Starla and David review The Batman.
The Batman (2022) V. Boomers by David Buckley
Like it or not, the Caped Crusader tends to invite serious criticism. In 2008, Andrew Klavan argued Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight should be read as an attempt to justify the Bush Administration’s misconduct during the War on Terror. Later, Richard Brody of the New Yorker argued Zack Snyder’s Batman V. Superman was really an indictment of America’s post-9/11 cruelty.
I would argue Matt Reeves’ 2022 iteration of the Dark Knight should be read as correspondence from the front lines of the ongoing war between Millennials and the “Me” generation. Zack Snyder gave us Batman V. Superman. Now, Reeves has given us Batman V. Boomers.
In Matt Reeves’ The Batman, Gotham City is (as always) corrupt from top to bottom. But the choice to cast millennial Robert Pattinson as the titular character, and to place him just two years into his ministry as the Dark Knight, means Batman isn’t up against the corruption of his peers as usual. Batman is up against the corruption of his elders.
What is a generation to do with a hopelessly corrupt and unjust system built not by a foreign power, but by their very own parents? When staring into the abyss of this Boomer-built world, Millennials tends to react in just three ways. The Batman weighs the morality of each, and, from the beginning, we know which reaction Hollywood’s first Millennial Batman is attracted to most.
In the film, Batman doesn’t yet answer to any of his character’s traditional nicknames. In fact, the word “Batman” isn’t even uttered aloud for the first half or more of the film. Batman refers to himself instead as “Vengeance” and so do his contemporaries – including detective Jim Gordon (played by Jeffrey Wright) and Selena Kyle, also known as Catwoman (played by Zoë Kravitz). The question is: Just how far is Vengeance willing to go in order to live up to his self-professed moniker?
Vengeance is Batman’s natural inclination, but it’s not his only option. Selena Kyle’s inclination is toward self-entitled exploitation. She’s not apathetic – you would be hard pressed to find a millennial that truly is. Selena cares deeply for Annika (played by Hana Hrzic) – a sex worker who knows too much and eventually goes missing. Though Catwoman has “a thing for strays,” it doesn’t stop her from pursuing the occasional, targeted cat burglary in order to take what she believes is rightfully hers. Sure, the money she steals is ultimately blood money, but we discover that the criminal underworld she steals from does owe her something and they don’t have a single clean bill in the bank.
The Batman serves as superego to Generation Y’s collective conscience. He aims to carry out in society the traditional morality left by his family’s fading legacy. Catwoman, on the other hand, serves as Generation Y’s ego. She rejects Batman’s idealism and looks to satisfy the Millennial Generation’s strong sense of justice in more realistic ways. Gotham’s criminal justice system is broken. So, Kyle creates her own justice by way of the occasional score – although only to attain what she believes society already owes her. At least for the first half of the film.
Which brings us to The Batman’s chief antagonist: The Riddler (played by Paul Dano). The Riddler represents Generation Y’s collective Id. Batman inflicts vengeance from behind a mask, but he possesses a distinct, if not hazy, moral vision and there are clear limits to the violence he is willing to commit. As Id, the Riddler takes Generation Y’s sense of justice to the extreme. He resolves to anonymously deliver horrific and unbridled retribution to Gotham’s depraved elite both living and dead.
The rest of the film is a therapy session in which Generation Y must mediate between its competing desires to enforce rigid order, unleash infinite punishment or to cynically check out after getting what’s yours.
That’s why Reeves’ choice to construct Batman as more detective than superhero is a fitting U-turn in the history of how Hollywood has traditionally portrayed the character. Batman spends just as much time playing moral detective as he does homicide detective. He lives in a world where the only institutions that still stand are hopelessly corrupt. As a result, it’s not just up to Batman to solve a series of murders. He also must piece together a moral fabric that his baby boomer predecessors tore into pieces, discarded and let blow in the wind.
Moral dilemma ensues when the Riddler casts shade on the Wayne family legacy – Batman’s only guiding light. At various points in the film, the soundtrack employs Ave Maria to invoke the Blessed Mother – not only because Gotham is chock full of fatherless children (including Batman, Catwoman and the Riddler), but also because she holds the answer to Bruce’s predicament: Hail Mary, full of grace! Batman discovers the only way to rise above his parents’ failings is to forgive them.
In The Batman, Gotham’s perpetual rainfall is an obvious homage to David Fincher’s Se7en, but the rain also warns that a flood is imminent. In the end, there is no rainbow – no utopian resolution of radical reform. There is only the Prince of Gotham carrying a dim light in the dark as he trudges through the city’s flooded streets to lead a small group of women and children to higher ground (hopefully a higher moral ground as well).
We can only presume that when he arrives, Batman will trade in the Millennial desire for ravenous vengeance and instead dutifully clean up the mess left by his parents’ feckless generation. It’s a competent illustration of the true task before us and Reeves (a member of Generation X) should be lauded for his fair and judicious reading of two generations at war.