There’s been a lot of criticism thrown at Batman v Superman the last few weeks and certainly we’ve had some problems with the movie too. The tone is so heavy and serious throughout the movie; this is probably the least fun superhero movie since…well, Watchmen (and it least Watchmen had Rorshach going for it). Characters’ motivations seem to reverse dramatically for little reason. Superman remains largely unexplored and undeveloped in his own movie; moments when we are supposed to care about him are undercut by the fact that we don’t know much about him. And Lex Luthor has become the Jar Jar Binks of the DC Universe. One last criticism we want to offer is this one: we’re getting sick of dour Batman. In a serious movie with serious themes, he still stands out as the depressed, dark, angry heart of the movie, and we’re starting to think we’re ready for a different movie.
Every superhero is dark and angry these days. James Bond used to be clever and fun super spy, now he’s a perpetually grim and gaunt assassin who enjoys his work about as much as one enjoys long division. Star Trek used to be a exciting exploration of the farthest reaches of the universe, now it’s a dark commentary on terrorism and the rise of militarism (and don’t get me started about whitewashing Khan). Batman also hasn’t always been grim and angry. Sure, the 60’s Batman was ridiculous and campy but even Tim Burton’s defining movies in the 80’s depicted Batman as more weird than dark. He was a quirky billionaire who was inspired by his parents’ death, not perpetually traumatized by it. Lately, Batman doesn’t seem so much empowered by his parents’ death as much as debilitated by it, and you never spend too long with Batman in any medium without being reminded about his parents’ murder. Between the comics, the books, the video games, and the movies, it’s hard to think of any event that’s been depicted in so many mediums at this point.
We understand that witnessing his parents’ murder was horrible and the detective work he now pursues is also very dark. It’s fair to ask how someone who stays up all night tracking down criminals could ever crack a smile or make a joke. However, it’s not impossible to let a little light and a little levity into these stories. Take Deadpool, for example. If we had to watch any superhero movie we’ve seen in the last three years a second time, we would choose Deadpool every time. Deadpool is a very dark and violent movie that allows some room for humor and humanity. Deadpool kills people very violently, hangs out in very dark and seedy places, and has some very deep seated psychological issues. Through his own vulnerability and his interactions with other characters, however, you get to have a few laughs between his brutal action sequences. Deadpool is at once more violent and less serious than Batman is and his movie is much better for it.
We had hoped maybe Superman would lighten Batman up a little bit but instead Batman seems to have dragged him down, both figuratively and literally. Heck, watching Batman pummel Superman was almost a metaphor for how the grim self-seriousness of the Christopher Nolan Batman movies has turned the earnest optimism Superman can embody into leaden guilt and introspection that’s about as much fun to watch as ninth grade poetry is to read. Hans Zimmer’s exhilarating Man of Steel soundtrack has been replaced by heavy, serious, downbeat themes. Batman literally beats the life out of this movie, but at least he doesn’t seem to have any fun doing so.
DC seems to be shifting away from it’s all-seriousness-all-the-time approach to movies. Word came out recently that Suicide Squad is reshooting some scenes to lighten the mood. Justice League is also supposed to be a bit lighter as well. And we haven’t given up on Batman, either. Partly this is because Ben Affleck is a good choice for introducing a slightly lighter Bruce Wayne, but mostly it’s because while waiting for the Batman v. Superman sad slugfest, we caught a teaser for Lego Batman. Here, in Will Arnett’s voice, is a Batman who seems to actually enjoy being Batman. He loves his status as a hero, he loves his gadgets, he loves his insane lifestyle. Here is self-seriousness is a punchline, not the point of the character. We’re optimistic that Lego can save the day and show us a way that Batman can be fun and not perpetually traumatized. Heck, if Lego can deliver the best Superman video game since Atari, perhaps they can deliver the best Batman since Michael Keaton.