We Need to Talk About Batfleck/Batman
Same Bat time, same Bat getting stabbed in a warehouse.
I love Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Once you read that, you’ve ever already started doubting my credibility or you’ve become more attracted to this article, and perhaps even me. It’s truly a divisive film, but I’m in the camp of absolutely adoring Zack Snyder’s vision. But this isn’t a defense of BvS as a whole, this is a conversation about Batfleck, framed around the way Batman was depicted in Dawn of Justice specifically.
It’s Batman Day and I wanted to say something about one of my–and many others–most beloved fictional characters. I don’t have to go into great detail about what makes him amazing because most people know who he is, and there are rabid comic fans who know a lot more than myself. My foundation is that I have read some of the comics, watched a lot of Batman movies, played games… and I want to use what I know (or think I know) about the character and explain why I think Batfleck is the best cinematic Batman.
But Who Is Batman? Wait, Didn’t I Just Say That I Didn’t Have to Go Into Detail?
Don’t worry, I’m not going to elaborate on his history or talk about what his powers are. Insert “if he has prep time then he can beat anyone” joke here. But I do need to briefly mention his rule, because it is extremely crucial to be aware of it in order to understand how Snyder acknowledges its existence and then goes on to break it in order to tell a compelling Batman narrative. You know this, but Batman doesn’t kill. He doesn’t want to be synonymous with the criminals that he chases and locks away. He is like them in many ways–but on a different side of the coin–but that is a line he will not cross.
There’s an argument to be made that there’s no way he doesn’t kill anybody but it’s fiction and we aren’t living in the real world, so I won’t even bother diving into that. It’s not important anyway and it’s just splitting hairs. Let’s assume that he doesn’t murder anybody and nobody gets caught in the crossfire. Broken necks and explosions be damned, ain’t nobody dyin’ on his watch.
In Batman v Superman he kills, or at the very least he knows his actions are going to lead to death. This caused some complaints from some Batman fans because it goes against his core beliefs. I don’t have a good enough memory or enough knowledge to say how the comics have treated this but that’s also not important because this is a movie website, and I’m writing about movies.
The main reason I love the way Batman was written in Snyder’s controversial depiction is because Batman is unhinged. Here is a man that has already had a long career fighting the evilest and most sadistic criminals in one of the most corrupt cities in the world. Gotham is a shithole, tragedy and corruption fester in every corner. He lost Robin and he noticed how ineffectual his efforts are; he’s an older man full of resentment and disgust, but also disappointment. Disappointment in himself and his city. He doesn’t care about his rule because his entire life has been circular to the point that it feels pointless.
Then on top of all of that, Superman arrives and causes ridiculous amounts of collateral damage in Man of Steel. I have a whole other rant about that movie and why I love it but it’s not Superman day.
Snyder gets criticized for not understanding characters and I don’t think that’s true. I think he gets Batman but he wanted to tell a story that is about superheroes but grounded in some kind of reality. It’s not hard to imagine that a man who cloaks himself and lives in darkness will someday become darkness. That doesn’t mean that Batfleck is bad. He still operates under the same dogma and love for humanity that he always had. He just lost his way, and that’s what makes him so fascinating.
The Bat in Batfleck Is Actually Terrifying
One of the points that I regurgitate when discussing homicidal Batman is that even though Batman has been scary in other movies, and he builds his whole campaign around fear, Ben Affleck’s portrayal of him was the first time that I’ve ever felt–in movies–that he is legitimately terrifying.
I love Christian Bale’s Batman and “swear to me!” is an all-time great Batman line, but Batfleck brands people, doesn’t care about killing, looks intimidating, doesn’t care what he has to do and creeps/moves around in such a way that I have never seen in a film. Early on in the film he is hanging out in a corner and it looks like he flies away. The way he talks is that of a man who has certainly lost at least some of his marbles. Even certain parts of his theme song suggests that something is off.
