The Batman Review

Still from The Batman (2022)

I recently watched The Batman. Here are my initial thoughts, including spoilers.

The Batman is an excellent film. There are some superhero movies that aren’t great films, but I enjoy them anyway. The Batman doesn’t fall into that category. It’s an excellent film noir detective story that happens to include a main character who wears high-tech body armor rather than a trench coat.

The noir atmosphere, setting, characterization, and plot are almost flawless. After two years of vigilante crimefighting, Bruce Wayne realizes that his efforts as the Batman aren’t even putting a dent in Gotham’s crime rates. Street criminals fear him, but crime still runs rampant because corrupt city officials and dirty cops enable and participate in it.

As the Batman struggles to solve the murder of a prominent politician, he’s also struggling with the fact that the city is still going downhill in spite of his efforts. The murderer, an elusive criminal known as the Riddler, continues targeting some of Gotham’s most prominent citizens, revealing their corruption to both the Batman and the city as a whole.

The brooding tone and cynical emphasis on the corruption of the city’s economic and political elite really make this this most solidly noir take on Batman that I’ve seen on the silver screen. Other takes on the character have included noir elements, but this is the first one that I would say is a noir film that happens to star a detective in a costume rather than a superhero flick that happens to be dark and gritty.

It’s not a perfect film, of course.

It does make good use of most of its long run time, but could have benefitted from trimming a few scenes. The car chase in particular could have been shorter, especially because it included the only scene that took me out of the movie. I am glad, though, that they didn’t try to shorten it by cutting some of the slow, quiet, brooding moments that give the film much of its atmosphere and contribute to plot tension and characterization.

It also has a deeply individualistic understanding of “crime” and “corruption.” Gotham is in decline because individual politicians and business leaders have been drawn into criminal activities and conspiracies by crime bosses. There are a few pivotal moments where characters and the film address wealth inequality and structural problems in Gotham’s economic and political systems. But for the most part, the problems of Gotham are attributed to rampant individual corruption and the scheming of crime bosses rather than economic disparities, institutional violence, racial injustices, etc. I honestly go into most films expecting zero class analysis, so rather than lamenting its absence for much of this film, I appreciated the moments where some degree of class analysis emerged.

In addition to enjoying The Batman as a noir film, there were three elements that I didn’t expect but appreciated.

The first was the kinship and even tenderness between the Batman and a handful of the other characters. The film definitely had its share of toxic masculinity, with much of the action revolving around men beating each other up and plunging headlong into violent and dangerous situations as a hypermasculine approach to problem-solving. I also was disappointed to see multiple instances where the female lead — who was in most regards a strong, independent, and highly competent character — needed to be “rescued.” But there were also several key moments where the Batman was physically and emotionally vulnerable, including one scene of familial tenderness between Alfred and Bruce that I didn’t expect. It felt to me like the film was exploring and in some moments critiquing toxic masculinity rather than being lost in it.

The second was the note of hope at the end of the film. This wasn’t a cheery film, so I wasn’t expecting a cheery ending. Honestly, I would have been upset if I had gotten one. But the film found a way to introduce a sense of purpose and “light in the darkness” without undercutting the overall dark and cynical tone of the narrative. I would say that the Batman found a new sense of purpose in a city that is still getting worse, not better. He has solved a major crime and in a very real sense “saved the city” in the process, so the ending is “happy” in that sense. But the city is left in shambles, literally and figuratively. He has found personal meaning in helping the city and transforming himself into a symbol of hope rather than vengeance. But whether or not the city will ever actually be truly “saved” from its corruption and inner conflicts remains unclear. All that he can do is strive to bring hope to himself and others in a thoroughly broken and often hopeless city.

Finally, a major element of the film that I didn’t expect at all was the climate change angle. I may eventually write an entire analysis of the film from a climate fiction perspective. The Riddler’s final attack on the city plays a pivotal role in the plot, the characterization of the Batman, and ultimately the fate of the entire city. The fact that his attack involves breaching the sea walls of the city place this film solidly in the realm of climate fiction. Sea levels have risen to the point where significant portions of Gotham will be underwater if the sea walls are breached. While this isn’t a film that’s includes any overt preachy messaging about the climate crisis, it’s an excellent example of how the effects of the climate crisis can (and should) be included in non-climate-centric narratives in meaningful and powerful ways.

All in all, I would say that The Batman is one of the best films I’ve seen in a long time. I don’t necessarily want to get drawn into the DC cinematic universe that they’re clearly trying to build. That’s a major commitment that probably won’t be borne out by the quality of the other films. But as a standalone film, The Batman was definitely worth seeing.

About

My name is Treesong. I'm a father, husband, author, talk radio host, and Real Life Superhero. I live in Carbondale, Southern Illinois where I write books and volunteer for the Illinois Initiative. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Patreon to stay up-to-date on my latest cli-fi releases and Real Life Superhero adventures. Sign up for my newsletter to receive free cli-fi in your inbox.

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