Wednesday, 6 August 2008

Hollywood Babble On & On #143: Whither Batman?

The movie The Dark Knight has hit $400 million in 18 days, a new record that puts the caped crusader in the forefront of pop culture franchises, and I must say that I'm happy.

I've been a Batman fan since I was given a second hand copy of Denny O'Neill's and Neal Adams issue where The Joker got out of the nut house and was knocking off his old gang, one by one, and then tried to feed Batman to a shark. It was the darkest, nastiest, and coolest thing I had ever read, and being a six year old beginning reader that was something.

Now some folks are wondering what to do with Batman 3, the nest chapter of the Christopher Nolan/Christian Bale iteration. Some folks are wondering why they used Two-Face (my personal fave villain) and not saved him for the 3rd film, sparking a lot of speculating about who will be the foe.

Next to Two Face and the Joker, I've always had a soft-spot for Mr. Freeze, (especially the tragic version from the Animated Series) but since Nolan's looking for more realistic villains, he's not in the running, and Nolan has be reported as hating The Penguin as buffoonish. (And I didn't care for the circus freak version in Batman Returns)

That leaves two villains, The Riddler, and Catwoman.

Now The Riddler's past incarnations, and I'm not knocking either Frank Gorshin or even Jim Carrey, have generally been cackling-capering Joker-lites. I'd like to see The Riddler as a smug, arrogant, intellectual who thinks out-smarting the scary vigilante of Gotham is the real prize, and uses the "?" suits as a way to lure him out in a battle of wits. For some reason, I'm seeing Tim Roth in this role.

Now some folks are screaming for Angelina Jolie as Catwoman, I disagree. I think her image would transform the character into camp, and this version of Batman doesn't do camp. I would prefer a lesser known actress, one without all the baggage of celebrity that can still look good in the cat suit. I would also move away from the "vengeful hooker" version from the comics, and the "crazy cat-lady" from Batman Returns, and bring her back to her roots as a stylish thief with a feline flair.

But how can one make a film with them work while staying within the themes Nolan seems keen on exploring?

I would suggest using Hugo Strange, a combo mad-scientist/psychiatrist who was one of Batman's earliest recurring characters. Make him the new head of Arkham Asylum, who has complex theories about crime and crime fighters, who mentally manipulates his patients, making them more dangerous, and allowing them to "escape" so he can study Batman in action, and use psychological profiling to find out his secret identity.

So you can have the Riddler and some of the other ex-patients, under Strange's manipultations graduating from stealing to outright terrorism, and Batman being put into a series of moral quandaries, having to form an alliance (ripe with sexual tension) with the lawbreaking Catwoman, while facing villains who literally aren't in control of themselves, and how far he'll go to protect his identity as Bruce Wayne, when Strange figures it out.

Of course that film could end with Strange revealing Batman's secret identity, and the reaction of Gotham's citizens is a distinct lack of surprise, having figured it all out long ago, because how many people with billions in resources and a hate-on for crooks can exist even in a comic book city?

But who knows what Nolan & Co. are cooking up, like all the others, I'm just speculating.


  1. The answer is Bane.

    Longer answer: villains define the hero. Rais defined Batman as a man with moral limits, determined to reform not destroy Gotham, no matter how corrupt. The Joker defined Batman as a man who would within those limits, do nearly anything and make any sacrifice to fight evil the corrupt Gotham could not.

    Bane would be the logical progression. A man equal to Batman on "steroids" who quickly figures out who he is and uses Batman's limits (he's just one man) to "break" him. Goal being to simply rule as crime boss. Neither destroying Gotham like Rais, nor pure anarchic terror and murder like the Joker. Banality of evil underneath a bodybuilder's physique. The perversion of the Greek ideal of body-mind unity-perfection.

    This is the most logical way to move. With perhaps Batman winning by using either allies to thwart Bane (lesser DC heroes) or Poison Ivy as a minor villain as ally of convenience.

  2. I think Strange/Riddler/Catwoman can provide the moral / intellectual/ sexual challenges that make these films more interesting, than the purely physical challenge Bane provides.

    Especially when you bring up the idea of how Batman might have to break his golden rule about killing to protect his own identity.

    That's my speculating.

  3. Furious D --

    Bane brings up another challenge to Batman -- ASKING FOR HELP. Which is something Batman, being prideful in the extreme, has serious issues with.

    Forcing Batman in a movie to win over Bane by doing something unexpected -- calling in other, lesser heroes or "marginal" villains like Poison Ivy or Catwoman, with perhaps various Gotham PD characters besides Gordon, allows the title character to grow without violating the one rule that defines the character.

    Batman still doesn't kill -- but wins over Bane by winning over his pride. The Question, Huntress, Spoiler, Blue Beetle, Booster Gold maybe, show up because Batman finally asks for help against Bane's intellectual challenge of running Batman ragged all over Gotham? Good I think. Allowing that one moment where Batman can confront Bane fresh.

    I don't know if you read the Knightfall comics, but they presented Bane not as pure muscle, but deadly, amoral calculation behind the Muscle. Like Wilson Fisk without the sentiment. Zeroing in on Batman's one limitation -- he's only one man.