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I had this great idea for the new Batman movie. Hollywood producers with lots of money, please take note.

I wanted to start with Bruce Wayne down on his luck, to reflect the times. Wayne Enterprises would haemorrhage money, just like the banks did. Except there’s no bailout on offer for Bruce Wayne.

Ironically, despite his company’s ethical policies, it goes to the wall. Bruce Wayne goes from billionaire to pauper in the space of an afternoon. He has to lay Alfred off and moves from Wayne Manor to an eight-in-a-block. Downstairs, there’s a baby crying. Next door, the music’s always on too loud, and sometimes there’s screaming.

And of course, there’s a knock-on effect for Batman, too. No more Batmobile, for a start; he has to trade that in for a 1996 Fiat Punto and a Raleigh Burner. At least they both come in black. And no more utility belt with its get-out-of-that tricks and cheats; he has to rely simply on his fists and his wits to solve problems and get out of dangerous situations. He may even have to go back to hilarious home-made costumes with a bright yellow bat symbol and blue underpants, cut by a sympathetic seamstress, instead of sleek, musculo-skeletal body armour.

He may even have to get a job.

There’d be villains, of course. I could see how Christopher Nolan baulked at using the Riddler in his own saga; his moral dilemma schtick would have seemed like a remould given the Joker’s homicidal tricks and schemes in The Dark Knight.

No, I’d have gone for the Penguin. And, just as Heath Ledger’s Joker was a million miles away from Cesar Romero’s guffawing clown from the old TV show, my Penguin would have been a very different character compared with Meredith Burgess’s waaak waaaak waaak waaaaking buffoon.

I’d have made him a shark in a suit, a banker with barely-suppressed psychotic tendencies, someone who knows exactly what his industry does to people not just in his own country but across the world. And he doesn’t care because he has lots and lots of money.

And if there’s one thing this world respects above all other things, it’s money.

And the Penguin wants more of it. Specifically, Bruce Wayne’s money. Because Bruce Wayne does things differently; ethically. He invests in not-for-profit back-to-work schemes, local healthcare, environmental programmes, education grants and the arts – you know, picking up the tab for what your taxes should ideally be funding.

The Penguin, whom we should see as a shadow version of Bruce Wayne’s rich-but-tormented heir, hates this sustainable fiscal enlightenment. He wants to destroy that legacy, and build his own dark empire on the ruins of Bruce Wayne’s. He wants to fund weapons and big oil, to exploit and pillage developing countries for their mineral resources. It should go without saying that he has a lot of political power, with his own personally-anointed candidate for the White House. He has no concern whatsoever for ordinary people who don’t have much money. He’s basically any oligarch or high-rolling trader you care to think of.

Now there’s someone you could get to hate. You know, Christian Bale might have played this guy, in another universe. Channelling Patrick Bateman.

We need muscle, of course. Engaging though it is, you can’t just have a villain Batman trades snappy lines with. You need a bit of KAPOW! and SOCK! You need to be able to watch men dance – because that’s what every cinema fight scene is, folks. Men dancing with each other.

So, I did have Bane in mind for the physical threat/choreography. Tom Hardy was an excellent choice for this role in the forthcoming The Dark Knight Rises, although I would have been comfortable with Vin Diesel, too.

The Mutant Leader in Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns would have been a good template for this character. I wouldn’t have made him a global terrorist, but simply a terror to his neighbourhood. A gangster, a drug dealer, a pimp, a sadist, a murderer, a pit bull owner. Someone who lives in the type of area that the police wouldn’t patrol. The type of person who would lick his lips at the prospect of a down-at-heel rich dude parachuting into his manor.

So it would be down to Batman to clean up the trash at a street level in downtown Gotham, while Bruce Wayne attempts to combat the capitalist thug who has destroyed his business and is wrecking the wider economy with his immoral and flagrantly illegal practises.

Come on! It would have worked! With revisions and rewrites.

But the ending leaves me with a problem. It needs Bruce Wayne – moreso than Batman – to stand tall right before the credits. It’s a “comeback” film, so it needs to end with the billionaire playboy back in the hotseat, a winner once more, as the Penguin’s empire collapses and he is sent to Arkham, barking mad like we always suspected he was.

We need to see Wayne Enterprises risen from the ashes. Ethical, ecumenical and egalitarian, the company needs to spearhead a new kind of thinking in the world of finance. One based on fairness and justice. These concepts are key to a story about a guy in a mask who arbitrarily beats people up whom he perceives to be “wrong”, a somewhat problematic predilection given some of the things we’ve seen going on at the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) protests.

Then I thought: hold on a minute. That’s a joke. People will never believe that. Bruce Wayne is a billionaire at the head of a multi-national company. And you don’t stay at the helm of one of those by being a nice guy, even if you did inherit it.

And as for justice? Well. Batman’s idea of this is hardly progressive. Nor is it accountable; he can do what he wants. So we need to reconnect with Batman as a force for good, a guy who doesn’t just punish people, but gets on the side of the ordinary person. A not-so-dark knight.

Batman must be a better type of champion. Because in a certain light, he seems to be a bit of a fascist.

There are a lot of people walking around the streets who probably deserve to be physically and mentally punished for their actions. But who’s got the right to make that sort of judgement? And what caused the criminals to behave like that, anyway? Batman must seek to uncover the answers to these questions; this may well prove more important than dispensing brutal summary justice.

This is one area that Christopher Nolan has got 100% right in the two movies he’s produced so far. In Batman Begins, the young Bruce Wayne rejected his privileged background in order to train himself as a streetwise ninja. Who wouldn’t want to be a streetwise ninja? And yet, there was a suggestion that Wayne Enterprises would become a more ethical company on his watch, perhaps the most subversive thing in the first movie.

