Not too long ago, I blogged about reboots. Naturally, Batman came up in the course of conversation; I’m pretty sure that the first time I heard the term “reboot” was in conjunction with Christopher Nolan’s reinvention of the character’s life on screen.
Now, everyone knows how much I loved Batman Begins and even moreso The Dark Knight. They’re deep, symbolic films rich with meaning and expertly constructed.
But naturally, as I watched Batman Begins again recently, I wanted to exercise some analytical thought about these films and what they represent, since Batman has been such an enduring character.
To be clear, I’m not launching a series of reviews again, as much as I might enjoy that. It would be too easy to toss another blog onto the growing Internet heap that praises Nolan for rescuing our beloved vigilante from the dustbin of the DVD era. Instead, I started thinking of each film incarnation as a reflection of their respective times.
I figured that’s an interesting line of thought to pursue. What can Batman’s various adventures, as seen through the times that birthed them, tell us about ourselves? Our folklore – which film very much is a part of – is always a reflection of who we are and what we’re trying to resolve within ourselves as a culture. Shakespeare reflected the beliefs of his times (Wheel of Fortune, Fate of Nations and Presence of the Supernatural were the three requirements for a successful drama in his day), and even if our films reflect our hopes about where we can go, they will always bear a reflection of who we are or were since the artists who create them are of that time and asking those questions.
What have the themes in each film told us about ourselves? Specifically, I think that those currently in their thirties and forties right now have more of a connection to the themes in these films as they’ve come to speak to the concerns of identity and social placement that we are uniquely experiencing at this point in our lives.
Along the way, I think there are some interesting contrasts and comparisons. I want to look at the way different men played Batman, a character who, over the course of six movies, has been played by four different actors. What did that do to the consistency of the character, and specifically his alter ego, Bruce Wayne? The actors for all of the major parts have gone from those who went on to win Oscars®, to those who were mere window dressing for a plot point.
What about the villains? While the villains are the work of the comics, adapted to the film through the lens of the filmmaker, how they have been received also tells us a great deal about what audiences wanted. Some of those villains have been imagined twice on the screen — Joker, Two–Face — giving us a focused look at
The production design of Gotham has gone from comic-realistic to multi-culturally symbolic, to dance-club retro and then coming back to the brutally and symbolically authentic. That in itself says something about the audience that watches them; what has changed about our world and about us that has changed our own sensibilities? Is there a move away from whimsy in fantasy, a desire to make everything more tangible and real, an abandonment of the acceptance of the impossible?
One last thing, I’m limiting my analysis to the legitimate films in the post–Tim Burton era here. I haven’t seen the 1930s films and I’m not inclined to discuss the TV series. Because it sucked, and it’s pretty well-documented already what the 1960s thought about anything: nothing.
So let’s see now. I guess it all started back in 1989…