An essay in which I discuss how Batman V Superman has affected my stance on the character…
A lot has happened in the wake of Batman V Superman Dawn of Justice (henceforth abbreviated to just BVS): an intense negative response from both critics and fans, a gigantic opening weekend followed by a swift downfall at the box office, widespread doubt over the viability of the DC movie universe, and a studio moving forward with a Justice League movie and more, determined to meet Marvel’s movie success no matter what. But the biggest impact BVS has had on me is that it has made me not want to consider myself a Batman fan anymore.
That’s not to say I absolutely hated the movie, like many people now do. Walking out of the theater I may have even gone so far as to say I liked it, albeit with a ton of issues. But in the two weeks since it came out, my opinion on it has been in a downward spiral. It’s a good old fashioned disappointment, a movie I was greatly excited for that failed to captivate or excite me and went against almost everything I was hoping it would be/do. Maybe I’ll like it more upon rewatching it, but since it was such a slog of a movie, I’ll likely just wait to watch the three-hour cut and see if that fixes some of the issues. I could probably write a whole essay about the ups and (many) downs of BVS, but there’s really just one point I keep coming back to that I’m focusing on today: Batman killing.
When the movie was over and my friends and I (foolishly) waited for a post-credit scene, the most immediate, negative thought I had was that I intensely disliked that Batman kills in the movie. And not like the smattering of deaths that occur in the Nolan trilogy, where a few people die as a result of Batman’s actions because he had to take drastic action in an intense situation. In BVS, Batman straight-up kills people without showing a single sign that it bothers him. It’ll be interesting when the Blu-Ray comes out and someone compiles a comprehensive edit of all his kills together to see just how many there were, but for now, let’s just say it was a lot.
Now, there were warning signs that this would be the case. I didn’t have a problem with the death toll in Man of Steel because 1. most of the casualties in the movie were caused by the Kryptonians, not Superman, and 2. the deaths and destruction that Superman did cause were the result of him being inexperienced. I would have argued that they were building to a Superman who would be more careful to avoid human casualties, and that in introducing Batman in the sequel they would keep his “No Kill” rule intact. If you’ve seen BVS, you know I was wrong on both counts, and as a result I am far less forgiving towards MOS these days.
As for other warning signs, in the lead up to BVS several previews showed a more brutal Batman, beating people up, stabbing them, gunning them down, etc. In interviews, producers said this version of Batman was more of an “executioner.” I chose to believe we were not getting the full context, and that while Affleck’s Batman would be more violent and willing to beat villains to within an inch of their lives, he wouldn’t kill. But nope, they have now made it pretty clear that this Batman is a stone-cold killer, because Batman’s way cooler that way, right bro?
Well, it turns out a lot of people agree with that sentiment, as I was disturbed to see while I listened to and read other peoples’ reviews/reactions to the movie. It blew my mind as I heard countless people online say something to the effect of “Oh yeah, this version of Batman kills people. ‘Bout time he started doing that!” Some people would waive it off and use the excuse that it’s okay since the Batman in Tim Burton’s movies killed people. Well, everyone’s got an opinion, so here’s mine: Tim Burton’s Batman was terrible, and the fact that he kills people for the heck of it is one of the many, many reasons why.
So here’s where I come to a crossroad. When I see that kind of reaction to Affleck’s Batman, it gives me the initial thought that the person saying so is not a true Batman fan. Batman’s “No Kill” rule is part of what makes him such a great character to me. I’ve always loved that no matter how grim things get, and no matter how much easier it would make things for him, he’ll never stoop to the criminals’ level and become a murderer, in part due to his parents being killed in front of him. To me, it’s as important to Batman as the cape and pointy ears are. In fact, moreso!
But then it occurs to me, where do I get off thinking I can say who is and isn’t a Batman fan? Given how many people are into the character and have poured over his 75 year history for most of their lives, I have a passing knowledge of him at best. I grew up loving Batman and always considered him my favorite comic book hero (some people get annoyed when you call him a ‘superhero’), but I’ve never read a Batman comic. I’ve enjoyed the various cartoons of him I’ve seen, especially the Animated Series and Mask of the Phantasm. I like the campy ’60s show and 1966 movie based on it. I think the Arkham video game series is fantastic, though I’ve only fully played two of them (City and Origins). I also like the direct-to-video animated DC movies I’ve seen, in particular the adaptation of The Dark Knight Returns they did a couple years ago. But all these considered, I’ve barely scratched the surface of all the Batman media out there.
