The dark and serious films of the Christopher Nolan trilogy detract from the campy brilliance of the caped crusader
I was in the middle of a passionate, and very nerdy, discussion about some of the more bizarre plot points of The Dark Knight Rises with an equally geeky friend of mine when I had a profound realisation.
“Joseph Gordon Levitt doesn’t just randomly know that Bruce Wayne is Batman,” I said. “He explains that he realised who Bruce really was after he experienced an emotional connection with him as a child.”
“Well alright,” replied my friend. “But then where on earth is Bane’s prison supposed to be?! And who cures a broken back by punching the vertebra back into place?!”
I came close to saying that punching a patient’s spine back into place is actually a far less ludicrous way to fix a broken back than having a psychic physiotherapist do the work, as in one Batman comic; but then something hit me; something that felt almost like an epiphany. I sat back in my chair and realised that Batman is ridiculous.
Batman is after all nothing more than a man dressed as a bat. More than that, he is a man who spent the early part of his life finding himself embroiled in increasingly weird and perilous situations, all whilst accompanied by a former circus performer and probable gay love interest.
Take for instance the brilliant Batman comic from 1960 entitled ‘The Zebra Batman’, which features on its front cover a very proud looking caped crusader bedecked in animal skin and a terrified Robin shouting to the people of Gotham: ‘G-Get back, Batman has become a menace!”
Then there’s ‘The Rainbow Batman’, also from the 1960s, which features the Dark Knight in a pink uniform mysteriously telling Robin that he “must wear a different colour costume every night”. What on earth is he getting up to?!
Perhaps someone should remind the likes of Will Brooker, author of Hunting the Dark Knight: Twenty-first Century Batman and a lecturer at Kingston University, about the superhero’s camp beginnings.
“[Christopher] Nolan gives the Batman/Joker relationship a post-9/11 resonance,” writes Brooker, as only a lecturer in film and television research can; “relating it directly to controversies over the Bush administration’s ‘harsh interrogation’ of terror suspects.”
The truth is that for all of Nolan’s achievements in turning the Dark Knight legend into an epic and beautiful story; there is still something charming about the ridiculous plotlines and comic dialogue of the caped crusaders’ escapades from the 1960s.
Recently I watched an episode of the old Batman TV series in which, underneath his overly-snug lycra suit, Adam West has a visible beer belly. Coupled with the pun-heavy dialogue and generally crap fight scenes, the belly made the episode all the more enjoyable if only because it drew attention to the absurdity of the whole show.
So for all the debate about plot holes and all the pseudo intellectual discussions about the significance of The Bat in popular culture – a quick Jstor search for ‘Batman and the Joker’ presents you with 85 articles – we should never forget that, for all of the awesomeness of Nolan’s films, Batman is basically ridiculous.