From the gritty 1970s era look to hints that our hero may suffer from some sort of psychosis, it seems fairly clear that writer/director Matt Reeves wants his Batman reboot to be viewed in the same vein as last year’s brilliant but polarizing “Joker.” The problem is, unlike the latter film, “The Batman” has no artistic courage. It allows mumbled references to “white privilege” and vague allusions to dismantling structures to stand in for a real point of view.
Unlike previous Dark Knight franchises, this movie assumes we know the origin story. Thus, we catch up with the action in medias res, with Bruce Wayne growling that “he can’t be everywhere” before deciding which of Gotham’s criminal elements he will target on a bleak, rainy night. Or the next bleak, rainy night. Or the night after that. This version of Gotham exists in a strange weather vortex in which all nights are bleak and rainy.
But while Batman is hunting small-time hoods, a serial killer is targeting the city’s ruling class, including the mayor, the district attorney, and the chief of police, leaving a riddle calling card for our hero at each of his grisly murder scenes. As Bruce tracks down the clues, he’s drawn into the darkest corners of Gotham’s underbelly, crossing paths with a waitress in a gangster’s nightclub who knows more about the criminal connections of the political elite than she’s willing to admit.
From there, the movie mostly unfolds like a police procedural as Batman and Lieutenant Gordon (Jeffrey Wright) dog their killer’s steps, trying to prevent him from striking again. Eventually, we get to the superhero staple where our bad guy plots to destroy the city, but it’s a long (really long—three hours long) circuitous route. And most of the stops along it never rises above the level of mediocre.
Robert Pattinson proved he can do great work in films like “The Lighthouse” and “Tenet,” but here it feels like broody Edward Cullen put on a bat costume and started issuing husky, monotone romantic overtures to Selina Kyle (Zoe Kravitz) instead of Bella Swan. His emotional pain is evidenced by his disinterest in brushing aside the dripping bangs which constantly hang in his eyes.
But Pattinson’s one-note performance, which may have aging “Twilight” moms swooning but will leave everyone else bored, isn’t the fundamental problem of the film. The problem is that it attempts to embody the current leftist ethos of deconstructing systems we once believed represented the common good — and that includes the superhero system that created Batman.
Conservative viewers will appreciate the irony that a government-run charitable program eventually becomes a haven for racketeering and money laundering. But at its root, this plot point, too, simply highlights that all things created by the winners of our meritocratic system are eventually tainted by corruption.
As Bruce goes about unraveling Riddler’s mysteries, he also begins unraveling his own identity. This is something different than the fascinating populist issues Christopher Nolan’s trilogy sharply explored, though that factors in. Here, he begins questioning whether his own founding mythology, based on his concept of his father as a good man and valuable public servant, is accurate.
Pursued with conviction, this could have been a compelling question. Like Marvel’s Stark Industries, the Wayne empire that bankrolls Bruce’s caped crusading sits uncomfortably alongside today’s progressive ideology that views generational wealth as inherently decadent and wicked. Tony Stark gets around it by, in part, being something of an entrepreneur himself — a snarkier Elon Musk. But even that might have required some greater justification in Kevin Feige’s woke Phase Four trajectory.
Batmobile withstanding, Bruce Wayne has never been much of a techie and the reclusive nature of his character makes it more difficult to transform him into some sort of innovator. He manages the fortune his father built. And that, as the movie makes clear, is a problem as all such inherited riches are now suspect, as is the free market that permitted such profits.
Without any major spoilers, Bruce learns that his history isn’t the easy black and white tale of the good Thomas Wayne being struck down by an evil criminal element. The pain Bruce suffered by being orphaned at a young age is muddied by privilege as well. Others have been orphaned, and they didn’t have their fathers’ stock portfolios to cry on. So why should Bruce (or the audience) be allowed to think his suffering makes him a sympathetic figure? No, the storyline hints — white billionaire’s sons do not deserve our pity even if they endured tragedies.
That said, these ideas are only flirted with, not fleshed out. It doesn’t feel as intentional as virtue signaling, and it is certainly a long way from a deliberate theme. It feels more like Reeves and his writing partner just absorbed the tedious Twitter-level ideology of the 1619 Project and unconsciously allowed it to leak over into their paint-by-numbers genre script.
Had they really made an effort to explore the idea of Bruce as a product of Thomas Wayne’s inequitable privilege, the movie might have actually been more interesting. At least it would have given viewers some meaty political ideas to argue over. Unfortunately, this Batman isn’t interesting or original enough to warrant even that.
The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.