Keepin' it Real

Batman is the best of the superheroes because he is one of us. He didn't get irradiated, isn't from outer space, and doesn't possess magical items that give special powers. He's just a pissed off rich guy who has fancy toys. If he has a power at all, it's the ability to channel his rage into a moral code while not letting it corrupt him.

Because Batman is an ordinary person--simply Bruce Wayne dressed in a funny costume--realism is the key to a good Batman movie. It was the reason the original Tim Burton vision was so good but the sequels sucked, and why The Dark Knight shines. Everything that happens in TDK could conceivably happen in our world. Granted, some of it is far-fetched, but none of it defies the laws of physics.

TDK takes place in a Gotham much like any other big city in the US with the usual shimmering hi-rises, grimy streets, and yuppies climbing the social ladder. Batman's toys are designed in the research and development wing of the corporation he owns. Their capabilities are explained to the viewer--Batman's cape stretches taut when buzzed with a small electric charge, not because that's just how it is. There's an underlying logic behind everything that happens.

Note that the way I use "realism" here is different from plausibility. Realism simply means lack of supernatural elements. Plausibility is about the likelihood of events happening within a given framework. Whereas the movie was real, it often lacked plausibility, one of its shortcomings. The Joker seemed implausibly to know in advance every single thing that would happen, including how the Gotham police would react at every moment.

An amazing visual occurs when Batman glides between the skyscrapers of Hong Kong at night on his way to snatch the mobster Lau. It's because the city looks like something of this world, rather than something out of this world, that his flight becomes breathtaking. The context is the familiar and the palatable, not the fantastic. Contrast this emphasis on realism to the Schumacher sequels which had Gotham being frozen over and fortresses erupting on islands. They reveled in ostentation.

As the distance from reality is minimized, so is the necessary suspension of disbelief. Lack of CGI, which is way overused in movies these days, adds to the realism. Whereas the 90s sequels tried to bring comic books to life on the silver screen, TDK tries to instill Batman into our world. That's how you tell a good Batman story: by keepin' it real.

Despite that, I think the Batman story hasn't yet been told properly. Christian Bale doesn't completely sell the darkness at Bruce Wayne's core though he's definitely the best Batman since Michael Keaton. Tim Burton and Christopher Nolan have taken their best shots at telling the story and have come close. Who knows--maybe in another twenty years, another talented director will come along and fulfill the promise of the Batman story.

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I would love to see Bale under Fuqua again

...This time, as Batmensch.

I was glad to see you didn't frame the Batman in such egregious and silly terms as "Reactionary", etc.

I wish I had bookmarked the link to that damnable review which referred to him in that manner, but alas I am not in the habit of shitting where I eat. I decided to search for it, just now. My google diving returned a link to the M1chelle Malk1n blog, I had to resist the urge to purge my handsomely consumed vodka.

Good review, much appreciated. ;)