Warning: mild spoilers ahead.
Batman is a difficult character to cast, because you need an actor that embody both aspects of his life: his Bruce Wayne persona, and his calling as the Caped Crusader. For a long time, Warner Bros has just cast them based on who looks good in the cowl. Remember how Joel Schumacher cast George Clooney after he colored in Clooney’s face on a magazine? That didn’t go so well.
But that’s what happens when you treat Bruce Wayne like the tiny bits of dialogue in between the sex scenes in a porno. This side of the character is not just prelude to the ass-kicking Batman scenes; he’s got to be the focus and core of the character or else he becomes a cartoon.
In Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (read our review), Affleck is introduced as Bruce Wayne, and he stays that way for a really long time because you don’t see the costume until much later in the movie. This gave Affleck plenty of time to show us just how human this guy is, and how messed up he’s become.
Speaking of which, how awesome is that introduction scene for Batman? In every other movie appearance of Batman, the introduction scene is always shown from the perspective of the victim or the criminal, maybe even Batman himself.
In an act of genius, Zack Snyder chooses to establish this scene from a cop’s perspective. He responds to a crime in progress, and the whole scene plays out exactly like a horror movie. Not an action movie, or even a thriller… a horror movie. You feel absolute terror as the cop first notices the Batarang stuck in the wall as a warning to stay the fuck away. Your heart rate quickens as even the victims lock themselves back into the cage as they are too terrified of this demonic ghost.
Because that is how Batman is established here. Not as a hero, not as a person, but as an unnerving presence lurking just outside of your five senses. A boogeyman. Something that genuinely surprised me here was the reaction of the cop, because he was afraid of Batman too.
In other films, a cop would feel relieved to see a Batarang because that means safety. In this film his sense of dread was heightened from it, which was the second sign to show you that Snyder and Affleck are taking this iconic and well-used character in a direction we’ve not seen before (after the extended amount of screen time without seeing the costume). As a crook or a victim, you are expected to be terrified of this shadowy presence. But for a cop to feel the same really means this isn’t the Batman we are so familiar with.
PS the tension in the reveal shot… I half expected to see that creepy-assed doll from the conjuring instead.
This new Batman isn’t a rookie making his mark on Gotham or a sophomore Batman who has the crooks running scared; this is a 20-year veteran who is bitter, disillusioned and lost after 20 years of seeing the same villains getting back on the streets again and again, new generations of petty street thugs, and the corruption and/or loss of trusted allies (that Jason Todd Robin outfit wasn’t just there as an Easter egg). This Batman is pissed off, and has stopped giving a shit. He probably regards everyone who doesn’t live at Wayne Manor as an enemy, and the lack of contact with Jim Gordon further suggests that his relationship with the police force has deteriorated.
It completely explains the petty complaints many critics have been making about this portrayal of Batman: Oh he’s more bloodthirsty, he doesn’t value human life, Zack Snyder is just too violent, blah blah blah. Think of it as career fatigue. I’ve seen lots of colleagues develop career fatigue after 2-3 years at the same job. They lose interest, they get sloppy, the passion for perfection is gone. Client wants you to make the logo unbelievably big? Fine. You’ll make it 400% bigger and then go home to your Xbox. Career fatigue is real and it affects everyone.
Well, this guy has been doing a far more intense and soul-crushing job for two decades, and he doesn’t relax on weekends. This doesn’t make him less of a Batman, and in fact I think it makes him a more interesting Batman because it’s something new to deal with. The darkness had always been there in all of the Batmans, but only Affleck’s portrayal had the balls to see what happens when Bruce Wayne sinks too far past the line.
And also, pulling your punches and making sure everyone survives the night is fine and dandy when you’re picking off drug dealers and human traffickers, but this movie has the fate of the world on the balance. Are you seriously expecting him to try to prevent a hired thug from scraping his knee when there are 7 billion people depending on him? Besides, older portrayals of Batman also had him dropping thugs strapped with explosives into holes as well but nobody complained then!
This aspect of Bruce Wayne also explains something else that everyone complains about, and also helped me understand the movie as a whole: what is his motivation to fight Superman?
