So What? I like Batman. I still have comics from when I was kid. I checked the other day to see what my mint condition Batman vs. Predator set was worth. It has gone up in value about a nickel since 1993.
I was just going to say that I didn’t really like Batman Begins the first time I saw it because I didn’t understand what it was. It took them making The Dark Knight (2008) for me to realize that they were reinventing Batman. I thought it was supposed to be a prequel to Batman, Batman Returns, Batman Forever, and Batman and Robin. I think this was because of its title, Batman’s age, the backstory of how Batman got his training, and an ending which almost seems to be a lead-in to the original Michael Keaton Batman (1989). Plus, Batman Begins (2005) comes on the heals of Batman and Robin (1997)–well, eight years anyway. It didn’t seem to make sense to reinvent a character that has been making movies pretty consistently since ’89. I thought it was just another chapter in the Michael Keaton set until I saw the new Batmobile. Jeez! It was an Armored Personel Carrier! I thought, “What the hell is this, anyway?”
But lets face it–Batman needed reinventing. The series had gotten pretty tired. I couldn’t get over Arny’s cheezy puns as Mr. Freeze and the glow in the dark paint on gang members in Batman and Robin. They couldn’t even find a guy who wanted to be Batman for more than one show. The Batmobile itself had evolved into a winged monstrosity, not unlike the whole series.
The Batman Begins team reinvented Batman by getting back to the basics. The creators seem to incorporate more elements from the comics and The Animated Series. The film integrates Lucius Fox, combining Batman’s mechanic (in the animated series Batman had a personal mechanic) and the number-one-guy from Wayne Enterprises. They also throw in the Ninja Training as I’ve already mentioned, and the ScareCrow/Arkham Asylum. In one scene in Batman Begins, Doctor Crane/Scarecrow testifies that “Mr. Zsasz” is a danger to himself and others and should be confined at the Asylum. Zsasz is actually a knife murderer from the comics, but is not well known. The writers seem to be throwing in clues to loyal fans, saying “hey guys, we know what we’re talking about.”
One other way they reinvented Batman is through the concept of major and minor villians. In Batman Begins, Scarecrow was a minor villian with Ra’s Al Ghul as the major. The big duke-out was with the major villian, and beating the minor villian creates one more smaller climax in the story. To contrast with this concept, call up that disgusting partnership between Two face and the Riddler from Batman Forever (1995).
In The Dark Knight, the Joker is the major and Two-Face the minor. But here, Harvey Dent actually turns from a secondary hero to the secondary villian, Two-face. Instead of providing a small climax as Crane/Scarecrow did, Two Face acts under the Joker’s influence to create a two part climax. The Joker has waged a war for Gotham’s soul on two fronts. One front attacks the people directly by trying to destroy their morality–will they kill the other boat full of people to save their own lives? The other front attacks the people’s heroes, attempting to destroy people’s hope when they find out what their heroes can become. These two attacks parallel each other and the major difference is in scale. The conflict for the soul of Harvey Dent is much more personal than the large scale of the two ships full of people and explosives. It is a smaller parallel to destroying the soul of Gotham, destroying the soul of its “White Night.” Ultimately, Harvey Dent/Two Face was a smaller player, even though both sides try to use him to accomplish their own ends. His importance is played up so that his fall from grace and subsequent death are more tragic.
I submit that you can’t have a story of such quality without having an internally conflicted and expendable hero. The war between good and evil must have casualties.
Which brings us to the true reinvention of Batman–dynamic characters, insane twists, and true conflict–Batman films with stories.