Bestie Batman: Reflections on its latest instalment from a DC philistine

Art by Sian Williams

When I saw the words “can someone pls shit on batman for content lol” in the Content Team group chat, I was determined that in the spirit of journalistic integrity I would endeavour to do the exact opposite. I thought my woeful unfamiliarity with Batman and the entire DC universe would endear me even more to the film. I came to the cinema ready to see the best in whatever I was presented with. I had heard polarising accounts from friends, and the die-hard Batman fans seemed divided on the matter. The idea of finally immersing myself into the world of Batman was an exciting prospect. Batman is our edgy hero taking on a city that we aren’t even sure is worth saving in the first place. Complexity! From my limited knowledge, there has always been an appeal to the ever-so-slight moral ambiguity of bestie Batman. He’s not some wet goody-two-shoes. Batman is cool, a little deranged perhaps, but he presents a dynamic and engaging protagonist that the audience is interested in as a character. As such, I had high hopes for The Batman.

But walking out of the theatre, I’m not exactly sure what I had expected to see, it was certainly not an anaemic Robert Pattinson struggling to keep up with the mind games of an incel for 3 hours. I genuinely believed that Twilight was the only time we would ever see an iron deficiency intentionally imposed on Glamour’s three-time Sexiest Man Alive, supplemented with a haircut for the ages. The Batman was an undoubtedly engaging film by all accounts. Like all action films goers, it brought me great joy to see lots of guns, fight scenes, cars getting blown up and bad guys being destroyed. The murder-mystery feature of the plot kept my simple mind happy even if it felt like Scooby-Doo for teenage boys.

Beyond that, I was left almost laughing at watching a grown man sulk around in a winged costume, as though playing a Nirvana track detracts from the hate crime that was the opening and closing monologues. The dark and tortured demeanour of our bat-inclined friend seemed quite incongruous with his pronouncement of a need ‘to push himself’ like he had just committed to running IB (Inward Bound). I was all too glad when the closing monologue came around (mostly because the ordeal was over). But then, our hero brought out his new approach to busting organised crime – hope and justice. Even if the ‘edge’ of Batman mostly makes him come across as a distressed toddler, this is his cool factor. Mans can’t just switch it up like that. Also! He is meant to beat up bad guys, not just run around picking up injured people in oddly photogenic positions. I will reaffirm my lack of knowledge of the DC universe, but I felt a need to object to such a depiction of Batman.

The inability of director Matt Reeves to reconcile the signature characteristics of this particular hero with his ability to do hero things seemed to leave the film feeling disjointed and difficult to take seriously. Whilst this problem was persistent throughout the film, it was present in spades as Catwoman was used as an odd diversity pawn to manufacture a discussion about race and privilege. A discussion that most certainly didn’t belong in a film with a total of two female characters whose primary roles lay in the fact they were not men and God forbid, not white. It was impossible not to devolve into complete cynicism as Catwoman tells Batman to stop being a judgey, whiny man because she has struggles too and being an orphan doesn’t really count if you are rich. It came across as a bizarre attempt to integrate Oppression Olympics into an action film. An awkward injection of Hollywood progressive rhetoric was not the means to amend the film’s miserable failing of the Bechdel test. Reeves’ naive hope that merely including the words ‘white’ and ‘privilege’ in his film would induce Batman into a flurry of self-reflection about race and identity politics came across cringeworthy and delving into pathetic.

I wish The Batman had been the film I had hoped for. Instead, I found myself unable to get past the odd characterisation of the titular figure and the notion that politically correct undertones could somehow amend this. It seemed as though in trying to add excessive layering and complexity to Batman he became somewhat laughable, contradictory and overcooked. I feel an overwhelming sense of disappointment that I have found myself “shitting on Batman for content” but some truths cannot be dressed up any other way.