And the answer is helplessness. Helplessness is the driving theme behind the whole movie and it explains the actions of Superman and Luthor too.
Actually, Alfred hints strongly at this in the movie, a line which was used in the first teaser trailer:
“That’s how it starts. The fever, the rage, the feeling of powerlessness that turns good men… cruel.” – Alfred
Bruce Wayne has been struck down by a feeling of helplessness ever since his parents were gunned down. Assuming the role of Batman has given him strength, but over time the deaths of Jason Todd and other friends has weathered him down to the original core feeling of hopelessness… And then enters Superman, the ultimate personification of his helplessness.
That prologue sequence of Bruce Wayne trying to rescue his employees from the destruction of Metropolis totally mirrors the traumatic childhood event that defined his destiny. Sitting there, cradling suffering people as the evil of the world wreaks havoc around him and not being able to do a single thing about it. It’s a terrible feeling that everyone can relate to at some point in your life. But this time Bruce has a fighting chance to prevent it from happening again. Killing Superman is a chance for him to redeem himself and gain the upper hand again in his battle against his own helplessness.
Everyone complains that Batman had a weak motivation for fighting Superman, but he was never fighting Superman. He was fighting himself!
And this also explains the biggest joke that haters are making about this movie: the climatic resolution at the end of their fight. Batman didn’t drop the spear because their mothers have the same name. At that moment, he no longer saw Superman as a godlike alien with the power to destroy and enslave the world; he saw a helpless young man pleading for the life of his mother. He saw young Bruce Wayne in the eyes of his enemy.
And goddamn if he’s going to inflict the same pain that destroyed him onto another living being.
This feeling of hopeless weakness also defines Superman and Lex in this movie. Superman is feeling helpless against the outpouring of public hatred against him. He does what he can and what he thinks is right, but it’s never enough for a society that is quicker to criticize than to appreciate the gifts they have.
Lex is played by a smaller guy, and it’s obvious that he had a childhood of bullying under bigger and more physically imposing people, like his father and probably his schoolmates. If his intellect, his only attribute, can help him defeat this big bad, then he won’t have to be afraid anymore. Imbuing Doomsday with his own DNA is like creating a being that contains both his intellect and the physical strength he lacks. I never understood why he made Doomsday before, but now I get that he’s trying to remake himself.
And this is why I’m also really excited about a new stand-alone Batman movie. Obviously, the upcoming movies will lead into Batman and Wonder Woman setting up the Justice League. But you can’t do that when you’re emotionally screwed up and don’t really believe in justice or other higher ideals anymore. This is a Batman who is so damaged that lashing out at criminals has become the only way he can deal with the pain (I mean, branding them with the Bat symbol… ouch!).
Here’s something to think about: Batffleck spends more time in the family crypt than in all of the other 7 movies put together. It’s not because they didn’t have other sets to use, but it’s because this guy doesn’t believe in what he’s doing anymore and is constantly seeking affirmation from his dead parents. He knows he is lost, and the amount of time he spends in the crypt and having nightmares tells you that he has no idea how to get his shit together.
Yes, the encounter with Superman and Wonder Woman has re-inspired his belief in the goodness of humanity, but come on. He is far too messed up and sunken too far into despair to just snap out of it overnight. You can’t just do a few push-ups in a cell and then climb out of an underground prison a completely reborn man with a healed spine – who the hell is going to believe that?
It will take Bruce Wayne a lot of emotional realignment before he is ready to trust other people or develop hope for the human race again. And for a person who has almost no human relationships except for the one he has with his butler, it will be doubly hard because he has nobody to emotionally engage with.
And that’s what could really drive a new Batman movie: his quest to regain his humanity. Maybe that’s what Jena Malone’s character is supposed to be. Instead of being just a sidekick to set-up super-combo attacks, she will be his listening ear, maybe a reflection of his early days of being Batman when he was a bit more driven and idealistic, instead of the bitter and obsessed wretch he is now.
It could potentially have a lot more Bruce Wayne than Batman, but I’m all for it. I don’t need another movie to market toys to me. I want a movie that surprises me, makes me think, and allows me to relate to it on a deeper level.