You’d think that it’d pretty hard for Warner Bros. to mess up Batman. Since his first appearance in 1939, he has proven to be DC Comics’ biggest cash cow. He has appeared in more movies, TV series and comics than any other character in DC’s expansive stable of heroes: even the Man of Steel himself.
And yet somehow, Warner Bros. has screwed the pooch with Batman’s most recent film version. Although Ben Affleck is perfect casting for the character, Snyder’s interpretation of the character as an angst-driven psychopath has turned many fans off from this version of the character.
Sure, Nolan’s version of the Batmobile – a heavily armored assault vehicle – was great in his grounded, more realistic take on the franchise, but the version we saw in Batman v Superman was nothing short of a tank used for mindlessly running over criminals. The same character who famously snapped a gun in half, saying “this is the weapon of the enemy. We do not need it. We will not use it” was seen in the movie blinding firing machine guns into crowds of thugs on multiple occasions.
He didn’t just hunt down criminals either: he disfigured them. He would heat a branding iron and then burn his insignia into their bodies as a permanent reminder of crossing paths with the vigilante. But don’t worry, it’s not like they lasted long in prison. It is explicitly stated that criminals with the Bat branding were killed shortly after being admitted.
This isn’t the Batman I know: the one that I grew up with on Saturday mornings and weekday afternoons. He’s not some xenophobic madman screaming that “if there’s even a one percent chance that [Superman] is our enemy we have to take it as an absolute certainty.” He’s a man who would “stay with [Harley Quinn] all day, risking [his] butt for somebody who’s never given [him] anything but trouble” simply because he “know[s] what it’s like to try and rebuild a life, [because he] had a bad day too once.”
According to Ben Affleck, this is the kind of Batman we can expect going forward in the DCEU. Speaking in a recent interview, he stated that:
“[Batman] started out with all this rage directed at Superman, because of his coworkers who had died in the fight Superman had with Zod. He was holding on to a lot of anger, in a little bit of an irrational way. Whereas this is a much more traditional Batman. He’s heroic. He does things in his own way, but he wants to save people, help people.”
The actor and Batman v Superman director Zack Snyder have suggested in the past that this was always going to be the case. They’ve previously argued that we were simply introduced to this version of Batman at a particularly low point in his life, shortly after the death of Jason Todd, his most recent Robin, and that his character arc would involve him clawing up from that tragedy.
That’s all well and good in the abstract, but we have never been given any context for this character other than the off-camera word of these men during the press junket for the movie. We never see him before Todd’s death and are given no reason in the movies themselves to suggest that that is the case.
While Justice League is looking to be an increasingly sketchy prospect, this is at least the right direction to take this character. He’s not a superpowered lab rat, omnipotent alien, transhuman cyborg or a literal God. He’s just a man: the one member of the Justice League who really understands what it means to be Human, able to take down the bad guys just as easily as he can empathize with their victims.
He’s more than just some savage, blood-sucking animal, and it’s high time that Warner Bros. realizes this. They desperately need to put the “man” back in “Batman.”