The Batman isn’t an anti-Batman screed, nor is it an overt identity politics rant. The overlong movie is too sprawling, too messy, too unfocused to seriously explore a single Big Theme.
But it does seem to question whether being Batman is the right choice for a billionaire playboy who wants to produce social change. It’s a Batman movie that comes across as uncomfortable with the whole idea of Batman.
Yes, it offers grit and gloom and classically Batman-esque moments, but it also frequently undercuts them, as if to suggest that the underlying idea of the character is kind of silly. Throughout the movie, there are invocations of whiteness and privilege, networks of urban corruption, and a mayoral race between a young black woman and an older white man. (The latter, we are supposed to understand, represents Gotham’s corruption.) The finale manages to hint at fears of both climate change and the January 6 Capitol riot. The hero’s connection with the supervillain is closer than usual, and when the antagonist inevitably announces that he and the Batman are really the same, the movie seems to agree.
The idea seems to be that if Batman truly wanted to make Gotham a better place, he’d find some other way to do it, perhaps involving politics. No thanks.