Is it time to make Batman funny again?
When Warner Bros. chose to reboot Batman once again, it was inevitable that Christopher Nolan’s shadow Black Knight trilogy would hover over all adaptations. However, The Batman was ready for the challenge: one of the film’s producers, Dylan Clark, went so far as to tell Nolan that they were here to make the best Batman movie of all time. (Shit speak the Time Lord at your own risk.) It is far too early to know if The Batman is the best adaptation yet, but to give Matt Reeves’ film credit, it managed to make Batman (now played by Robert Pattinson) take itself even more seriously than Nolan’s ultra-serious trilogy. As the Caped Crusader growls in an early voiceover before beating the shit out of some nameless goons: “They think I’m hiding in the shadows, but I’m the shadow.”
It’s a testament to Pattinson’s performance that a grown man dressed as a bat seriously referring to himself as “the shadows” somehow works – his Batman was also brooding and intimidating. than advertised. But at the same time The Batman Excelled as a superhero-infused procedural, the film also feels like an inflection point for its title character. Live-action Batmen in the 21st century have followed a pattern of escalating gritty, ie. Ben Affleck’s Batman Literally brand criminals as if it were cattle, it is simply unsustainable. The only way to get darker than The Batman is if Bruce Wayne was tied to a chair by the Joker and forced to rewatch his parents’ death on loop with Nine Inch Nails screaming in the background. (Please, Matt Reeves, don’t get any ideas.)
The fact that the last 30+ years have produced so many serious (and mostly celebrated) Batman films has perhaps led to a misconception that the character works only when he is punished and miserable. It didn’t help that the last time a live-action Batman movie took on a lighter tone was batman and robin, which is widely considered one of the worst superhero movies of all time. But to reduce Batman to a humorless crime fighter seems shortsighted and betrays an essential component of the character. Sometimes there’s nothing wrong with letting the bat be the butt of the joke.
The modern interpretation of Batman – a brooding figure who channels his grief and rage to clean up the streets of his crime-infested city – is so mundane that it’s easy to forget that the superhero was also adored as a burlesque icon. While the character appeared in a few theatrical soap operas in the 1940s, it was ABC Batman series and companion film of the same name that made the first lasting impression on screen in the 1960s. Directed by Adam West, this version of Batman relied on campy theatrics and ridiculous sight gags – from hero to down , everyone was in on the joke. For all the hate the Joel Schumacher movies have received, you can draw a clear line between West’s Batman fighting a shark with a can of shark repellent and George Clooney’s Batman releasing a Batman branded credit card.
The live-action Batman movies starting with Nolan’s batman begins in 2005 are not so comedic inclined. But in fairness to The Batman, Reeves injected an admirable amount of humor into his film, whether it was the Riddler (Paul Dano) addressing his fringe followers as if he were the host of a popular YouTube channel or virtually any scene involving the Penguin (Colin Farrell). At the same time, the movie’s Emo Batman and his serious revenge crusade seemed like the product of a director who did not realize West Batman the series was supposed to be camp. But this kind of genuine obliviousness in the face of obvious humor can also work. for the character of Batman, who doesn’t always have to be an absolute killjoy.
The world of animation, for example, has proven to be fertile comic ground for Batman by highlighting the inherent absurdity of being the character, even if he’s hopelessly oblivious to it. To that end, one of the best and funniest Batman character studies in recent history has come in Lego form. In the early 2017s The Lego Batman Movie, Batman (voiced by Will Arnett) is adored by the citizens of Gotham and treated like a celebrity for always saving the day. “It must be awesome to be Batman,” said a news anchor. “I can only imagine him going home right now to party the night away, surrounded by dozens of friends and female tennis players.”
Of course, the reality is that Batman is heating up lobster thermidor in the microwave and watching rom-coms all by himself in his home theater. Try as he can to convince himself he’s happy, all the money and cool gadgets in the world are no substitute for company. Although Arnett’s Batman is self-obsessed and dismissive of Michael Cera’s Robin, whom he unwittingly adopted at a charity gala, The Lego Batman Movie painted a sympathetic portrait of an insecure superhero whose greatest fear is being part of a new family he might lose like his parents. Just because this version of Batman starred in an animated comedy made out of Lego bricks doesn’t mean the film couldn’t effectively channel the character’s more tragically human elements – in fact, The Lego Batman Movie only more charming.
But while Arnett’s goofy Batman delivered plenty of punch lines and pathos, our hero can also thrive in a comedic setting where he plays the straight man, even if he’s not the main character. As its title suggests, the HBO Max animated series harley quinn largely focuses on a gallery of Batman villains, but the Caped Crusader (voiced by Diedrich Bader) appears frequently. This Batman reacts to Harley Quinn’s antics like an unamused older brother and repeatedly dismisses Jim Gordon’s insistence that they are best friends. (A recurring gag in the series is Gordon turning on the bat signal so he can complain to Batman about his failed marriage.) harley quinnBatman trying to be dry and emotionless makes it even funnier when cracks start to form in his badass facade, like his Bat Cave computer screensaver being photos taken at the party. Gordon’s birthday.
harley quinn has a real affection for characters from the DC Comics universe, even if it confuses established tropes like the bromantic relationship between Batman and Gordon. (Or, as reported by VarietyBatman performing oral sex on Catwoman in the upcoming third season before DC shuts down the idea.) It’s that kind of approach — a playful show that relies on audience familiarity with the characters for laughs — which feels like uncharted territory for Batman on the big screen.
Given the massive opening weekend for The Batman just six years after Affleck’s debut in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, it’s clear that moviegoers still have an insatiable appetite for all things Batman. That Warner Bros. already has plans for several spin-off series on HBO Max is expected to announce a sequel to The Batman a mere formality; this new Batman universe has plenty of legs. But the fact that The Batman was willing to – spoiler alert – feature the Joker (Barry Keoghan) in a cameo set three years after Joaquin Phoenix’s standalone Joker, and just a year away from Jared Leto’s Joker appearing in the Snyder Cut, should also allay fears that audiences may not accept a more comedic spin on Batman appearing alongside Pattinson Caped Crusader in a separate universe.
animation world, YouTube Sketchand viral twitter accounts dedicated to roasting the character attests to the unrealized potential of letting Batman be funny while also marking a major departure from the more slapstick elements of the Adam West era. If Warner Bros. wants to capitalize more on current Batmania, embracing comedy is the best way forward. Even though Batman himself can’t always see the humor behind a billionaire orphan with an elderly butler as his best friend whose idea of socializing is putting on a cape and cowl in the middle of the night to hunt down the villains who believe Also that Halloween is the coolest holiday of the year, the rest of us certainly can.