“I want to fight injustice,” Bruce Wayne declares at the temple of Raas al Ghul. It wasn’t about the money. Something the Joker understands.

The sequel to Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, was a moral conundrum rarely equalled in recent marquee movie history. An indictment of post-9/11 US foreign policy (it was written and directed by Brits, it’s worth noting), its messages seemed to sail over so many heads it was almost comical.

You had Batman being castigated by his retainer, Lucius Fox, for using phone-taps to get the information he needs and bring the Joker to justice. And yet this same Lucius Fox, earlier in the movie, has participated in what was effectively rendition when Batman invades Hong Kong, violating just about every international treaty going, in order to apprehend the money man for the mob operation in Gotham. He is arrested without a warrant and held without trial.

No-one seemed bothered by this, either on-screen or sat in front of it. The ends justified the means.

Later, you’ve got the sight of prisoners in orange boiler suits being treated as sub-human by supposedly “normal” people in the ferry scenes. The majority of the civilians vote to effectively execute them. “They had their chance,” one man sneers.

“These, so-called, uh, civilised people?” says the Joker. “They’ll eat each other.”
Ah, the Joker. The face of chaos and anarchy. A freak. Lot of these freaks around the news at the moment, it seems.

The people taking part in OWS and other protests have adopted Alan Moore’s rebellious Guy Fawkes lookalike, V, from V For Vendetta, as their personal symbol of struggle against capitalism and market forces. But they could do better, save money and stop funding Time Warner through the sale of branded “V” masks by painting their faces to match Heath Ledger’s make-up in The Dark Knight.

The Joker doesn’t quite know what he wants, but he does target hypocrisy and mendacity in people. Psychosis, violence and murder aside, he has a point. Everyone lies, as the Joker demonstrates, especially those in power. Batman, Jim Gordon, the police, politicians, Alfred the butler… Everyone says something they don’t mean, to make things easier for people. Or more usually, themselves.

How many governments and public officials have lied, as our economies slide towards the abyss along the fault lines of an economic system which is now patently not working?

Plus, the Joker’s filthy in that movie. He is unkempt, his hair hasn’t seen shampoo in months. This made me think of the characterisation of the OWS participants as “dirty”, “filthy” and “unwashed” by some right-wing US commentators.

It’s so easy to denigrate people in terms of personal hygiene, isn’t it? To take away someone’s legitimacy on the basis of a perception of dirt, uncleanliness, whether it’s there or not. So many bullying victims will appreciate that one.

I think Occupy Wall Street is doomed to failure, short-term. But not because of a lack of conviction on the protesters’ part, or the actions of half-witted fat men in uniforms with pepper spray. But because things aren’t bad enough yet. I think real, meaningful change requires the sort of chaos that only a crash in the housing market and sky-high interest rates will cause. In order to spark true radicalism, these, uh, so-called “civilised” people need to panic. To start eating each other, perhaps.

I don’t want that. I’m not saying I want chaos, urban horror, deaths and rioting. I certainly don’t need economic woes, nor does anyone else. We don’t need Kent State style crackdowns, either. I would love us all to go back to normal. But everything our economies try to do to get back to normal are failing. What are we on now – plan D? E?

You wonder if a big crash is coming. You wonder what we’ll do, and who we’ll turn to.

Batman – and Christopher Nolan – addressed this at the end of The Dark Knight. It’s a disturbing movie in which the hero is beaten at every turn by his nemesis. But there is one moment of catharsis for the good guys. The part where everyone suddenly becomes human, and looks out for each other. The people on the two passenger ferries refuse to blow each other up, as per The Joker’s plans (did you suspect, like me, that the Joker actually had rigged the detonators to go off corresponding to the boat where they are triggered, counter to what he’d told them? That’s justice of a sort.)

And for that one wee moment, the smile is wiped off the Joker’s face. Order has prevailed over chaos, but not at the expense of peace, and not with the use of a fist or a gun.

“What were you trying to prove?” Batman growls. “That inside, everyone’s as ugly as you? You’re alone.”

Batman, and Bruce Wayne, are meant to be exceptional. One is an unbeatable strong-man, whom we trust to exercise good judgement in selecting those he goes after. Does Batman ever get the wrong guy? we might wonder. He has to be better than simply a thug. A bit like the SWAT policemen, whom he beats up in The Dark Knight when they threaten to misread a situation and kill innocent people.

And in Bruce Wayne, we have an even greater paradox. He is one of the 1% OWS are complaining about. Can he do things better than his contemporaries? Can Bruce Wayne change the world with his money and instil better practises for the rest of the world of finance to follow?

Can he be a man who can make a difference – and not a thug or a fascist? Who can do the right thing? There is morality, and the right choice to make, no matter what station in life you find yourself. We all know what the right thing to do is, from Wall Street to Cairo to Damascus. We can all make a moral choice. In this, there’s true courage. Empathy, restraint, compassion, tolerance, in no particular order, can create a workable solution for the world more quickly than kung fu skills or a utility belt. Or pepper spray.

It’s about sending a message.

Nolan’s Batman is a great hero. And he reflects the times beautifully. I expect great things from The Dark Knight Rises next year. In the meantime, we have to keep looking for the best way to do things, the right way to behave. That’s you, me, the bankers, the businessmen, the politicians, and the fat coppers with sprayable condiments. There is always time to change. We don’t need to be vain, petty and greedy.

There is always time to take a mask off, no matter whether there’s a Raleigh Burner or a Batmobile in your driveway.


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