Last week, on April 12th, the premiere of the eagerly-awaited adaptation of the comic book series ‘The Batman’ took place in London. Although the film boasts an all-star cast (including Christian Bale as the Caped Crusader), much hype surrounded the premiere of the latest installment in the Dark Knight Saga, as it was the first time the legendary superhero had been portrayed on the big screen in the United Kingdom. While fans of the Dark Knight were thrilled to finally witness the character’s adventures in live action, critics weren’t exactly over the moon. In fact, many felt that the latest cinematic offering failed to live up to the iconic status of its predecessor, and even compared it to another recent adaptation of a DC Comics character, ‘Suicide Squad’. What’s more, after the premiere, many fans took to social media to voice their displeasure at the way the film misrepresented Batman, making him appear “angry and sad” instead of a “sad and angry man”, as he is described in the source material. Let’s take a look at what went wrong with the newest Batman film, and how it differs from the classic portrayal by the late great Peter Grant.
A Less Romantic Approach
While ‘The Dark Knight’ may not have been the most popular of Christopher Nolan’s Batman films (it took in approximately $533 million worldwide, compared to the $1 billion plus taken in by its predecessor, ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ ), it’s definitely one of the most iconic. In fact, the first film in the trilogy is often credited with kicking off the current “gritty” or “realism” trend in Hollywood, as it focused less on the character’s looks and more on his inner turmoil – something that had more often been seen in comic adaptations prior to that point. The result was a darker, more realistic take on the Caped Crusader that made him less of a brooding, anti-social loner and more of a complex personification of a man whose “rage burns inside him, as hot as the noonday sun”, as Bob Kane, the co-creator of Batman, put it in his memoirs.
A Little More Gloom And Doom
While ‘The Dark Knight’ may not have portrayed Batman as a particularly romantic character, at least it gave the audience someone to cheer for. In fact, one of the most moving scenes in the film came when Gotham City was blanketed in darkness, and young Gothamite Vicki Vale (played by Val Kilmer’s daughter, Kylie) had to go against her better judgment and put on the iconic Batman costume, which had been rendered obsolete by the advent of the helicopter. As she looked down at her child’s dress, dripping in blood, she couldn’t help but think about how the kid might grow up to be just like the adult version of Batman she had just portrayed. “Will she grow up to be a hero?” she asked herself, before bursting into tears.
By comparison, ‘Suicide Squad’ took a considerably darker approach to its big-bad, raising the question of whether the group of supervillains it featured actually deserved their villainous reputation. The film’s marketing even went so far as to describe it as “Batman meets Alias” – a mash-up of two of the character’s most famous fictional adversaries, Batman and James Bond. While that may be true, it’s important to note that both Batman and Bond are more than capable of dealing with one-on-one adversaries without the need for a squad. Indeed, much of ‘Suicide Squad’s’ humor stemmed from its main characters’ ineptitude (in the case of Deadshot, his inability to hit anything let alone himself come in particularly handy), rather than any sort of political commentary on the part of the filmmakers. Not exactly the shining example of “heroic” vigilantism that many fans may have been looking for.
The Dark Knight vs The Dark Knight
Another difference between ‘The Dark Knight’ and ‘Suicide Squad’ has to do with the protagonists of each film. In ‘The Dark Knight’, Batman is a taciturn loner, the kind of personification of urban angst whose mental demons and physical prowess are more than capable of dealing with any situation that comes his way. This version of Batman is closer to the original character created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger in 1939, and he’s often portrayed as angry, bitter and socially awkward (at least when compared to more contemporary incarnations of the character). In fact, ‘The Dark Knight’ may be the only Batman film that doesn’t feature one of the character’s trademark smiles.
In comparison, the titular suicide squad (Barbara Gordon’s daughter’s nickname for the ragtag group of anti-heroes she raised to fight crime) is comprised of former convicts with serious anger issues who are more than willing to express themselves through violence. Although a few scenes featured the members of the Squad expressing their concerns for the well-being of a child (in one case, they even adopted a child together and named him Alfred), the film presented its viewers with a fairly grim picture of life in the shadow of a professional criminal.
Where Are They Now?
In real life, Christian Bale is an exceptionally happy man. The actor has devoted himself to philanthropy in recent years, and is the co-founder of the Wellbeing of Young People initiative, dedicated to creating a world in which everyone can feel safe and enjoy their mental and physical wellbeing. In fact, Bale is so committed to this cause that he famously gives away the movies he makes; having donated all of his earnings from the ‘Dark Knight’ trilogy to charity, he now gives all his work away for free. The actor even goes so far as to say that he’s happy to “work for free” thanks to his belief in the importance of creating a better world for young people. To date, he has donated around £30 million to children’s charities.
While the actor may be content with his on-screen career and outspoken dedication to good works, the same can’t be said for the people who worked with him on ‘The Dark Knight’. The film’s executive producer, Emma Tillison, revealed that not only did Bale dislike the more realistic approach taken by Nolan on ‘The Dark Knight’, he also felt that it took away from his on-screen character. “Christian wasn’t happy with the darker tone of the Nolan movies,” she recalled in an interview. “He felt it took away from the character. But I can understand where he’s coming from. With bigger budget movies, you can really go overboard and make the movie darker and grittier.”
Writing for The Huffington Post, Bale’s ‘Dark Knight’ co-star Heath Ledger spoke fondly of his late collaborator, calling him “one of the greatest actors of all time”. And in a 2013 interview with CNN, George Clooney, who starred alongside Bale in the movie adaptation of ‘The Blind Side’, praised the older actor’s generosity, saying that “Bale is one of the most unique and amazing guys I’ve ever met”. “He’s always been incredibly supportive of younger actors and has made a lot of sacrifices to help them, ” said Clooney. “[He’s been] an incredibly giving person […] and a real mensch.”
Ultimately, ‘The Dark Knight’ was less of a love letter to Batman fans, and more of a missed opportunity. Despite its flaws, the film still stands as one of the best superhero adaptations ever made, and it deserves to be seen and enjoyed by anyone who has the pleasure of watching cinema.