I recently watched The Dark Knight. (That would be the second film of the Batman relaunch with Christian Bale -- someone, please, come up with some sort of nomenclature standardization for all these sequels of re-re-relaunched movie series of comic books.)
I didn't like it. (Sorry, Chris, I tried.) I didn't hate it, I just found myself questioning its right to exist.
There have been 7 movies starring 4 different actors as Batman in the last 23 years. If you're going to relaunch such a well established empire yet again, it seems like it better be pretty special. Don't tell me that this one is more like the comic books. A) Once its a film, it should be able to stand on its own without reference to previous written material, and B) Batman has been in publication since 1939. It's gone though countless relaunches and tons of different artists and been everything from campy to hardcore. I could probably make a Batman movie with Flipper the dolphin as his sidekick and find a basis for my logic in some issue of some comic book somewhere.
If you liked it and it works for you, that's awesome. Here's my deal. I almost don't care how you do Batman as a character. Batman is easy. And these days he's mostly computer graphics and stunt doubles anyway.
What I care about is Bruce Wayne.
Look, we all know that Batman is going to get the bad guy. He's a hero; that's what he does. He will thwart the bad flavor of the week and save Gotham one more time. It's the alter ego that's interminably flawed. It's the way that Peter Parker can't hold down a job, that Clark Kent can't get the girl, that Buffy Summers can't balance her checkbook. The superhero rarely makes mistakes and is almost always in the right. The human version makes mistakes all the time. He's selfish, thoughtless, and awkward just like the rest of us. So where's the line between the guy in the business suit and the guy in the super suit? Which one is the costume? That's what I think brings us back to the superhero storyline over and over again.
It's what brings me back, anyway. And Bruce Wayne might be the most interesting in that respect because he's just a regular human being like you and me. He's not from another planet, he wasn't bitten by a radioactive spider or altered by a scientific experiment gone wrong. He wasn't born special, he doesn't have a supernatural calling, and he's not suffering under a gypsy curse. He's not super. He's just a regular guy. He's breakable.
Given all that, the Christian Bale rich careless playboy version of Bruce Wayne bores me to tears. You may as well be a cardboard cutout for all the dimension that character has, and what a lost opportunity. I'll take the Michael Keaton version any day.
"Michael Keaton?" I hear you saying. "He's not a superhero. He's Mr. Mom." Exactly. Thank you for making my point. And he's a great Bruce Wayne. He's reclusive and a little off and a little cold and the last person you'd expect to be running around in a rubber suit fighting criminals after nightfall.
A friend of mine recently told me that we, as a society, seek out people to be perfect in our stead. In unconscious acknowledgment of our own failures, we look for someone to raise up as the perfect parent or leader or Christian/Muslim/Environmentalist/Advocate/Whatever (pick your favorite flavor). We choose presidents and princes and pop stars, put them up on a pedestal, and then rip them down with gleeful vengeance when they inevitably fail us. Perhaps that's never more apparent than in an election year.
I'm as guilty of this as the rest of us, I suppose. But when comes to a good story, I'm looking for a little failure, and not because I want to point and laugh, but because I want the protagonist to be real.
Look, we all have our own superpowers. Everybody has something, even a little thing, at which they shine. We all have a chapter in our lives where we really made the right choice and saved the day. Those are great moments. But they're not a story. You want tell me a story, I don't want to know about your Batman. I want to know about your Bruce Wayne.