Batman Minus Batman

You may or may not be aware of Garfield Minus Garfield, a mash-up of the comic strip Garfield that simply removes Garfield from all frames, leaving John Arbuckle as a lonely, psychotic man. I bring it up because it serves as a useful analogy to discuss the film The Dark Knight, which I finally saw last week after friends’ insistence. While I did enjoy the film, I felt that it would’ve been better as Batman Minus Batman.

Yes, I found Batman himself to be completely superfluous to the better themes of the movie. Apparently that’s the secret to making a good Batman movie: make him irrelevant. The Joker was the most interesting character in the movie (a tip of my hate to Heath Ledger for that), followed closely by Arthur Dent and the police commissioner. Batman and his to-be girlfriend were unconvincing, uncompelling, and, dare I say, out of place.

The story of the Joker as anarchist terrorizing a large city is what made the film good. It would have been better if it had just focused on this subplot, especially the civilian and police response to a city under siege by a non-rational villain. Instead, a significant amount of screen time is devoted to a billionaire moonlighting as a crime fighter with incredibly high-tech gear who nevertheless beats up his opponents with ham-fisted punches. It’s hard to fathom, but Batman really was the worst part of this Batman movie. Without him, the city would’ve had to deal with the threat from the Joker on its own (perhaps with some highly risky SWAT missions), instead of the deus ex machina solution provided by Batman.

The Batman series seems to have evolved beyond the need for its title character. It’s an unusual position for a film series to find itself in, but there it is.

6 Responses to “Batman Minus Batman”

  1. Mark Dykeman Says:

    I’m sure you meant to write “Harvey Dent” instead of Arthur Dent, but it’s good for a chuckle. :)

    I have very mixed feelings about The Dark Knight. It felt like two movies stapled together: everything up to Rachel’s death and the creation of Two-Face; and then everything after that. Made it too long.

    It was certainly the Joker’s movie. I wonder if Ledger’s performance is more memorable for being a good Joker or for completely submerging his own persona into someone unrecognizable. Leaving aside his death, of course.

    Your thoughts on Batman are a bit similar to my own. I really dislike the fake rasp they put on Bale’s voice when he’s in costume, plus he looks a bit ridiculous in daylight or in a lit room, like he did in Joker’s cell or also in the scene by the Bat signal when both Harvey Dent and Gordon. He seems too short, somehow.

    Bale’s Batman seems scary in the way that a psychopath is, not as an avenger or cop. In other words, an angrier, humorless version of the Joker.

    Nice to see your review.

  2. Jeff V Says:

    Good points.

    The movie (and most Batman vehicles) didn’t bother to make Batman a believable character. Here is a multibillionaire who chooses to live in the most crime-ridden city in the world and uses his supernatural athleticism and nuclear physicist butler to fight crime?

    Batman doesn’t have any human characteristics. A lot of times to make a character more human, writers simply make him more vagrant-y. They could easily staple a bottle of pinot noir to batman’s hand and portray him as the alcoholic-with-a-heart-of-gold. Although I think this would be tired as well (see: Hancock).

    If the filmmakers have to use the original Batman source material, the most ‘human’ characteristic Batman has is his sexuality. He is a live-alone bachelor with Billions yet he chooses to pal around (in the comic anyway) with a young male orphan and his man servant. In the old comics Batman and Robin have a lot of homoerotic moments. That could have made this movie interesting. “Is batman bisexual?” “Is he taking advantage of an emotionally retarded Robin?”

    Unfortunately, they were unable to imagine a masculine hero who likes to where tight black suits at home and in the Batmobile.

    I’m not saying that Batman had to be gay in order for this movie to be interesting. However, they needed to humanize Batman but were too scared to use his only ‘human’ trait from the comics (homosexuality) and instead omitted Robin altogether.

    A shame, but still a fantastic, fun movie.

    Also that raspy Bale voice is stupid.

  3. Cyde Weys Says:

    Mark Dykeman: Yes, you can tell that I’m not really a superhero person, though obviously I’m a Douglas Adams person. I agree with pretty much everything you added to my post, especially with your criticism of Batman’s raspy voice, which I really hated.

    Jeff V: I think fundamentally the problem with superhero movies is that the whole superhero genre is stupid. It relies on so many tropes that are completely nonsensical. That’s not to say that it’s impossible to make a great hero movie, because there are many. But while a hero movie and a superhero movie portray the same kinds of heroic characters, the superhero genre has all of these absolutely stupid tropes piled on top of it, like ridiculous costumes, secret identities, people that rise above all the rest not because of their exceptional courage but because of their special, exclusive intrinsic abilities, arbitrary handicaps (like choosing to defeat gun-wielding criminals by fighting them with your fists), etc.

    The reason The Dark Knight was better than most superhero movies is thanks to two reasons: First, Batman suffers less from the tropes of the genre than any other superhero. Theoretically, Batman is just a normal Mark I human who happens to be in great shape and has billions of dollars to devote to nifty crime-fighting technology, though in practice he does pull off lots of things that are either impossible or incredibly risky (but they always happen to work out). Secondly, The Dark Knight made big strides to distance itself from the genre as much as possible. Take Batman out and the movie is practically realistic. The Joker isn’t fantastic or supernatural like the characters in X-Men, Superman, or Spider-Man; he is simply an insane terrorist whose weapons of choice include knives, guns, and bombs.

    So The Dark Knight is only good insomuch as it is a lot less like a superhero movie than all of those other superhero movies. Like I said before, I’d love to see a sequel to The Dark Knight that gets rid of Batman entirely and just portrays the Joker versus the city and its civilian and police population. Unfortunately, since Heath Ledger is dead, that’s not so likely.

  4. Jeff V Says:

    Threadjack:

    Did Heath Ledger benefit from Cobain/Tupac syndrome wherein a dead artist becomes beyond reproach and is over rated or is he really that good?

  5. Wintermute Says:

    I think Heath Ledger was always a fine actor. Some of his role choices could be questioned based on one’s personal movie preferences, but he always played them well. His portrayal of The Joker really was that good.

    ‘mute

  6. arensb Says:

    Found a typo:

    tip of my hate

    I can’t comment on this latest Batman movie, since I haven’t seen it, but remember that the comic Batman got reinvented into the Dark Knight by Frank Miller(?) a while back, at which point, yes, he became a lot less human and more psychotic.