For those who haven’t heard, Robert Pattinson is set to play Batman in a noir-influenced movie called The Batman that will be coming out in June of 2021. Very recently, when Pattinson was asked about his upcoming role as a superhero in spite of his previous statement about being skeptical of actors who want to play a hero, he responded that he doesn’t see Batman as a simple and straightforward hero. Instead, he called the character “complicated,” which to be perfectly fair, is far from being the first time that Batman has been interpreted in something besides a 100 percent heroic light.
This Isn’t a Particularly Unusual Opinion
First and foremost, it is important to remember that Batman was created in the late 1930s. As a result, there has been a wide range of interpretations in a wide range of stories written by a wide range of people, meaning that it is natural for there to have been a huge amount of variation to the character. For example, while Batman is famous for his refusal to kill in modern stories, there was a time when he was willing to kill people with a gun under certain circumstances. Something that is perhaps unsurprising when he started out as a pulp hero. Likewise, the Batman of the Batman show from the 1960s was a very different character from the Batman of the Dark Knight Trilogy, so much so that it is difficult to even put them in the same genre of media. Regardless, the important point is that there are dozens and dozens of different interpretations of Batman, so it should come as no surprise to learn that some of them have been rather “complicated” in the sense of being criticizable.
For instance, there has been a fair amount of criticism of Batman from an out-of-setting perspective. Amusingly, there are two very prominent kinds of such criticism, which are very different from one another to say the least.
One, there are some people who criticize Batman because they think that his violent way of fighting crime is counterproductive. Essentially, since Batman’s Gotham tends to be depicted as a socioeconomic nightmare, they believe that he would be more effective by using his immense wealth to boost the local economy, fund mental healthcare services, and otherwise mitigate the socioeconomic factors that contribute to crime. In contrast, they criticize Batman’s violent vigilantism for being too brutal, which isn’t wholly unfair because while Batman won’t kill, there is a lot of Batman media in which he is perfectly willing to inflict the kind of hurt that has lifelong consequences in the real world.
Two, there are some people who criticize Batman for being unwilling to kill. Essentially, a lot of Gotham’s supervillains are mass murderers that have managed to overcome the legal system on multiple occasions. As a result, these people believe that since the government cannot be trusted to keep said individuals either contained or rehabilitated or otherwise neutralized, Batman has a moral obligation to kill them to prevent them from killing more people.
In both cases, the relevant problems are the results of storytelling restrictions rather than the stories themselves. For instance, Batman fights crime in a violent way because most Batman fans expect darker, grittier kind of action in Batman stories. Meanwhile, the increased brutality of Batman supervillain is a product of a similar process meant to make things darker and darker. However, there will never be a permanent resolution to these characters so long as they continue to remain fan favorites because that wouldn’t make sense from a business perspective considering the serial nature of most comic books. With that said, while some criticism of Batman is from an out-of-setting perspective, there is plenty of criticism of Batman based on an in-setting perspective as well.
One excellent example would be Batman’s own mental health issues. Perhaps unsurprisingly, putting on what is supposed to be a costume to make him scarier before heading out to punch criminals is not what anyone would call a healthy response on the part of Bruce Wayne to the trauma of having watched his parents murdered before him. However, there are some Batman stories that take things further by playing up that particular angle. In such stories, Batman doesn’t just have mental health issues, he has very serious mental health issues that could cause him to snap in a similar way to his supervillains if he crossed certain limitations such his personal no-kill rule. This might be connected to Batman media’s fondness for supervillains who are dark reflections of their superheroes. The Joker would be the classic example. However, it is worth mentioning that recent Batman media has also introduced the Batman Who Laughs, who is best-described as an alternate universe version of the character who has snapped with catastrophic consequences for everyone else.
With that said, there are other facets of Batman’s character that can be criticized as well. For instance, he tends to be depicted as someone with serious trust issues even when it comes to other superheroes who have managed to prove themselves again and again. In some cases, this paranoia leads to preparations that aren’t entirely unreasonable in nature. For example, while coming up with ways to defeat the other members of the Justice League isn’t exactly very friendly, it isn’t entirely unreasonable considering the times that they have been mind-controlled in comic books. However, there are also cases in which Batman’s paranoia causes him to go overboard, as shown by the massive violation of personal privacy that is his Brother Eye surveillance system.
Ultimately, it remains to be seen whether Pattinson’s statement about Batman not being a hero will mean for the upcoming movie. It could be a good idea because its Batman will be a more nuanced character, which could go very well with its noir influence. However, there are also plenty of ways that the statement could bode ill because there can be a pretty fine difference between someone who struggles to do good in spite of their personal issues and someone who has crossed the line but continues to lie to themselves about what they are doing. Time will tell how well the next Batman movie will handle the whole issue.