I grew up idolising Batman, and he’s grown up with me
Why is Batman important to me? I was going to write this piece before the tragic events in America, and I think it’s still worth sharing some thoughts on why so many people crammed into cinemas worldwide this weekend.
I was introduced to Batman on the same day my brother was born. When I was four and my father was driving like crazy to get my mother to hospital in time to give birth to my brother, I was carted off to a relative’s house, sat in front of the television and told to watch whatever I wanted.
In one second, I was hooked. And it couldn’t have been a better way to welcome a brother into the world. Because as I sat, stuffing my face with French toast watching Bruce Wayne beat up bad guys, I remember vividly realising that the people needed a protector. It was Batman and I badly wanted to be him.
My brother, Adam, could be my Robin, my partner in crime. It didn’t matter that most girls wanted to be Catwoman. I was Batman. And I was here to kick butt.
At a time where everyone else was playing Barbie Dolls, I was playing Batman. A good portion of my childhood was spent jumping off buildings in black capes and grazing my knees. I built my own Batmobile, which was really just a go-kart painted black, and spent long car trips amusing myself by singing the Batman theme. What a joy that must have been for my parents.
And I imagine that for lots of children like me who were collecting action figures and reading comic books under their covers late at night, Batman was there to right the wrongs. Batman was the poster child for control freaks everywhere. For someone who lost everything, Bruce Wayne proved that with enough money, power, influence, gadgets and a snarky butler he could bend society to his will.
Batman took every monster from under the bed and kicked its arse. And so could we.
The comic books were followed by the utterly horrible but secretly awesome Batman cartoon which I woke up at the crack of sparrows to watch before Saturday Disney started. (Given Saturday Disney began at around 7.00am, it was a pretty ungodly hour to wake up).
As the horrifying onset of puberty began, there was the 1960s Adam West TV series – which I believe was on in the afternoons. I’m aware the ‘60s TV show came long before the cartoon, but it coincided with with my pre-teen years so I’m assuming it had to be on after school.
With its utterly high-camp brand of comedy, the comic book satire was full of innuendo, which was perfect for a snarky teenager. Perfect for everyone, really. The Adam West series had epic sound effects, cheesy catch-phrases and sets that were designed by people who were clearly on drugs. That meant it was great for almost everyone. It was great for adults, great for children, great for grumpy teenagers.
During my teen years, Tim Burton released his Batman series. It was whacky, it was dark and brooding. It took the role of women slightly more seriously (but not by much). By the time I was 15 I had experienced three different interpretations of Batman and it didn’t seem like it could get any better. And with Joel Schumacher’s contribution to film - it didn’t.
The Joel Schumacher series was egregiously bad. He had Bane dressed up like an S&M gimp during his brief cameo next to Poison Ivy. Clooney and Kilmer were fine as Batman, I suppose, but it would have been nice if they hadn’t given Jim Carrey permission to play himself when they cast him as The Riddler.
By the time Christopher Nolan’s version rocked around, almost at the beginning of the remake era, you could have been forgiven for being sceptical, (especially considering the nightmarish Spiderman series that preceded it). But Nolan didn’t disappoint. In fact he blew us away.
The Christopher Nolan series had a maturity to it that other comic book remakes had lacked up until that point. Sure there was the horrible Dawson’s Creek-esque scene with Katie Holmes at the end of the Batman Begins: “this is not your real face”, but it had a stellar cast who delivered mainly strong performances. The sets were darker and more realistic. The costumes weren’t over the top, the CGI was incredible and the action scenes delivered a visual feast.
And that was it. We had yet another Batman remake on our hands and this time it was going to be AWESOME.
Then Australia had one of its own represent us in the sequel. Instead of ending with celebration and a host of awards including a Golden Globe, it ended in a horrible, heartbreaking tragedy. Regardless, The Dark Knight would forever bond Australia with Batman. But we lost a young talent in Heath Ledger long before his time. This hasn’t a thing to do with why Batman is important. But even for someone with no interest in celebrity, that terrible moment meant something.
So when The Dark Knight Rises rocked around almost two years later, for some reason it was incredibly important that it be good. I went on internet lockdown. I avoided tweets, Facebook updates, magazines, newspapers and websites containing anything relating to the conclusion to the Nolan series. Do you know how hard it is to work for News.com.au and avoid Batman related content? We must have run at least 10 stories on The Dark Knight.
And it didn’t disappoint. Sure, there were a few minor plot flaws. Matthew Modine was mostly horrible in the role of Deputy Commissioner Foley, especially in the car chase scene with Joseph Gordon Levitt where he declared he was “going to get the Batman”. Really, could you be less subtle? But it didn’t matter overall.
To be fair the issue was as much one of scripting as of bad acting. There were one or two plot flaws but they really didn’t matter overall. For a film that I was convinced wouldn’t live up to its predecessor, I really enjoyed it.
I need to apologise to Anne Hathaway for misjudging her. I thought she would be completely wrong as Catwoman, but she was such a delight to watch. She was charming, sexy, capable. And she brought a depth and compassion that really hadn’t been bought to the role before. (I’m looking at you Alicia Silverstone, Michelle Pfeiffer, Halle Berry and Sharon Stone).
Also, her costume was really clever. The way they positioned the bow in her hair so you could only see the corners, making them resemble cat ears was genius. It hinted at the traditional Catwoman get-up without ever specifically mentioning it.
And Bane? What. A. Beast.
I didn’t even realise it was Tom Hardy underneath the mask until after I left the cinema. He was unrecognisable. And not just because of the mask that covered his face. The Inception actor must have put on 80 stone worth of muscle. For someone who barely showed his face I thought Hardy did an excellent job, though some of his lines were muffled and inaudible. Given he had Ledger to compete with – Tom Hardy made an excellent villain. I’m not sure he could ever rival Ledger’s performance as The Joker, but he didn’t need to. He brought his own brand of terrifying that will stand the test of time.
Christian Bale was impeccable. It was nicer to see a slightly calmer Batman who was capable of change. There was a softness to him. A gentility that wasn’t there before.
And this is why Batman is so important. He grew up with us. Batman has been with us through thick and thin. From toddler to teen, tragedy to triumph Batman has been there, going through his own emotional roller coaster. And if any of the rumours are true, that much like the Bond films, Batman will be the movie everyone gets a turn at, he’ll be with us for a very very long time.
Nolan was right – people do need an idea to live up to. And Batman is it.
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