Most important, however, is how much I adore The Dark Knight Trilogy, three of my all-time favorite movies, and the trilogy I favor above all others. Of course, that movie series is hugely divisive amongst Batman fans, some loving it like me, others hating it and claiming it is not true to the Batman from the comics. Since the release of BVS, the only universally acclaimed aspect of the movie (aside from Wonder Woman, who I agree was pretty great) has been Ben Affleck’s Batman. I was totally gung ho for a new interpretation on Batman, as Christian Bale’s would have been too down-to-earth to fit in a universe with Superman, The Flash, etc., and I was among the people who didn’t freak out at all when Affleck’s casting was announced. And yes, if I could get past the fact that he kills, I would agree that Affleck’s Batman is a great interpretation of the character. His costume looks cool, his fighting style is exciting, and Affleck gives a really good performance. I’m not very fond of the goofy robot Bat voice, but then I’m the one guy who has always been fine with Bale’s Bat voice, so different strokes for different folks, I guess.
Problem is, I can’t get past the fact that he kills. So while everyone else is praising Affleck’s (or, I suppose I should be saying Snyder’s) interpretation of the character to high heaven, I’m just sitting here reminiscing about the days when movie Batman felt like he had a soul and wasn’t beyond hope. I mean, to contrast with BVS, The Dark Knight Trilogy follows Bruce Wayne on a brilliant arc towards redemption. In Batman Begins he returns to Gotham and becomes The Batman with the specific goal of creating a symbol of hope for the citizens, inspiring them to do better while also ridding the city of much of its crime. In The Dark Knight, he attempts to quit being Batman when he discovers someone, Harvey Dent, who could potentially be a symbol of hope as well, but without having to disguise himself. Of course, things don’t work out too well on that front, so Batman sacrifices his status as a hero so that Dent can take his place. He then stagnates for eight years, believing that without a need to be Batman, and with the woman he loved dead, he has no purpose in life. The Dark Knight Rises, then, is about Bruce’s redemption, truly being reborn as Batman when he escapes the pit, saving the city, and solidifying himself as Gotham’s symbol of hope forever by “sacrificing” himself. He then passes the torch to a worthy successor and is able to move on to a new life, redeeming himself and attaining a truly happy ending, something the character had never been given before (to my knowledge).
And the fans HATED it. They HATED the fact that someone had the audacity to give Bruce Wayne closure and send him off with a smile. “Batman would never quit!” “Batman would keep being Batman until the day he dies!” “There is no redemption for this character!” I know there are other complaints against the movie (most of which I disagree with) but that seems to be the major sticking point with fans that has caused them to largely disregard Christopher Nolan’s interpretation of the character. If Batman’s not an all-seeing, all-knowing badass ninja who never quits and isn’t miserable his entire life, they’re not interested. To them, Batman is an inherently bad person, so throwing in that he also kills people is no problem. Affleck’s Batman gives them all that, and does so in a tone even darker than you could ever imagine the character going, so Batman fans loved it (unless they were children, in which case they were terrified. Way to go, BVS).
These are people who read the comics, know all the different characters and storylines, and could tell you every bit of trivia from Batman’s long history. They’re far more qualified than me to say what is and isn’t true to Batman, so if BVS represents the version of the character they want to see on screen, so be it. They’d argue that Nolan’s Batman is not a version that is true to the comics, but I’d retort that it’s a version that’s true to itself, and a version I can get behind and root for. Because I’d rather watch a movie that’s captivating and relatable to me than a movie that just parrots comic book trivia I may or may not have heard of. Because I prefer a character who would rather save people than kill them, who is aspiring for a happy ending, rather than resigning himself to a life of misery. Because even if it’s a Batman who is “just like the comics!” or “like right out of the Animated Series!”, if he comes across as an irredeemable, murderous jerk, I’m not going to like him, and will instead continue to favor The Dark Knight Trilogy over all other interpretations of Batman I’ve seen…
Because I am not a Batman fan.