The Batman Movie I've Been Waiting For Since I Was 10 Years Old
Alternatively Titled: The Batman Movies Christopher Nolan Should've Made Instead Of Batman Begins & Dark Knight Rises, or: The Reason Bruce Timm Needs To Get To Make A Theatrical Batman Movie Is He Always Gets It Right The First Time, Period.
Well, the hardcore Batophiles already have a good idea where this rant is heading, so let's back up a bit first for everyone's benefit: The real focus here is going to be on the Rogue's Gallery, Gotham's plethora of villains (bonus: most of whom are clinically insane), and the dismally poor use that every Batman movie so far has made of them.
Obvious highlights of Batman villains on-screen are Heath Ledger's Joker, Danny DeVito's Penguin, I would almost say Anne Hathaway and Michelle Pfeiffer equal each other's Catwoman, but the stitching all over Michelle Pfeiffer's suit and that scene where she crazily throws herself out a window put her just above Hathaway, and let's face facts: Jack Nicholson's Joker sucked. Plagued by a horribly indecisive Tim Burton (you can just feel Burton's confusion all through the first Batman--should it be campy? Should it be dark? Should we only ever see about one block of what's supposed to be Gotham City? Don't forget to toss in a scene where the Joker dances to Prince! Ugh.), there was no way Jack could save this one. Then it turned out that the Joker, before he was the Joker, was also the guy who killed Bruce Wayne's parents, and just, look, it was crap, but at least Burton redeemed himself with Batman Returns. Two more villain highlights for me are easily Jim Carrey's Riddler and Tommy Lee Jones' Two-Face. Jones' dialogue was shit, but isn't he a perfect Two-Face? If he had had real lines written for him, we all know he would've delivered them perfectly. And Jim Carrey started breaking into more than just comedy as The Riddler, and he is so dedicated to that role, it's all over his face how seriously he took that job. He acts circles around Val Kilmer the whole movie (not that hard to do, though), and if only this one had a decent script, and no neon-coloured street thugs, and... no nipples on the costumes... yeah, there's a lot of problems with Batman Forever, let's move on.
Notice anything, though? With all the Batman movies so far, we've had two portrayals of Catwoman, two portrayals of Two-Face, two of the Joker, two of Bane, four different portrayals of Batman himself, debatably two of Robin (very debatably), etc., etc., and we just keep repeating the same villains! Where's Killer Croc, or Baby Doll, or Scarface, or Harley Quinn, or Black Mask, or Clay-Face, or Man-Bat? (Also, how about a decent Mr. Freeze or Poison Ivy? Or a decent Bane? Or, better yet, never using Bane ever again for anything? But those are like, three other rants.)
Yes, Man-Bat, also known as genetic scientist Dr. Kirk Langstrom, also known as HOW THE EXPLETIVE DO SEVEN GODDAMN BATMAN MOVIES GET MADE WITH ZERO DESIRE FROM ANYONE INVOLVED TO WATCH BATMAN TRY TO MOUNT, RIDE, AND TAKE DOWN A MASSIVE, SCREECHING, FLYING BAT IN THE MIDDLE OF THE CITY!?! And the possibilities really are limitless with Man-Bat, because as more of a side character in the comics, keeping him mostly on the sidelines in a movie makes perfect sense, but you can also just as easily switch things around and have Man-Bat be the A-story villain that keeps both Batman and the city distracted while the B-story villain (let's say the Joker, just 'cause everyone loves the Joker so damn the repetition) gets a plan and stuff together and comes to mess shit up in the second act. He's nearly just as emotionally deep a character as Batman himself, since he's not actually a villain, he's a scientist, and he's constantly at conflict with his own inner demons, most especially the times he lets them take him over externally as the Man-Bat. This also makes him incredibly versatile as a character, so long as he's well-defined throughout his introduction to the audience; do it right, and you could easily plug Man-Bat into almost any Batman story-line appropriately, which you really can't do with any other Batman character. Except Lucious Fox, I guess, but I think it was clear after hardly seeing Catwoman at all in Rises that she either should've been introduced in Dark Knight if she was going to be so minimally in Rises, or she just shouldn't have been in any of them. Anne Hathaway was great, and I loved the cat-ear goggle things, but Catwoman was so underdeveloped, and top of it, later on so unnecessary to everything except one time tricking Batman (but anyone could've been in that scene, even a little kid that's under Bane's orders or something), that it just reeked of Christopher Nolan not wanting to do Batman movies anymore and just getting lazy. It was as if the script was already finalized, and then someone reminded him that he referenced Catwoman slyly in Dark Knight and he went, "Oh, shit, right, Catwoman! Damnit, uh, alright, I guess none of these movies will be 2 hours or less everyone, we've got twenty more unnecessary minutes to write!"