He is so off his rocker and determined (same thing?) that he sees a 1% chance of Superman being malevolent as a reason to be absolutely certain that he needs to be taken down. He shows no remorse until later on, and if he would use some logic he would see that Superman is not bad. But again, he is unhinged, blinded by hatred, and that makes him dangerous–even more than he already is on any given day.
The way Batman is filmed is horror-tinged on occasion. Early on in the flick a few cops arrive at a scene where Batman is, but we hear criminals screaming and the scene is drenched in a black, foreboding atmosphere. This is what I mean when I say it’s horror-tinged, because if you didn’t know any better you would think that what you’re witnessing is the actions of a true villain. This guy is using fear as a weapon in a way never seen before in a movie starring Batman.
Check out the warehouse scene below, which is exactly how to shoot a Batman action sequence, but it also ties in with what I’m saying about him and his horrifying nature.
At this point we’ve seen the–ahem–“MARTHA!” scene and Batman has begun to come around a little bit. The light is starting to show, and he’s beginning to regain some of what he lost. But not so fast because he’s still relatively insane.
I can’t get enough of this scene and I’ve watched it a million times. You can see how anger fuels him because he fights a little sloppy at times. Did he have to keep punching that one guy who was already down? No, and if he didn’t have protection on his head he would have gotten capped. He fights with intense malice, with disdain; the way he hits people is with the purpose of wanting to kill not simply maim. It’s just savage.
The real brilliant moment for me is at the 2:40 mark in the video above. He gets stabbed, fights off his attacks and the music hits the most intense moment of the entire track as he stands up, turns around, stares a guy down for a split second and then walks over and stabs him. I get chills when I watch this scene because it just reinforces the points I’ve been making. Dude is messed, but dude is scary.
Another example of what I’m saying is when he is fighting Superman and he shoots him with kryptonite. As Superman struggles to catch his breath, sucking in his poison, you can see the sick joy emanating from Batman. He stalks him and says this,
“Breathe it in. That’s fear. You’re not brave, men are brave.”
It’s True, He Becomes “Good”
Well yeah, they aren’t going to leave Batman as a lunatic for the entire duration. His arc in Dawn of Justice takes him from a murderous anti-hero back to a anti-hero with questionable tactics but pure intentions. It’s not even clear up until near the end if his intentions are necessarily pure anymore; he might get off on hurting people at that point.
But he comes around. He befriends Superman and Wonder Woman while acknowledging that there’s trouble brewing that nobody has ever seen before. He is solemn by the time the credits role, but determined in a different way than he was before. Batman will never be happy, but he made some allies besides Alfred and realized once again that the world is grey, not black and white.
What about Ben, the Fleck in Batfleck?
Oh, he’s okay too I guess. Seriously though, I never had any doubts that Affleck would do a good job. He has acting talent even if nobody would say he’s one of the best of his generation. It doesn’t matter because he’s good enough always, and sometimes great. If you stick him in a certain type of role he nails it and he added so much to the film.
He’s handsome but there’s a gravitas surrounding him. He’s got the physicality to be believable but he’s got the facial expressions to make him sympathetic… even at his most morbid. We know this guy can do the Bruce Wayne because he’s a Hollywood actor who has been known to hook up with some hot starlets, artists, etc. Just to be sure, he kills it with a charming performance, but he’s not really the playboy that we know because at this point Bruce is gravely serious. And as Batman he helped bring the heaviness and presence necessary to make this version of Batman the best version.
There’s a lot of debate about who the best cinematic Batman is. There have been plenty of great interpretations and performances relating to the character. He’s such a dynamic, interesting, tragic and just downright awesome character that playing him would be an honour that would bring out the best in people.
When I think of how Batman would exist in the real world I see this. I see an imperfect man with great strength who commits acts that could be ripped out of a horror movie. I just think that Snyder’s vision for these characters has been unfairly misaligned. There was clear intention and purpose to what he wanted to do and while it may not be the most popular, I hope that you read this and–if you didn’t like him before–grew a newfound respect for what was accomplished here.
Batman didn’t need kryptonite, he just needed this guy.