“People need dramatic examples to shake them out of apathy and I can’t do that as Bruce Wayne, as a man of flesh and blood I can be ignored or destroyed, but as a symbol…as a symbol I can be incorruptible, I can be everlasting” –Bruce Wayne (Batman Begins)
I thought that would be a good quote in order to begin this article; it is fair to argue that over the past few decades Batman has become increasingly embedded within our popular culture through the comics, movies and associated memorabilia. Batman as a character has gone through several transformations within film and television from the comical representations of Adam West in the television series, the dark and brooding Michael Keaton within the Burton films to the downright unpleasant representation provided by George Clooney (whoever was in charge of casting him as Batman needs to be slapped upside the head with a rolled up Batman comic in my humble opinion). However the iconic figure of Batman the dark crime fighting hero with his characteristic trademarks such as the mask, the cape and the bat symbol to name a few have led him to become one of the most popular and widely recognised superheroes to date.
My own personal love affair with the Dark Knight began early on in my childhood (and no, for the record, I am not suggesting anything untoward in Batman’s extra curricular activities). I was brought up in a predominantly male dominated household with three older brothers so consequently was raised with stereotypically “male” interests, I would cast aside my Barbie in favour of Batman and comic book associated toys pilfered from my brothers vast collection. With this spark of interest early on and several vague recollections of the live action television series I was excited to witness my first encounter with Batman on film, which was Tim Burton’s 1989 film “Batman” and then later with the 1992 “Batman Returns”. Even at a younger age where I missed the subtle nuances to film movements such as Film Noir and German Expressionism within the cinematography I remember being in complete awe of Burton’s almost comic book like representation of Gotham City and the darker, sleeker and dare I say it - sexier version of Batman (remember as dated as it may appear to some now I was coming from seeing Adam West as Batman so this was almost revolutionary to me at the time).
I remember empathising with this character that seemed stuck in a Peter Pan stage of life somewhere between adulthood and his lost adolescence and loved watching him overcome every obstacle to inevitably save the day.
A particular scene that I always think of fondly with reference to Burton’s Batman is the flashback of Bruce Wayne’s parents funeral which was shot I believe in black and white (or at least with diminished colour) with the only thing standing out were the two bright red roses which the young Bruce carries, it was subtle artistic touches like this that really made these films stand out to me visually.
My adoration was not only reserved for Batman’s heroes however, the one thing I personally love about Batman and still do to this day is the fact that to me it has the best selection of villains in any comic who all interrelate and each possessing their own quirks and traits which as vile as their actions are within the realm of the comics and movies made them intriguing, scratch that - almost…loveable!
My enthusiasm for all things Batman only grew with the introduction of "Batman: The Animated series" and of course Schumacher’s 1997 film “Batman Forever” which introduced Val Kilmer as the fresh face of Bruce Wayne and the latest in the long line of actors destined to don the Batsuit.
This provided a stark contrast to Burtons overtly Gothic representation with it’s colourful almost pop art style cinematography, but as different as it appeared visually it merely added another aspect to how Batman could be viewed and represented and pushing the boundaries in terms of props, CGI and elaborate sets.
For many fans this is perhaps where Batman started to lose it credibility by pandering to the masses by parading well known names in order to secure box office success and relinquishing what was felt by many purists of the comic series that the “true” message of Batman had become lost somewhere in the translation.
Personally I felt this was much more accurate of the subsequent film “Batman and Robin” featuring that performance by George Clooney (I don’t hate him really - he was just horribly miscast for the role and didn’t do Batman justice in my opinion).
This experience admittedly put me off the idea of a new Batman film for fear of further degeneration of the Bat-name and it took me until earlier this year to even watch “Batman Begins” (yes, you read that correctly) after much badgering (read ‘friendly heckling’) from my friends I finally gave in and decided to give it another chance away from the immense hype it received upon it’s release, and quite frankly I’m glad that I did.
Chris Nolan’s “Batman Begins” serves as a prequel to the previous films documenting Bruce Wayne’s transformation from the angry young boy to the powerful crime fighting superhero that we have come to know over the past few decades. An interesting aspect that I noted is that throughout the film we follow Bruce Wayne’s spiritual journey to find himself, this message I felt wasn’t just limited to the character but was also perhaps representative of how we as an audience have viewed the metamorphosis of Batman throughout the films and marks a return to the classical notions of Batman from the comic books, a fact celebrated by many of its fans and critics alike.
Away from this the film also deals with themes such as fear, vengeance and presents constant dualities throughout the narrative from the two main locations (the Bhutanese Prison and Gotham city) to Bruce Wayne’s inner struggle with his own identity. Christian Bale works remarkably well as Batman and through both his performance and Nolan’s direction really represents and subjects the viewer to the inner turmoil and grief of the character at the death of his parents in a way which none of its predecessors have managed to capture.
Both the Villains of the film Dr. Crane/Scarecrow (Cillian Murphy) and Ra’s Al Ghul (Liam Neeson) are represented remarkably well also with Cillian Murphy in an almost unrecognisable guise from his role in “28 Days Later”, demonstrating a brilliant mix of intellectual wit, ice cool intimidation and psychotic tendencies which worked perfectly for the character of Dr. Crane within the context of the film.
Ra’s Al Ghul throughout the film also reflects an important aspect of Batman as a superhero that is often overlooked, he possesses a conscience and always remains on the right side of justice and never goes as far as to kill a villain intentionally. We see this within their final confrontation where Batman states “I’m not going to kill you, but I’m not going to save you either” before leaving him to determine his own fate.
Critics of the film would brand the need for a prequel as pointless and also argue that it reeks with the current Hollywood obsession with re-makes and a sense of “haven’t we seen all this somewhere before?” Whilst I can certainly acknowledge this point of view I personally believe that “Batman Begins” is a significant contribution to the Batman chronicles, which unlike Burton’s installment really gives a sense of Bruce Wayne’s journey into becoming Batman and especially with reference to the final sequence of the film is a fitting introduction to “The Dark Knight” due for release this month.
It is difficult to say in which direction the Batman films will go from here without speculation as each fan holds differing aspects of the individual stories dear to them and each director that has taken on the immense task has represented Batman in different ways either in terms of cinematography, visual style or dialogue.
What I wholeheartedly believe however is that Batman will continue to be a worldwide cultural icon for many years to come and hopefully Nolan’s representation will spark a return to a sense of gritty realism and staying true to the story and most of all the fans of Batman in future films.
by Victoria Wootton