Rather Not So Serious

…dumbing up, where you take something that’s pretty stupid to begin with and then throw money and talent at it until it has a semblance of intelligence and sophistication

Emperor Ponders has some interesting thoughts on the problem of “serious” comic book movies:

Many of these movies that have come up these past years, even (or especially) the good ones with “deep” messages and artistic pretensions, would clearly be much better if no superhero or masked vigilantes were involved. I don’t care what Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies say about surveillance or terrorism, or what would happen if masked (super)heroes were real, the point is that, fundamentally, they are movies about a playboy billionaire who dresses up as a bat and singlehandedly takes down criminals with ridiculous names like The Joker, The Penguin, and Scarecrow, who all live in a crazy city with a redundant asylum known as Arkham, where everything from psychotic serial killers to god-like beings are kept. And remember, within driving distance, there’s another city, Metropolis, with Clark “God Mode Always On” Kent flying around. I don’t think I need to explain why that alone drags down whatever depth or merits the movie may otherwise have. [Archive]

This why the best version of Batman is a kids show.

I touched on this very briefly ages ago in regards to Batman’s idiotic “no kill” policy.  It makes sense in the world of a kids show, not in the adult world of mayhem and murder.  There is a very fine line, much further back than most people think, to how serious a comic book adaption can get.  Batman: the Animated Series kept firmly on the correct side of the line.  It had some fairly serious moments, glorious art, and yet created a Gotham where a madman in clown makeup made sense.  It was silly because it needed to be silly.

In contrast, you have the Arkham series of video games.  I love these games far more than they deserve.  Innocent civilians, police, and guards die left and right; Batman is wretchedly unhappy all the time and a jerk to all his friends.  (His treatment of Alfred in Origins crosses the line into being completely out of character.  Press A to apologize to Alfred.  Oops, Batman jumped off the building instead.)  While there were parts of Asylum and City bad enough, Origins was where it really hit me how stupid the grittiness of it is.  Joker takes over a prison and murders all the guards and hangs their bodies up for decorations everywhere.  One can suspend disbelief for playing a game where all allegedly takes place in one night: Sure, I’ve been playing for 30 hours but that’s because I’m slow… or something along those lines.  The Joker, however, couldn’t have done what he’s supposed to do in the time allotted.  They break the illusion in order to shoehorn in more misery.  As if there weren’t already enough of it.

If the aim is to say something about humanity or morality or something, then there is only failure.  Bruce Wayne in a serious world is a mental ill man dressed as a bat.  The Joker in a serious world has been shot by the police.  A man with glowing green tubes attached to him who blows up like a balloon made of muscle doesn’t exist in the first place.  The story is over.  It doesn’t work.  It doesn’t follow logically.  You cannot have the absurd and the grim together without becoming a farce.

The kids show is better.

Batman the Animated Series

4 thoughts on “Rather Not So Serious

  1. As I was reading your first paragraph I thought about the Arkham videogames too. Although the others have interesting open-world elements, I believe the first is the best one precisely because, despite all you pointed out, it’s still the one that is closest to the comic feel and since everything happens in a relatively confined space that forces Batman to become the savior, it’s more believable. It was written by Paul Dini, so perhaps that explains it.


  2. Constraints as always providing a better use of creativity. Asylum had the advantage also of being new and different, so there’s a certain sense of wonder to exploring the island. Four games later, not so much.

    I would be more inclined to forgive the downer ending of City if the end of the trilogy made up for it. Instead Knight is like the third game from a different trilogy.


  3. I liked Nolan’s Batman movies when I watched them (I’m not sure anyone could “enjoy” the one with Joker in it), but also will probably never watch them again. All the Batman movies (Nolan’s and others) seem too dark actually, they’re not fun. The X-men movies got like that too. I’m a little tired of movies that are just depressing. Real life has enough of that. And it’s not like they’re sad or disturbing as a way to convey a real message; it often just seems nihilistic. What were we supposed to learn other than to despair? What happened to entertainment being fun and escapist? The animated Batman from the 90s was pretty serious as far as cartoons go, but it was also still fun.


  4. I rewatched The Dark Knight earlier this year and, while I remember liking it rather a lot in the past, this go around I thought the ending was just plain stupid. Another case of forced wretchedness. It’s normal for the second movie in a trilogy to be on a down beat but this down beat doesn’t make any sense. In order to save Harvey Dent’s reputation, Batman tells Gordon to blame him for the terrible things Dent did… but there was a psychopathic madman running around earlier who had a bunch of henchmen who could probably be blamed for everything instead. A clown did it, not Batman! There’s no good set up for them to end it the way they did. The Dark Knight Rises, on the other hand, I have never felt any desire to watch again.

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