The Adam West Batman is More Realistic Than the Nolan/Bale Batman

29May12

My son’s continued study of 1966’s “Batman The Movie” has forced my analytical eye to study and dissect every line, beat and angle around 50 times. It’s also forced me to like the movie more than I did two months ago, which therefore forces me to justify why I like the movie as much as I do. And the key to my current justification comes from the fact (or “fact”) that Adam West’s Batman is actually more realistic than the Nolan/Bale version.

Controversial, I know, but it works if you accept certain facts as, well, fact.

1.) Batman is a fictional character.

2.) Batman, in principle and however he is portrayed, is a ridiculous character when compared to actual real life. This means that no matter how much you explain or justify the character’s actions and technology, the core conceit — that a man would dress as a bat to fight crime — is ridiculous. That is to say, nobody would ever do this in real life, even if they could get the cape to work.

I often think about this quandary when considering the success the Nolan/Bale series has had. Many want to credit their attention to detail and their dedication to taking matters seriously. And within the movies themselves, they absolutely do. This is why I still enjoy “Batman Begins” and “The Dark Knight” as movies despite not liking those portrayals of Batman; within the movie world they’ve established, everything works. But when you compare it to the outside world, with all the rules of physics and society, it’s no more realistic than any other incarnation of Batman there’s ever* been.

What’s more, the campy tone of “Batman the Movie” undercuts its unparalleled realistic elements. Actually, it’s far more realistic and real world applicable than anyone should legally believe, but here I am.

Don’t believe me? Let’s look at some elements, and compare them to the “realistic” take of “Batman Begins” and “The Dark Knight.”

1.) The Utility Belt. In general, the idea that Bruce Wayne would carry various crime-fighting tools with him makes sense. Of all the Batman-elements, the theory of the utility belt grounds Batman as a “realistic” character. He’s not just bare knuckling this thing. He’s brought help, and he wears it at all times. But when you compare the two belts, Adam West’s is more realistic. Think about it, which belt is both more possible to make yourself AND more real-life user friendly and capable of working at all times: a belt with snapping pouches, or a “specially designed” belt that SOMEHOW sends the necessary tool to the forefront of Batman’s body? Isn’t it more believable that a human man would just keep his tools in the same spot every time and know where to grab it than having a belt that does the thinking for him? Because he designed it that way?

2.) Tools. FURTHERMORE… the tools West used actually fit and do what they’re designed to do. The Batarangs fold and fit in a pocket — a pocket we can all see. He’s got rope, super-blinding Bat-pellets (un-used) and keys to the Batmobile (presumably). The Bale Batman, on the other hand, has radios in his ears, a pneumatic mangler that kind of pops out of his glove, a grappling hook, knives spring-loaded from his gauntlets, a gliding cape that “technologically” springs out to support a passenger, and sonar imaging technology channeled to his. . . eyes? Or glasses that appear over his eyes? This detail remains one of the few left unexplained by the Nolan series. It’s all stuff that, yes, one would realistically WANT in a fight against crime, but would likely not realistically HAVE. Realism advantage: WEST.

3.) The Suit. I’ve already addressed the cape, as it is a tool in the Bale/Nolan version. But I’m talking more about the clothing Batman wears. Yes, if I were going to fight criminals without a gun, I would want to be covered head to toe (minus a little mouth part) with armor. That’s true, and it makes sense. But how would it actually take to put this suit of armor on? Every time I went out, I’d have to add an hour to the beginning and end of the evening. Even to the obsessed, that’s asking a bit much. OK, the Bat-Pole-Dressing-Mechanism is completely crazy, but it’s no less crazy than taking an hour to get dressed to battle emergencies. As far as the actual clothing he wears, the West Batman wears tights that allow for mobility and slip on easily, as well as (presumably) fit under his street clothes. You know, IN CASE CRIME HAPPENS SUDDENLY WITHOUT AN HOUR TO GET DRESSED BEFOREHAND. And as a final nitpick against the Bale Suit, the West Batman suit uses no eye make-up. Not that I’m against it, per se, but I think it would just add some time to the whole process, all for effect. Picture it: the Batsignal flares, Two-Face has kidnapped the mayor and his family, and Bruce Wayne races home to apply his eyeliner before getting dressed for 70 minutes.

