Gotham City looks a lot like New York all of a sudden.
In “The Batman,” which hits theaters today, citizens attend a political rally at Gotham Square Garden and the Gotham Gazette has been redesigned to mimic your morning New York Post. Thank you, Warner Bros. We look forward to our cut of the box office receipts.
That’s all cute enough. We can’t let Chicago hog the limelight. However, the strongest — and most depressing — resemblance is in Gotham’s spate of familiar crimes.
In an early scene of the bleak movie, a gang with painted faces surrounds an Asian man on a subway platform and is about to beat him up for no apparent reason. Then Batman intervenes. Such a moment would’ve been easier to stomach back in 2012, when we were all trying to weasel into the Soho House carrying Magnolia cupcakes in our Strand tote bags. When on-screen urban violence felt a world away. When New York was the safest big city in America.
No longer. These days, horrid acts like that appear on the evening news almost every night. Subway assaults and violent crimes against Asian New Yorkers have become an intolerably regular part of city life during the past year. It’s distressing and terrifying.
Batman looks on at Gotham City, which in “The Batman” is closely modeled after New York. ©Warner Bros/Courtesy Everett CThe crimes on display in “The Batman” will be depressingly familiar to New Yorkers. ©Warner Bros/Courtesy Everett CA throwback to the bad old days of the 1970s, people are so afraid to take the train right now that long-avoided platform barriers are going to be installed in the Times Square station on the 7 line to prevent senseless shovings. Meanwhile, Mayor Eric Adams has put more cops in the MTA and begun efforts to remove homeless squatters from the vast transit system.
Fine. But I don’t want to think about all that during a movie about a billionaire who dresses in a tight-fitting bat costume and has a British butler named Alfred.
And yet so much of “The Batman” could’ve been narrated by news anchor Pat Kiernan. Characters nervously glance over their shoulder at night on NYC-like streets in fear of being attacked, like everybody here does now. Gotham gang members tag private property with graffiti. (That nonsense returned to the city in the summer of 2020 and is still happening. My apartment building was tagged two weeks ago.) There are shootings at an average-looking nightclub operated by the Penguin, like the one that happened on Flatbush Avenue last month.
“The Batman” features violent scenes in an average-looking nightclub, not unlike this Brooklyn spot where two people were shot in February. Many critics, myself included, called this the darkest “Batman” film ever — even more so than “The Dark Knight,” which reframed the Joker as a domestic terrorist. Why must Hollywood continue down this black hole of abject misery?
The critical and commercial success of Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight,” which got Heath Ledger a posthumous Oscar in 2009, and Joaquin Phoenix’s Best Actor win for 2019’s “Joker” have deluded filmmakers into thinking these superhero movies are just as important as policy and legislation. They think, “Who needs documentaries and on-the-ground news reports about crime and social inequities when I am making a fictional film with a villain who tells riddles?”
They see escapism as plebeian and immature. They believe what audiences want matters less than their own egos.
Sorry, boys — audiences demonstrably want fun. “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” which is about as hard-hitting as a Nerf gun and not three hours long like “The Batman,” has made $1.85 billion worldwide during a pandemic. Of course it has! The film dares to make viewers feel good.
Walking around the city at night is unnerving lately. When I arrive at an 8 p.m. movie and take my seat, I want what’s on screen to help me forget about what’s right outside the door, because there’s no masked billionaire to protect us here.
Mike Bloomberg doesn’t have the upper-body strength.