Column: ‘The Batman’ holds up an unflattering mirror

A moviegoer walks by a poster for  'The Batman' at a  Beijing theater
(VCG via Getty Images)

The latest comic book movie, “The Batman,” crossed the $300-million threshold in North America last weekend, becoming just the second film since the pandemic began to do so. The other is December’s “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” highlighting our undying affinity for superheroes in general and for these two beloved characters specifically.

The new film, starring Robert Pattinson as the grungiest Batman to date, has generated lots of online chatter from fans trying to figure out who the next villain should be in the presumed sequel.

I don’t know who the next bad guy will be, but based on the trend, I know what they’ll be: a mirror.

Opinion Columnist

LZ Granderson

LZ Granderson writes about culture, politics, sports and navigating life in America.

This current caped crusader project took the Riddler — known for his cartoonish and comedic presentation thanks to the live-action likes of Jim Carrey, John Astin and Frank Gorshin — and dived headfirst into radicalized domestic terrorism.


It’s a reimagining that echoes the evolution brilliantly executed by Heath Ledger’s Joker in “The Dark Knight” and repeated by Joaquin Phoenix in “Joker.” Their performances led to Oscars for both actors, a recognition that there was more to their characters than green-screen accoutrements.

We’ll see whether Paul Dano, who swaps the Riddler’s signature green suit for one more in line with Jigsaw from the “Saw” horror series, will be similarly honored. He will certainly be remembered.

Dano’s Riddler is brutal.

He is sadistic.

He is also frighteningly realistic — much like the Jokers presented by Phoenix and Ledger. Dano’s Riddler isn’t just a criminal. He’s an aggrieved citizen who turns to domestic terrorism to shake up what he sees as a corrupt and unjust system.

Sound familiar?

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In fact, there are moments in “The Batman” that feel more like pages from a terrorist manifesto than a script featuring men in tights. This is how recent Batman films, starting with Christopher Nolan’s iconic trilogy, moved from simply being a fresh take on capes and robbers.

Despite the realistic CGI and quality of the actors, Batman still feels like a fictional character to me. But Dano’s Riddler? He reminded me of something the FBI director, Christopher Wray, told the Senate back in 2021.

“We continue to see individuals radicalized here at home by jihadist ideologies espoused by foreign terrorist organizations like ISIS and al Qaeda — what we would call homegrown violent extremists,” he said. “But we’re also countering lone domestic violent extremists radicalized by personalized grievances ranging from racial and ethnic bias to anti-government, anti-authority sentiment to conspiracy theories.”


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Resentment of the wealth amassed by the family of Bruce Wayne is part of the canon. Director Matt Reeves has gone further, making class war an essential element of Riddler’s motivation. Couple that with his distrust of government, and what you have is a fictionalized version of a very disturbed Occupy Wall Street protester. This is what makes the storytelling of the recent Batman movies more relatable than their entertaining yet campy predecessors: They hold a mirror close enough for us to see our reflection yet far enough for us to be able to pretend it’s someone else.

When the Riddler and his copycats set out to assassinate Gotham’s new mayor, I was reminded of the six men who were arrested in October 2020 for plotting to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. One of the men, Ty Garbin, pleaded guilty last year and was sentenced to six years in prison. A second, Kaleb Franks, pleaded guilty in February.

Franks said he linked up with a militia group after the pandemic started, downloaded an encrypted messaging app, and wanted to retaliate against an unjust government. He was part of the surveillance team at Whitmer’s home. He said they built a “shoot house” to double as her home for training. This week, during the trial of the other four men, we learned that another defendant texted the group “when’s the lynching?”

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Images from the domestic terrorist attack on Jan. 6 were reminiscent of the final fight scene at City Hall between Batman and the villain Bane, whose modus operandi was decidedly anti-government as well. There are corrupt police officers working for crime organizations. There’s an overwhelmed mental health industry. It’s all there … regardless of whether the “there” is our world or Batman’s.

Oddly enough, with each installment, the hero becomes less interesting. It is the villains who are grabbing our attention, making politically charged statements about their world that challenge us to think about how it is different from our own.

And I have to tell you, after this latest “Batman,” there doesn’t seem to be much difference anymore.