Warning! This story may contain spoilers Batman
Although the script was written by Peter Craig, Matt Reeves wrote it. Batman in 2017, well before the events of the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, audiences would be forgiven for thinking the film’s climax is a direct reference to the attempted insurrection. “That was the way it had been written before,” Reeves tells TIME. “Over the course of those five years, from when we wrote the script until now, events transpired that made it seem even more timely, which was very strange.”
The parallels are so close—armed conspirators plan an attack on Gotham’s mayor using social media—that Reeves briefly considered changing the ending of the film. “I never ever would have set out to try and take something so current and say, ‘Hey, let’s just put it in a movie’ because that would seem really exploitive and really wrong,” he says. “Ultimately we felt that it was different enough. It’s not the same, but there are echoes of it.”
At the beginning of the film, Batman (Robert Pattinson) leverages fear as a tool—to the point that even the people he saves are terrified of him. In a voiceover, Batman tells us he has spent two years running around the city calling himself “Vengeance,” when people ask his name. (People call him Batman, too, but Bruce Wayne tosses out the “Vengeance” line so much that Zoë Kravitz’s Catwoman begins to call him “Vengeance” as a nickname.)
Two revelations at the movie’s end force Batman to reevaluate his desire to become a terror symbol. Second, Batman captures the Riddler (Paul Dano), a serial killer. Batman inspires the Riddler. They are both targeting Gotham’s corrupt; the Riddler is just willing to kill his targets, whereas Batman is not. Bruce Wayne is still disturbed by the notion that putting on a mask can make more criminals than it does good. While writing in his journal, he admits to being a vigilante who has tried to keep Gotham safe for over two years. And crime is only getting worse.
The film’s climax sees The Batman discovering too late that The Riddler has plans to flood New York City by setting off bombs in strategic places. Many citizens, including mayoral hopeful Bella Reál (Jayme Lawson), head to a Madison Square Garden-esque arena in search of refuge.
The Batman then discovers the Riddler has amassed a violent, fringe following by using the internet to foment an uprising of the disenfranchised against Gotham’s elites. We see screenshots of chatrooms where the Riddler’s followers discuss what weapons to buy and how they will attack the mayoral candidate and her supporters in the arena. These screenshots are reminiscent of Jan. 6, conspirators’ social media posts. Some insurrectionists posted about attacking female legislators like Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of House. The assassination attempt on Reál, a Black woman who is running on a message of hope, echoes the real-world assault.
Batman is not even there when the terrorists are already inside the arena. They have sniper rifles, other guns, and they’re ready to attack the audience. From the top of the rafters, they begin firing at the people. When the Caped Crusader catches one of the shooters and asks, “Who are you?” the masked man replies, “I am Vengeance.”
Batman seems visibly upset. He is clearly distraught.
He seems to have inspired the Riddler and the Riddler’s followers to take justice into their own hands. Worse still, The Riddler isn’t the only villain who has taken to the streets because of Batman’s antics. A brief scene shows a Riddler in prison commiserating with his failed attempt to demolish Gotham. But the movie heavily hints from this mysterious figure’s laugh that he will become The Joker.
It is hoped that Batman will learn from the new Joker that being a symbol for hope can be just as powerful and dangerous than taking on fear.
“There’s a version of glorifying a kind of brutality of Batman that’s fascist,” says Reeves. “You could see that meme. And then there are other portrayals where you could see that he’s struggling in this very human way. So I wanted him to be forced to have an awakening … and confront what he’s doing.”
Reeves needed to stop production BatmanLondon due to the pandemic. The Jan. 6, attack disrupted filming and even interrupted production. “Gotham is meant to be a heightened version of our world,” says Reeves. “But there were certain moments on set where we were like, ‘Wow, maybe the real world is worse than Gotham.’ We were pretty shaken by world events while filming.”
Batman saves the day and leads Gotham’s people out of danger with a beacon light. So far, Batman is a dark movie—literally. It is dark, claustrophobic and grim. The majority of action takes place in the dark, inside bat caves, and at night. One of the few brighter, daytime shots comes at the very end as Bruce helps rescue survivors from the arena the morning after the fight with the Riddler’s men. It looks as if Batman might be considering becoming a symbol for hope and not fear in that moment.
Check out the review: Batman Is Dark, Real Dark—Or So It Wants Us to Think
Reeves made this movie, whether he intended it or not. It captures the moment where a constant pandemic and fear of climate change have all contributed to an eerie feeling of doom. The end offers a glimmer of hope—which, depressingly, may be the least realistic part of the plot.