne/Batman, the film has an impressive cast: Zoë Kravitz as Catwoman, Jeffrey Wright as James Gordon, and Andy Serkis as Alfred Pennyworth, among other famous names. Batman is known for his status as a classic superhero, but The Batman has a distinct feeling from other superhero films. Gotham City and its character are given a new modern noir crime aesthetic, as it aims to shed light on contemporary social and political issues.
The Batman takes place two years after Bruce Wayne started fighting crime and uncovering corruption as Batman. The current film follows his investigation into the Riddler — a brutal serial killer targeting corrupt members of Gotham’s elite, who leaves behind cryptic messages, riddles, and puzzles for Batman to solve. As the plot unravels, the audience sees the even darker underbelly of Gotham society and its affinity to the real world.
*Spoilers for the film ahead, so proceed with caution if you haven’t seen it yet and are interested!*
The Batman Begins(?)
Dropped directly into this new reboot, the film skips most of the usual preface of Batman’s story — who he is (billionaire Bruce Wayne, son of the wealthiest family in Gotham), why he became Batman (in order to fight injustice and corruption after his parents were killed and he was orphaned), and his crime-fighting and solving abilities. He’s allied with Lieutenant James Gordon, the only police officer who trusts him. Eventually, he makes acquaintance with Selina Kyle (Catwoman), who has her own stake in the Riddler’s case.
Of course, this story would be incomplete without the iconic Gotham City. This cesspool of corruption, injustice, and poverty has always been the perfect setting for any Batman film, and this particular iteration of the famous city is no different. Amidst a political election, we find that the Riddler and many other citizens of Gotham have grown tired of empty promises and politics done for selfish reasons. It sounds awfully familiar already, doesn’t it? But the resemblances don’t stop there.
Bring Class to the Forefront of The Batman
Towards the end of the film, The Riddler turns out to be some unremarkable man, a nobody. Although not explicitly mentioned, he is the foil for Batman. Both characters are Gotham natives, they were orphans as children, and they resent the corrupt elite and want to fight for justice. These characteristics point to two fundamentally similar characters, so why do they respond so differently to said injustices and the corrupt elite?
The key difference is in class. Bruce Wayne grew up as the son of billionaire parents from two influential families and despite becoming an orphan, he lives in a mansion (albeit a little gothic and dingy) and was loved and taken care of by the family’s butler. The Riddler was also an orphan but he didn’t have the same luxuries. So, although they have the same intentions to get rid of crime, extortion, and exploitation in Gotham, they take different approaches.
But with someone like the Riddler, they have nothing to weaponize but their own acts of violence.
Bruce Wayne weaponizes his money to fight crime, spending his paycheck on bulletproof suits, contact lens cameras, a batcave, and several modes of transportation. But with someone like the Riddler, they have nothing to weaponize but their own acts of violence. Villains and other characters like him feel cheated by society, and while they’re not necessarily wrong in the sense that the system has failed them, they have a violent way of responding to poverty. And this is true for the real world. That’s not to say all poor people are criminals (plenty of rich people get away with far worse crimes) but instances of robbery, drug dealing, and assault are often perpetrated by desperate people in poverty.
Seeing Batman in action and what he stands for, we can tell that The Riddler idolizes Batman — otherwise, why else would he involve him in his gruesome serial killer plots? The Riddler wants to show him that they are targeting the same people and both want to fight injustice and corruption in the city. The Batman also brings to life a more recent type of villain — the terrorist who has created a small but dedicated following through the internet. The film tries to draw attention to how a lot of political extremism and terrorism is bred online, making it easier to find like-minded people and organize towards a political goal. The Riddler also makes use of streaming on social media to gain attention for mass media outlets and create fear among the population of Gotham.
“To conquer fear, you must become fear.”
The instances of fear-mongering create a culture of fear that allows the characters to achieve some sort of political goal, and motivate members of a society to act in a particular way.
Fear is a frequent theme in The Batman — each character uses others’ fear to achieve their goals. Batman uses his vigilantism to fight injustice and strike fear within criminals and the corrupt. Whereas, the Riddler terrifies corrupt members of the upper class by putting them through psychologically stressful situations and then killing them. The instances of fear-mongering create a culture of fear that allows the characters to achieve some sort of political goal, and motivate members of a society to act in a particular way.
This form of politics is present in our society too, such as world governments’ stances on terrorism after 9/11, nuclear proliferation, or climate change — politicians, organizations, and generally, anyone with political agendas use citizens’ fear to motivate or deter them to behave in a certain way. And whether they do it for good or for worse, fear does remain an effective tool to capture citizens’ attention. Whether fear-mongering is an ethical way to do so, is a different question.
Overall, The Batman (2022) tells a succinct story of a famous superhero in a new, more realistic light. It provides reflective commentary on the real world and its failures and gives a more refreshing take on the superhero genre. Particularly focusing on class and fear in politics makes it an exceptionally attentive film about Batman, not shying away from the darker side of these characters and how, at the end of the day, class remains an essential part of people’s experiences in society.
Edited by Emma Chiaratti
Image: The Batman/Warner Brothers