Power To The Powerless
Guys, we never find out if Riggan's superpowers are real.
Most of the movie certainly implies they're not. We see him tearing apart his office with the power of his mind, only to switch to Jake's perspective where he's much less majestically smashing and throwing things with his hands. Of course, just because he shows up in a cab when he's supposed to be flying in, that doesn't mean his powers aren't real to him.
And ultimately that's what matters.
Birdman tells Riggan that "they don't know what you're capable of." It seems like he's referring to Riggan's acting prowess—he's just finished comparing Riggan's skill as an actor to Robert Downey Jr. Riggan's powers are a manifestation of his ego, both of which are remnants from his time as a superhero. He still has the chops to make it as a prime time actor, just like he still has his Birdman abilities.
So with this in mind, let's take a look at what Riggan can do.
The wildest use of his powers is when he takes off flying through the streets after a night of drinking, and (possibly) during his hospitalization. (But if you want to hear more about how flight and specifically birds are meaningful to the film, head over to our analysis of them on the next page.)
Most of his powers involve a kind of telekinesis, or ability to move objects with his mind. Some of these are very simple, like twirling the case on Sam's desk after their argument, or when he opens the door to his office as he goes to finish the second act of opening night, or when he turns off the TV by pointing at it. These are all examples of subtle, everyday telekinesis…if telekinesis really existed.
But it gets a little crazier when he starts creating giant metallic birds fighting helicopters and swat teams out in the streets, or when he starts tearing apart is office. These moments happen when Riggan is most powerless. He's using this telekinesis to release his primal urge to smash things.
Finally, we can't forget the curious case of Ralph. This incident is undeniable: Ralph got beaned by a spotlight. Everyone sees it and reacts to it; Mike is brought in because of it; Ralph even shows up later in a neck brace. So the question isn't whether it happened, the question is: did Riggan cause it like he claims he did?
We're guessing no. Our best guess is that, again, Riggan was feeling powerless (because Ralph was such a miserable actor) and that Riggan wanted to believe that he was capable of braining Ralph in order to get him out of the show.
Ultimately, Riggan may not be capable of much except destroying his own world, whether that's because of his super-powers or just because he's bent on his own destruction.