This is JFCY volunteer Bilal’s take on the “justice system” in Batman.

The final instalment of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises, hit theatres this past month, concluding the franchise in a spectacular fashion. The film begins eight years since Batman vanished into the night, as a fugitive of the law. Assuming the blame for the death of D.A. Harvey Dent, the Dark Knight sacrificed everything for what he and Commissioner Gordon both hoped was the greater good.

Before I give away any spoilers, it is safe to say that Batman has everything to do with the law! Is Batman “good” because he fights bad guys to uphold the law and justice? Or is he “bad” because he operates “outside” of the law and wreaks revenge on criminals, according not to the law but to his own rules? Batman can be referred to as a “vigilante,” which is someone who “takes the law into their own hands.” Usually these people are not endorsed by the authorities in the area in which they operate. In Batman’s case, GothamCityauthorities, such as Mayor Anthony Garcia, ignore Batman’s activities when it suits them. “Official” enforcement bodies such as the police have their powers given to them by the law. Vigilantes, on the other hand, usually engage in actions which are “against” the law.

Batman and vigilantes generally justify their actions by arguing that “official” enforcement bodies have largely failed to ensure justice. In The Dark Knight Rises, the central villain, Bane, a masked terrorist, has a ruthless plan to destroy GothamCity. The police force is simply too weak to take on Bane – and thus, Batman attempts to intervene. However, when GothamCity is safe because “official” authorities are able to maintain justice, Batman is no longer needed. This is the case at the end of the second film, The Dark Knight, as most criminal activity was crushed under the weight of the anti-crime Dent Act. At the end of The Dark Knight, Batman says, “…where the law works, we have no need of a Batman.”

How do we know if the law “works?” The Batman trilogy features a number of memorable villains who wreak havoc on the lives of GothamCity’s citizens. People are killed, banks are robbed, and children are kidnapped. When society’s legal institutions fail to provide safety, enforcement bodies do not catch criminals and courts do not ensure they are locked away for a long time. The Batman trilogy illustrates that “justice” encompasses our right to safety, as well as ensuring punishment to those who do harm.  In my opinion, one of the signs that the law is “working” is if justice is served or not; when it is not, Batman steps in. But is this “legal?” The law allows us to take things into our hands to protect ourselves (within reason) when the law fails, but would not necessarily permit one to go out of their way to protect others.

To bring it back to our original question, is Batman “good” or “bad?” Batman may uphold law and justice, but he operates outside of Gotham’s legal institutions. In the movies, this question in unambiguous – obviously Batman is good! This is because the villains are so bad, that if Batman brings them to some semblance of justice, even from “outside” of the law, this is justified. However, Batman’s form of justice is different from our notion of it. Our society upholds due process, “innocent until proven guilty,” the need for evidence in court, an adjudicator (judge) or adjudicative body (jury). We have a system with checks and balances to deliver our justice. Batman does not necessarily follow the same due process when killing the Joker for instance. However, the citizens of GothamCity believe justice was served after the death of the Joker, simply because the Joker is so obviously guilty. In real life, it is not always clear that someone is evil or that they acted wrongly. If this was clear, we would not necessarily need courts and other legal institutions to catch and try criminals.   

Check out the latest film The Dark Knight Rises and see for yourself if justice is served and who this Batman really is! Although a character like Batman makes for a very entertaining film, Canadian citizens must act within the boundaries of the legal system to advocate for justice. It is through exercising our legal and democratic rights that we must seek change.
 This opinion post was written by PLE Team volunteer Bilal Manji.