The Batman: A Three-Hour Deconstruction of American Mythology


Studios love superheroes. They’ve cranked out countless comic book movies throughout the past decade, almost all of which have been box office smashes. And perhaps no hero has received as many cinematic representations as Bob Kane’s caped crusader of crime fighting, Batman. With his edgy aesthetic, keen intellect, and wide array of gadgets, Batman has endeared himself to audiences everywhere as one of most beloved superheroes in comic history. 

Many brilliant filmmakers have adapted Kane’s iconic character to the big screen, bringing the character to life with their own unique directorial vision. Tim Burton brought the caped crusader to life with gothic melodrama, while Joel Schumacher turned gotham into a funhouse of candy colored kitsch. Most recently, Christopher Nolan earned much acclaim with his fiercely grounded Dark Knight Trilogy, providing pensive realism to the Batman mythology. Now, Matt Reeves has put his spin on the character with The Batman, bringing a fascinating deconstructionist lens to the world’s greatest detective. 

The Batman takes place two years into the title character’s crime fighting career, dropping us into a bleak world overridden with moral destitution. Suffering from a horrifically corrupt justice system, Gotham is overrun with crime and violence. Bruce Wayne (Robert Pattinson) has all but abandoned his billionaire alter ego, throwing himself into the the role of a terrifying vigilante, spending endless nights beating criminals to a pulp.

Batman’s perception of crime is forever changed when he encounters a new serial killer known as The Riddler (Paul Dano), a brilliant terrorist who has a message for Gotham City. With help from Gordon and cat burglar Selina Kyle (Zoe Kravitz), Batman embarks on a dangerous search for The Riddler’s identity. Throughout his investigation, the caped crusader stumbles upon deep seated secrets that threaten to expose the institutional corruption poisoning the city, and he must come to terms with his role within said corruption. 

Running at almost three hours long, The Batman is a moody slowburn of a detective story. Characters whisper their lines, moving thoughtfully throughout the scene. Providing a blockbuster with such a glacial pace is a risky move, for many audience members will be understandably bored given the film’s somber tone and extensive length. However, Matt Reeves earns his pensive pacing through ingenious world building, and he utilizes The Batman’s runtime to provide his film with a firm sense of texture. Watching this nuanced crime epic provides you an intimate understanding of Gotham’s inner workings.

One of the most shocking things about The Batman is its cynical social commentary. Throughout the film, Reeves illustrates that a vigilante superhero like Batman feeds into the cycle of dysfunction that throws Gotham into chaos. Bruce Wayne is a part of the one percent, a billionaire who lives with undeniable privilege thanks to his immense wealth. This aspect of Batman has been true since the character’s inception, yet few artists have taken his societal standing as an opportunity to criticize class relations. 

This version of Batman has a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of crime, viciously pummeling those who break the law without any thought of why they do so. Throughout the film, he learns that many hold Bruce Wayne in contempt for his wealth, and that the true criminals are politicians who keep the city in poverty. Batman’s wealth alienates him from those he fights to protect, and is therefore unable to discover an effective way to deter crime. Without the sociological context for why people break the law, Batman is nothing but a blunt instrument of violence, a shallow nightmare unable to create lasting change. 

Sadly, the film doesn’t go as far as it should in terms of thought provoking deconstruction. Reeves only flirts with the idea of a fundamentally broken system that needs radical reconstruction. The Batman may criticize various legal institutions, but it still presents organizations like the police as a necessary component of American society. Perhaps it’s foolish to expect a mainstream comic book movie to provide commentary on par with shows like The Wire, and the fact that Reeves was able to make a studio funded superhero blockbuster with any kind of deconstructionist angle is praise-worthy in itself. 

The Batman has far more going for it than clever social commentary. It’s a gorgeously constructed film in its own right. Gotham has never looked better than it does in this film, as Reeves and cinematographer Greg Fraiser bring the city to life in all of its rainy glory. With moody lighting and crisp camera work, The Batman is a visually engaging feast for the eyes. The action sequences are all masterfully helmed, showcasing stunning set pieces and expert fight choreography. Every punch registers with a brutal sense of impact, and Reeves captures the violence in beautiful wides, providing audiences a cohesive view of the combat. However, the action is secondary to Reeves’ world building and storytelling, both of which are exceptional in this film.

All of that being said, The Batman isn’t a perfect film, especially in terms of the writing. Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy was marked with witty banter, while Burton’s films were carried by his unique gothic prose.​​​​ The Batman’s dialogue feels stale in comparison, and most of the lines feel like they could be considerably punched up. Thankfully, the strong visuals and excellent performances more than make up for the lack of verbal acuity. With a lesser cast, The Batman would feel like a well crafted slog, but the ensemble here breathes life into the material. 

The Batman is fascinating when compared to its peers within the superhero genre. Matt Reeves took a $200 million dollar budget and thoughtfully deconstructed one of our generation’s most beloved comic book creations. The film may be flawed, but its strengths dwarf the occasional chink in the armor. Atmospheric, thought-provoking, and visually stunning, The Batman is a stunning achievement in blockbuster filmmaking.