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Batman Doesn't Always Need To Be Dark To Be Great

Batman Doesn't Always Need To Be Dark To Be Great

The Dark Knight doesn't have to be quite so... dark

Few fictional characters are as malleable as Batman. In the last 80 years, Bruce Wayne’s pointy eared alter ego has been depicted - among many other things - as a gun-toting madman, a campy goofball, a tortured avenger, an ass-kicking ninja, and a stack of LEGO. The caped crusader is, perhaps more than any other superhero, open to all sorts of wild interpretations. That’s why it always hurts to see Hollywood fall back on the relative safety of the Dark And Gritty Batman™. 

I get it. A grounded and darker Batman is awesome. As one of the few heroes out there who doesn’t actually have any superpowers (apart from being filthy rich), it’s easier to put him into a more believable world to tell more visceral stories.

Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy proved how well this could work (or at least two thirds of it did). While far less well-received on a critical level, Zack Snyder’s gritty take on Batman at least attempted to see what would happen when the realism of Gotham collided with the fantasy of Superman. The issue there, of course, was that Snyder accidentally made Superman gritty and grounded too, so there was absolutely no contrast to be had. 

With The Batman comes yet another reboot, which somehow promises to be even more violent and grim than the Snyder Batman (it’s rated 15, which still seems wild to me for a Batman movie). Surely if we continue down this route, the next big screen Batman may well just be Bruce Wayne lying in bed for three hours with the curtains shut as he tries to find the strength to get up and start the day. 

Not to take anything away from The Batman, which I’m sure is fantastic and I look forward to watching this Friday tremendously, but it sure would be nice if Hollywood could remember that Batman doesn’t need to be super dark to great. 

Let me be very clear before people start DMing me to call me a Marvel shill: I’m not saying that I want Batman to fire out quips every five seconds. I absolutely don’t want him to suddenly feel like he belongs in the MCU. I’m not asking for the Snark Knight. I also acknowledge that some of the best versions of Batman, from The Dark Knight to Arkham Asylum, have a certain edge to them. There's no denying that.

The Batman /
Warner Bros.

What I am saying, is that there’s surely a way for Batman to lighten up a little. There’s a middle ground somewhere between Adam West chasing down Joker on a surfboard and Ben Affleck driving over people’s heads in the Batmobile. That’s the kind of space I’d like a future Batman movie to exist in.

I mean, really, The Dark Knight himself can continue to be the moody, grounded centre of his universe. But let’s make his universe a little brighter. A little more hopeful. Surround him with characters like Robin and Nightwing. Remind the audience that underneath that terrifying black armour is a frightened little boy who never wants another child to suffer the way he did.

Let us see villains like Mister Freeze and Riddler in a way that lets them fully embrace their gloriously silly comic book origins. Accept that if you’re making a movie about a dude with a freeze gun or a guy with a compulsion for asking questions and leaving riddles everywhere, then it might be better to just lean into the ridiculousness of it. 

Batman: The Animated Series /
Warner Bros.

Shows like Batman: The Animated Series and Justice League showed us that it’s entirely possible to have Batman exist alongside larger-than-life superheroes and villains while still feeling relatively grounded himself. If anything, seeing how a mortal man deals with literal gods and monsters is more interesting than watching him hunt down yet another serial killer. 

Again, Snyder attempted to touch on this in his own movies.

Clearly a lot of fans feel that was a successful take on the character, but I maintain Affleck’s Batman was just a bit too grim. In any world where Batman stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the likes of Superman and Wonder Woman, it’s arguably Bats that we identify with. He’s the only human in a club full of all-powerful super-friends. Given that he’s really our way into that world, there’s a wisdom in making him at least partly relatable, instead of a big ball of rage and trauma. Heck, I'd argue The LEGO Batman movie explored this more successfully than Justice League.

Because despite all the rage and anger and trauma that’s present across most versions of the character, Batman is an inherently good man. There’s a kindness at the heart of the best versions of Bruce Wayne that I feel sometimes gets lost in the need to make him dark.

Take The Animated Series - arguably the definitive Batman to an entire generation - as an example. In one episode of the show, we learn that Bruce Wayne has actually been using his immense wealth to employ criminals put away by Batman in an effort to give them a second chance. He doesn’t just cripple the mentally ill and leave them with medical bills to pay. This is the same version of the character who sits with a frightened little girl who’s scared to die, and is so disgusted with himself after using a gun that he gives up fighting crime.

Justice League /
Warner Bros

Given just how much people still adore this specific version of the character, one that balances moments of darkness with genuine humour and heart, we already know a Batman that eases up on the despair from time to time genuinely works. That's to say nothing of the many, many successful comic book runs that have embrace the more bombastic side of Batman. Hollywood should give it a try sometime. 

Having said that, I’m still absolutely over-the-top excited to see what Matt Reeves has done with The Batman. Because let’s face it: Batman is almost always amazing, no matter how he’s interpreted. 

Featured Image Credit: Warner Bros.

Topics: Batman, Warner Bros, Justice League, Superman