Let me definitively make my point about how malleable-yet-still-natural a character Man-Bat can be, though; here's a very (a very-very) basic synopsis of Chris Nolan's Batman trilogy with Man-Bat plugged in:
Batman Begins - Bruce goes off to train with the League of Shadows, etc., same old shit, but before he left, he approved a genetics division of Wayne Enterprises, with Dr. Kirk Langstrom as its second-in-charge, if you will. Shortly before Bruce returns to Gotham, Kirk first becomes Man-Bat and starts terrorizing the city, so when Bruce Wayne gets back, Man-Bat is two things: 1., the immediate reason Bruce needs to put his training to use, and 2., it could also be written that Bruce Wayne is just dressing in plain all-black and a mask as he hasn't developed the Batman persona yet (this period of Bruce fighting crime in black but not as Batman has been shown in tons of the older comics, then again in the Mask of the Phantasm animated flick--highly recommended, that one), and the fear he notices in himself of this huge, freaky bat creature inspires him to go with the bat look thereafter. Batman "beats" Man-Bat (so we get to be detective-y and see Bruce experiment a bit with serums, too), and just when all seems good, here comes Ra's al Ghul to burn shit down, no change, but he takes note of Man-Bat, and we pretty much keep the ending as it already is. Oh, and you can keep the Scarecrow scenes in this easily if they were trimmed a bit more. Ask yourself, though, was that pathetically barely-there Scarecrow even worth calling a real portrayal of Scarecrow, or just a weird dude who's into drugs and looks like he rubbed poo on a baggy, badly-made mask? But if you wanna keep him, wouldn't he be even more motivated to mess people up with the fear drug while there actually is a huge freaking bat flying around, anyway?
The Dark Knight - Change nothing, except for adding a scene or two showing Kirk working on stabilizing the Man-Bat serum, maybe helping Bruce with some whatever detective work, but at the end of the movie, there's a tag either just before or after the credits of Kirk experimenting with serums and saying something like "Not yet, but we're closer than we ever have been."
The Dark Knight Rises - Eight years pass, sure, fine, no change there, but Kirk has finalized a stable Man-Bat serum. He tests it, and he can speak sentences and think problems through and shit while in his Bat-form. Bane comes to town, Bruce is being agoraphobic, same shit, same shit, Catwoman does stuff, keep going, but as Bruce is first taking a look at info. about Bane or a clue about him in the Batcave, Man-Bat is in the cave waiting for him, having followed other bats to get there, and once Bruce realizes Kirk is really in control of Man-Bat, they team up. "Miranada Tate" at some point shows knowledge of the Man-Bat serum and seems a bit too curious about it, so Bruce still gets her to safeguard the nuclear thing, just this time to try and keep her questions about the serum at a minimum. Keep going, keep going, etc., and when Bruce is trapped in Bane's old prison, Bane goes after Man-Bat, wanting the serum. Bane wins, but only gets two doses of the serum for some reason (maybe now Kirk just makes it as he needs it instead of making a ton at once? Whatever), and Bane takes Kirk and his wife hostage to get more serum later, not knowing that Kirk has already had so much serum all it does to him now is keep him stable, he doesn't need it to transform into Man-Bat, that can still happen on its own outside of his control. Keep going, Bane announces his planning to add the serum to the drinking water, or to make more of it or something, whatever, just something threatening, keep going, keep going, and at the final showdown of Batman vs. Bane vs. Talia, Bane gets knocked down but somehow Talia takes the serum they stole from Kirk, and now the face-off is Batman vs. Talia-Bat, which is epic as shit, and at some point, let's say Kirk and Francine are tied together, get shoved off a high point, and as they're falling, Kirk becomes Man-Bat and goes after Talia-Bat. He lets Francine fall and die as he didn't turn into Man-Bat by choice, the bat woke up in him this time, so he doesn't speak like Talia-Bat can, we're back to raw, animal Man-Bat. The fight between two Man-Bats alone is awesome, and we still keep the ending, just a minor tweak: the Batplane's motor died somehow, so Man-Bat carries the plane out to sea while it still has the nuke attached to it, Talia-Bat in one final strike comes after it, then the Batplane and both giant bats themselves blow up. Bruce still leaves the country and all that, "John Blake" still finds the Batcave, but now the city forever debates whether there ever even was a Batman, or just this mutant Man-Bat they all saw save them from the nuke.
I mean, look, what it all comes down to is that I'm just sick of seeing the same Batman villains running on a loop in the movies. I get it with most of them (nobody knows or cares about, let's say, The Clock King), but I cannot understand with any fibre of my being why there has yet to be a Batman movie to feature him fighting a giant mutant flying bat. It just seems so obvious--it's like the kind of thing you'd hear some nerd complaining about, like something that got crammed into a comic book movie despite having no connection to the original comics. Like, "The Green Lantern movie is so bullshit, he seriously fights a giant, actual green lantern in space," except Man-Bat is actually a long-running character as opposed to lazy screenwriting, and he is actually grounded in reality as scientist Dr. Kirk Langstrom, as opposed to characters like, let's say, Batmite, and just, c'mon, people! I'm barely scratching the surface here; there's also the identity crisis angle with Kirk Langstrom himself as he struggles to control and to decide whether he even should control his Man-Bat identity, the what-are-humans-really-worth angle with Kirk having developed this serum with the original intention of skipping past a few hurdles in human evolution, and if Man-Bat is the accurate result of that, should he be stopped, or should he try to push more forward like himself? Or just kill them all? Then how does Kirk feel about either option, and how does his wife, Francine? And, again, with or without the emotional arc, he's a giant goddamn bat flying through Gotham and shredding skyscraper windows to pieces with his veiny, widespread bat-wings.
Get him in the goddamned movies.
(Post-Script: 1. No, that Talia-Bat thing isn't too far off, actually--go read Batman #655, 2. Bruce Timm always gets it right the first time--Man-Bat was the centre of the very first Batman - The Animated Series episode back in '92, and if you haven't seen it in a while, or at all, do yourself a big favour and find it. It was called "On Leather Wings," see clip below.)
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