My Take on Batman…on August 5, 2012 at 1:34 PM
If you haven’t already seen “The Dark Knight Rises” you may want to avoid reading this post for the time being. (In other words, SPOILER ALERT)
Before I get started, here’s my disclaimer: Batman is my favorite super hero and has been for as long as I can remember. I know that I am not alone in this and that others have read many more comic books than I. My point in saying this is that this opinion-blog is from an ultra-fan but yet I am well aware my knowledge is not as well-rounded as others.
I grew up reading a few Batman comic books but the majority of my character knowledge has come from what I’ve been told from other comic book fans, the movies, video games and the various animated series inspired by Batman. My favorite incarnation (to this day) still remains “Batman: The Animated Series”, a very well loved and respected series dating back to the early ’90s. I can still remember rushing home from school to catch every episode…even if it was a repeat. That series did such a fantastic job capturing the essence of what I feel makes Batman the beloved character he is while still making him accessible to a younger audience.
To summarize that series for those that never saw an episode; The necessary burden of donning the cape & cowl brought forth by the heavy loss in witnessing his parents’ murder, Bruce Wayne loses himself in the guise of the Batman. His obsession with bringing the corrupt to justice is policed primarily by his refusal to come anywhere near a gun. He is faced with the consequences of a city unable to contain the madmen (and women) it holds and yet the revolving door of Arkham Asylum stands as a reminder of his own anti-gun policy. Wayne owns the night and embraces the mantle he has established. He persists in his pursuit of justice even when the loved ones around him become casualties to the insane individuals blaming Batman for their existence.
Why am I writing this? On the heels of watching “The Dark Knight Rises” I was compelled to explain why I am so impressed and yet disappointed in the Christopher Nolan Bat-verse now that his trilogy has concluded. I have not read any interviews with Nolan but it’s fairly clear by his films that the fantastic elements of Batman have no place in his vision. For the record, I completely respect his films and in truth, they have shown a side of Batman not fully realized on the silver screen. Nolan makes Batman accessible to the skeptic that such a character could ever exist. This is no small feat! How could one man withstand so much physical and emotional pain, not to mention the amount of money it would take to fund such an operation? In short, Nolan’s Batman is a believable one.
But honestly, who wants to see that?
Before you go typing angrily at me with a response of vile hatred, let me explain.
1. I love that Batman can be a more believable character…this is something that is vital to taking his world seriously. That being said, spending an entire film creating villains who are larger than life only to kill them off in the same film has never impressed me. Even Tim Burton’s vision had Joker and Penguin meet their end in his films. True, the next logical step when escalating a conflict is to resolve it by the ultimate loss, but the animated series did not need to do this AND IT WORKED. Having a rogue’s gallery is a huge part of what we love about Batman. Nolan’s Scarecrow was the best example of how a returning villain (even in cameo form) can make for a rewarding experience for the fans. Killing off Ra’s Al Ghoul is entirely another conversation…
2. I understand that the building up of a hero is a big part of what makes the action so much more exciting. We watched the hero struggle and lived through their pain but I went to the theater to watch BATMAN…not a Bruce Wayne movie that has Batman in it. It seems to me that Nolan is so bent on showing us the man that he forgets these are SUPER-HERO movies. I’m not saying I want a low-brow approach (a beat-em-up fest, so to speak), but by the time the 3rd movie started I was ready to watch BATMAN save the day — not Bruce Wayne struggling to take up the mantle again. I’m well-aware of the comic book origins for this “Knightfall” inspired story, but we’re talking a movie trilogy here. “The Dark Knight Rises” would have made a better start to a new trilogy, especially since it takes place 8 years after “The Dark Knight.” This new film could even have led into the introduction of “Azrael”, a man who temporarily takes over for Batman in his absense (and who’s actions require Batman to build himself back up to defeat him).
3. I know Bane’s origin story. I’m aware of creative license in film adaptations. If Bane seems too “over-the-top” of a character for Nolan to use, then he shouldn’t have used him. Batman’s rogue’s gallery is full of mental patients, and Bane isn’t one of them. Did Bane appear strong? Yes, but there is a monstrosity level of the character (a super-soldier type who uses, and is addicted to, a drug called “Venom” to physically bulk up before a fight) the film version didn’t realize. Nolan should have taken on the likes of Riddler or Ventriloquist…if you want a story that is more believable than a man who grows in size to pummel his victims, there are plenty. If his version of Scarecrow is any example, he would have done wonders for those characters.
As much as Batman’s world is about characters struggling with their identity and sanity, it too has elements of the fantastic and even horrific. I won’t list them all here, but I can sum it all up in one word: Clayface.
4. This may be the most important point: Nolan’s Batman DOESN’T WANT TO BE BATMAN. The Batman I came to know and love will never get over the death of his parents. He blames society, he blames the man who shot them and he blames himself. Nolan’s Batman moves on from this and at that point, Batman becomes a necessary evil for Bruce Wayne instead of the other way around. At then end of “The Dark Knight” it is heavily alluded to Batman RETIRING from crime-fighting altogether! Personally, I think if the iconic Batman could have it his way, he would spend all his time in the cape and cowel.
It’s like Nolan simply omitted the parts of characters he didn’t like, regardless of how ingrained they are in that character’s history. For crying out loud, he even teased us with Ra’s Al Ghoul’s unwillingness to die but never showed the reason why that is important: he is essentially IMMORTAL. That character has been known to come back to life (multiple times) by bathing in a place known as The Lazerous Pits. So apparantly having the character appear in visions is Nolan’s way of making that more believable. I thought for sure after “Batman Begins” that Al Ghoul’s death was a tease, as seen in so many episodes of The Animated Series; the bad guys always find a way to come back.
Why are people so afraid to take these fantastic elements and bring them to life? A better question: why doesn’t Warner Bros. simply hire Bruce Timm (the brains behind the Animated Series) to write/direct the live-action Bat-flicks?
In short, removing the fantastic from stories is not what makes them believable, it’s when you make the fantastic seem plausible that you captivate people. The real treat of an unforgettable story is when we are taken along for the ride of our lives and what seems like an impossible ending is made real by a truly fantastic beginning.