I’ve watched a bunch of superhero movies recently. Some (like Birds of Prey and The Suicide Squad) lived up to expectations. Others were surprising.
Based on friends’ comments on social media, I expected Quantumania (the third Antman movie) to be a dud. But it was a fun ride, with fun world building and characters. And it had MODOK!
Based on friends’ comments and the fact that it had Batman in it, I expected to enjoy The Batman (the 2022 movie). I was disappointed in it and surprised with myself.
The movie does not portray Batman as especially competent. As a detective, other than quickly noticing one clue in an early scene, he is mostly several steps behind the villains. As a fighter, he is insufferably terrible. He doesn’t strike from the shadows but instead lumbers straight at the bad guys, letting them shoot him repeatedly and bouncing it off his armor. In a scene late in the movie, he accosts a bunch of gunman in a dark hallway. They could have made him a blur in the shadows who picked them off one by one, but instead he appears clearly in the circle of light and charges them.
As background: I was a teenager when Batman came out (the one directed by Tim Burton, starring Michael Keaton). I was wowed by it, and it made a fan out of me. I collected comic books in the 90s, mostly Batman titles. And my benchmark Batman is Bruce Timm and Paul Dini’s animated series, which channeled the best of aspects of the Tim Burton movie. It portrayed Batman as calm and competent, but also as compassionate even to his enemies. As power fantasy, it captures a lot of what we’d all like to be.
The recent movie instead has Batman as an indulgent jerk who casually forces a car chase that blows up lots of innocent civilians, who has no time for being worried about the innocent. It portrays Gotham city as worthless and overwhelmed by crime, the generic degenerate city. Even though the movie ends with Bruce Wayne learning that maybe he ought to save people, it doesn’t withdraw its portrayal of the city as a crime-ridden shithole. Portraying it that way is not just cliché but also politically pernicious. That myth about cities is echoed by politicians to justify militarizing police forces and oppressing minorities. By casually treating it as true of Gotham, which is a fantasy stand-in for a big city, the movie accepts that this is how cities are.
There have been versions of Batman that are fun, but the grimdark Batman seems to have won out. I’m no fan of that, so maybe I’m not such a fan of Batman anymore.