Why Batman Should Be Left Alone (For Now)
As it stands we are currently in a Renaissance of comic book movies with the Avengers, The Justice League, Superman, Spiderman, X-Men, Green Lantern, and hell, even Ant Man, set to continue gracing our screens in one flick or another. However, I think society as a whole have become a little bit obsessed with a certain pointy-eared vigilante. It was undoubtedly Chris Nolan’s trilogy which revived interest in the Caped Crusader after it was successfully murdered, hacked to pieces and scattered around in what appeared to be a kind of painful-to-watch Satanic ritual hate-fucking of the characters by Joel Schumacher in 1997’s Batman and Robin. Nolan’s trilogy explored the darker thematic elements and anti-hero paradigm which was ultimately brought back in to the comics by Grant Morrison climaxing in to the notoriously dark Batman R.I.P and the mind-bendingly complex Final Crisis in 2008. I think certainly for me, Nolan’s trilogy marked firmly the rise of the anti-hero in superhero cinema.
The anti-hero is certainly not a new revelation in Hollywood character development; indeed the archetype was coined by such greats as Phillip Marlow, Sam Spade, Dirty Harry, and yes even Han Solo. The rise of the anti-hero in hard-boiled fiction and film as well as in Spaghetti Westerns in the late 1940s was undoubtedly a reaction to the moral atrocities befalling the world at the time; from World War II to the wars in Vietnam, Korea and the Cold War, coupled with socio-historical injustices such as the Watergate Scandal and Carter’s Oil Crisis. This period in time arguably saw some of the worst acts of violence, greed and corruption to date. Until now, that is. Yes, the current political and social climate we are facing mirrors perfectly the difficulties and social reform faced during the 1940s through to the late 70s and so it’s perfectly understandable and perhaps even necessary that the archetype of the anti-hero would rise again.
The cathartic world of the anti-hero in cinema, however, has completely transformed. Instead of the every-man anti-heroes found in Westerns and Detective dramas, we have the completely estranged world of Sci-fi providing our sanctification. I’m sure many psychologists, sociologists and cinephiles have looked in to this and seen that this is a direct reaction to the progression of social issues facing the world and that to stand up to the more modern issues we are facing, we need a modern anti-hero. In recent times, that anti-hero has been Batman. But the question I find I’m asking myself more and more is: Is he still the hero we deserve, or just the hero we need?
This question has become more nagging with today’s release of the trailer for the new Batman:Arkham Knight game. While I, like any Batman – and in particular Arkham series – fan found myself in awe of this cleverly scripted, amazingly edited, and jaw-droppingly rendered masterpiece, I couldn’t help but feel like I’ve seen it all before. Now obviously this is a trailer, not the actual gameplay, but I couldn’t help but feel like they were wheeling out the same villains, same story lines and same dangers as has been covered over and over again in recent films, comics and cartoons. While I am ecstatic that my personal favourite villain – Harley Quinn – is making a star appearance in this, it all just seems a bit predictable.
Equally so, I worry that the upcoming Superman vs. Batman film is heading in the same direction. Zack Snyder has been quoted as saying that he intends to “take the ‘Man of Steel’ and ‘Batman’ universes and explode them” and that he’s “hoping that leads to enough originality, enough perspective on what we’re doing that you get something fresh and exciting.” Now, I can see what the guy is going for, which is presumably extreme damage control after some of the worst casting choices of recent times. However, what that statement roughly translates to in my somewhat cynical mind is “We’re not going to follow any of the perfectly awesome existing Superman/Batman storylines, make up our own and completely ruin both franchises simultaneously. Probably by making them lovers.” To be honest though, I can sympathise with old Zack – both characters have kind of been done to death so why not go crazy?
This upcoming on-screen smorgasbord of superhero sacrilege, coupled with the recent casting of Ben McKenzie – best known for his role as the emotionally constipated Ryan Atwood on The O.C – as a young Commissioner Gordon in Fox’s TV adaptation Gotham really are the living definition of flogging a dead bat. When currently the most promising direction for the Caped Crusader’s on-screen career is getting rid of him completely and replacing him with Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Nightwing, I think we should all take it as a sign it’s time to retire the cape for a while. I am certainly not saying that it’s time for the Bat Signal to be switched off completely, but I think Hollywood should take the lead from the Dark Knight monthly writer Gregg Hurwitz and give him a rest for a while.
Watch the trailer for Batman: Arkham Knight here (it is definitely worth it, despite my rant):