The Missed Opportunity of “The Batman”

Matt Reeves’s version of DC’s caped crusader misses the opportunity to tell not the origin story of Batman, but the origin story of the billionaire behind Batman.

The Bruce Wayne we meet at the start of The Batman is anything but a social butterfly or a competent businessman. He hardly goes out, except on his nightly excursions to watch over the city or meet with Lt. James Gordon and find out where he’s needed. Bruce is so holed up in Wayne Manor that the loyal Alfred Pennyworth must summon accountants to meet at Wayne Manor. He can’t get Bruce to go to them, so they have to come to him. Carmine Falcone, a known crime lord, greets Bruce with surprise at a public memorial service and calls Bruce the biggest recluse in Gotham besides himself.

When Alfred points out that if Bruce continues to take no notice of the business, they’ll go bankrupt, this Bruce states outright that he doesn’t care what happens to him or the money; he just wants revenge for his parents’ deaths. Revenge on who, specifically? He doesn’t know who killed his parents, but it appears that Bruce is dead set on meting out punishment on the city’s crooks in general as a form of vengeance. On the mean streets of Gotham City, as a shadow in the shadows (accompanied by the steady, ominous bass notes of Michael Giacchino’s score), the Batman does what he can to combat crime by beating up bad guys, but not killing them.

The Wayne family’s legacy comes up several times in the story. Thomas Wayne and Martha Arkham come from the founding families of Gotham City. The family isn’t merely rich; it is integral and significant to the city. Thomas Wayne was killed shortly after he initiated what he called the Renewal fund, which was meant to aid the city, but the fund has apparently not done much good. Bruce, even after becoming an adult, ignores this fund along with anything else to do with his family’s legacy, preferring his secret job as the masked vigilante.

Pretty soon he finds that he can’t ignore his background and the fund his father set up. The mayor elect tries to talk him into playing a more active role and doing good (with his money), as his family did. He later discovers that the Riddler is driven in part by resentment of the fact that he and the other children at the orphanage were ignored and left in squalor when Renewal funds were misappropriated. Kenzie, a cop who moonlights with the underground drug lords, confesses that Falcone and corrupt officials went all in to grab the money from the Renewal fund after Thomas Wayne died because “there was no oversight.”

The Renewal fund and the fallout of Bruce’s neglect of his family’s legacy came up enough times that it should have been a natural conclusion for him realise that he must take up his responsibilities so that his family’s money cannot be so easily misused by others again. The Renewal fund needed proper stewardship, and Bruce could have been and could still be that steward.

This becomes all the more important when considering that one of the messages of the movie is that Batman’s vigilantism in the name of vengeance has not improved matters in the city but has in fact done the opposite. Crime increased, and he inadvertently inspired the cruelty of the Riddler. So one has to question the actual purpose of Batman. And if Bruce is not Batman or if he cannot or should not be quite the same Batman as he was, then how else can he serve Gotham if not by coming into his own as Bruce Wayne and doing some good with his inheritance?

Sadly, the movie never goes there. It resolves its main plotline with a subdued victory for Batman over the Riddler and he bids farewell (for now) to Selina Kyle and that suggested budding romance. This implies that he is sacrificing some potential happiness for the greater good of Gotham. But the movie does not ever show or indicate that Bruce has any awareness that for the greater good of Gotham, he ought to at least be as much Bruce Wayne as he is Batman. Like it or not, he comes from a family that is important to the city, and so long as he remains in Gotham, Bruce Wayne has a part to play there.

While not all of Gotham City’s problems can be solved just by Bruce deciding to step up to the plate, it is clear from the hints scattered throughout the story that it is exactly what he should do. The city could benefit greatly from Bruce Wayne as a force for good as much as it could from Batman as a rallying point for hope. Batman can help Gotham City, yes. So can Bruce Wayne. He cannot just be Batman; he also has to be Bruce Wayne.

Perhaps the next movie (and there surely will be one) will show us a more proactive Bruce Wayne. But it would have been nice to see the beginnings of that at the end of this movie.

Got anything to add or say? :D