Our Lord And Savior, Batman
It seems strange that out of thousands of superheroes, Batman is the one that resonates with our cultural consciousness. His vice grip on the pulse of a people has gone on unchallenged for nearly 80 years.
And through it all, he remains ever a prototypical white man’s fantasy: a genius billionaire playboy philanthropist who dispenses violent justice outside the law. He operates outside the system, and yet, he is the system.
In many ways, we can see our own evolution as a society reflected in his journeys — Christian Bale’s Batman rose to prominence as American morale waned in the face of relentless war in the Middle East. What a surprise that his Batman chooses to save the city by going full Patriot Act with his endgame cell phone hack in The Dark Knight, with nothing but Pyrrhic victories and a ruined reputation to show for it, by the end.
“He’s the hero Gotham deserves, but not the one it needs right now. So we’ll hunt him. Because he can take it. Because he’s not our hero.”
And there’s also little surprise, I think, that our present-day Caped Crusader, Ben Affleck’s Batman, is a battered, world-weary guy who has no qualms about mutilating or killing lowlife thugs. His complete overcompensation to the potential threat Super-man could pose in Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice fi ts uncomfortably with America’s anxiety toward its waning influence as a global superpower (as well as the dangers of not trying to understand your enemy).
So what are we to make of the newest Batman on the scene? Of course, I refer to Will Arnett’s LEGO Batman, the most self-aware Batman since Michael Keaton.
The LEGO Batman Movie prefers to skewer the hero, correctly recognizing that any guy with Batman’s behavioral patterns would inevitably be a huge a**hole. Their deconstruction of the character isn’t exactly subtle, but it pinpoints the necessary flaw in numerous other portrayals of Batman: his gaping loneliness.
Batman’s family died before his eyes. And yet, most modern Batman interpretations would have us believe he gets along fine with just Alfred’s enabling and the occasional sexy one-night stand as his only meaningful human interactions, pouring the rest of his depression into pathological violence. (I guess that’s the ideal expression of American masculinity?)
No, The LEGO Batman Movie says, this guy isn’t OK. He shouldn’t be running around and being a hero every day.
He needs a family. He needs his boy wonder sidekick. He needs a network of people who love him to help him. (The movie’s emotional climax is literally a hug.) And when he doesn’t have these things, he makes mistakes and is a worse person for it.
Sorry, Batfleck — I hope this is the Batman that we choose to follow into that dark night. He might well be the hero that we need, if not the one we deserve.