Friday, July 18, 2008

The problem(s) with the new Batman Universe

Since posting my reaction to The Dark Knight I've been trying to come up with a better way to explain what I felt was wrong with the portrayal of Batman and Gotham City. Why did I walk away from with a sick feeling in my gut, where I walked out of all of the previous superhero movies with a grin on my face. I think I touched on a factor when I noted the bad guys won.

In the films I've seen so far this summer, being Hellboy, Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, and Narnia: Prince Caspian, the good guys always won. At the end of the movie situation was either returned to situation normal, such as in Hellboy and Hulk, or ended up with things better than they were before, such as in Iron Man and Prince Caspian. The Dark Knight ended on a much more sombre tone. The situation wasn't returned to normal, and Batman wound up in a possibly worse position than he started the movie in.

One of the themes The Dark Knight continued to hammer on is that the night is always darkest just before dawn, and the movie worked in a continuous series of shots where there was light at the end of a tunnel. As I see it though, Batman just can't win in the rebooted Batman Begins universe.

In the comics, and in the animation, and in movies before, there was always a certainty that Batman would come out on top. There's always a certainty that the good guys will win. In the rebooted Superman movie, there was no real fear that the Kryptonite embedded in Superman's chest would actually kill him. Everybody watching the movie knew for certain that Superman would come back and save the day.

Batman Begins successfully created a world where Batman can't win. The ever increasing escalation of combat between the masked criminals, the mob, Batman, Gotham itself, and the police force, has created a world where there are no easy answers. Batman Begins successfully made Batman human, a person who makes mistakes, and who doesn't get it right all the time. Simply punching the bad guy in the gut and locking him up in a cage just doesn't work, as expressed by the very short appearance of Scarcrow. The mobs and the arch-villains of Batman have successfully hurt Bruce, and have successfully hurt the police force, and have successfully hurt the populace. The smarter criminals have figured out that Batman simply won't kill them, and the movie plays off of that realization.

The result is that Batman lives in a world where he cannot win, no matter what he or the police force do. That results in a movie that doesn't really give any closure. There's no sense that the story can ever end.

The concept of a never ending world of conflict works in the sense of long running comics and television shows. The Joker, the Penguin, Mr. Freeze, Harly Quinn, Two Face, Scarecrow, and all of the other Batman villains can live to run away in the comics and animation. In a movie that relies on some sense of closure or completion? Where there won't be a television spin-off, and there probably won't be a long list of chaining movies like Star Trek? The concept really doesn't work. The arch-villains have to be taken down permanently, and the rebooted Batman universe simply doesn't have an answer for that kind of closure. At least no answer was forthcoming in The Dark Knight.

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