4.) The Psyche. The current assumption is that Batman/Bruce Wayne is, essentially, a functioning psychopath. It’s not only believed but accepted that in order for anyone to do what he does and how he does it, Wayne would have to be mentally unstable, suffering from an obsession that would cripple most (if not all) men. This, in fact, proves my point exactly: when you make Batman a crazy person, then he is a crazy person. He ceases to be a hero, and begins to illustrate how unlikely these events could actually happen in real life, thereby stretching believability. On the other hand, West’s Bruce Wayne is a functioning straight-edge. He is, for all intents and purposes, a “normal” guy. His dressing as Batman seems to be more of a function of identity protection instead of psychosis. True, the Bale character started this way. But given time and without therapy, psychosis wins out. And we, as the audience, don’t want that. We want to believe** Batman is the best of us and will carry on when the going gets tough.

5.) Vehicles. This one is a no-brainer, and contains the impetus for this thesis. In the DVD special features for “Batman The Movie,” car designer George Barris mentions how — in accordance with the TV show’s producers — everything on the Batmobile had to work in real life. I’m assuming this was a budget limitation, because if you’re stuck with real-world physics, then you have to write stories which operate in the real world. Which means that things are realistic. It’s funny, but the more I think about all the work the Nolan movies put into explaining how everything works, the more I realize NONE of it actually works. Yeah, the Bat-Pod really drives. But there’s just no way that a two-wheel motorcycle can pop out of a super tank, which just happens to be able to launch rockets and jump over great distances. But a long black car CAN do what we see it do on screen: drive really fast, drop oil slicks and have a phone inside. To follow this train of thought (and I know I’m arguing here about esthetic choices, but bare with me), keeping the Batcopter and the Batboat at sites away from the Batcave may seem naive and childish, but it also makes sense. Because… that’s where you would need them to be.

6.) The Cities. A tricky entry, because so much of what gets characterized as “gritty realism” comes from Nolan’s treatment of Gotham City itself as a real city. He deserves much credit for using real life settings, as it has given credibility to the movies. But when you stop for a moment to consider everything “Gritty Gotham” has over “Campy Gotham,” I actually believe “Campy Gotham” seems more realistic. Maybe it’s just my outlook on life, but I believe a city like “Campy Gotham” has a more realistic chance of existing on Planet Earth than the “Gritty Gotham” does.  Both have crazy costumed characters running around, so that argument is a wash. The trap “Gritty Gotham” falls into is making things so gritty that they become ridiculous. Seriously, who in their right mind would actually live in the Gotham City of the last 20 years? It’s overrun with crime and corruption and death. At least once a month, some psychopath blows up a bunch of citizens just to fit his motif. “Campy Gotham” is sunny and bustling with activity and life. It not only feels like a place you would want to visit, but a place where you can imagine people realistically remaining. I could be wrong, but the second I find out there’s a terrorist in white clown make-up living in my city, I’m leaving, and I’m sure I’m not the only one. And the people of Gotham City don’t even trust Batman (I realize that’s sort of realistic; but it makes sense that if you really didn’t trust the vigalante running around your city, you’d do something about it or vacate. On the other hand, “Batman the Movie” makes a point of having a picnicking citizen comment — upon seeing the Batcopter — about how it gives him a good feeling knowing Batman and Robin are out there doing their job). Maybe if Gotham City was supposed to be like Detroit — a fallen jewel — instead of New York — the center of the world — then I’d buy in to the “Gritty is Realistic” angle. As it is, I don’t think the population would stay above 10,000 sane Gothamites.

I’m gearing up for a pre “Dark Knight Rises” reviewing of the Nolan/Bale series. I wonder how the past months of “Batman the Movie” brainwashing will affect me.

*Okay, maybe not EVER.

**I think. Don’t we? Otherwise, why would we want him to win?

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2 Responses to “The Adam West Batman is More Realistic Than the Nolan/Bale Batman”

  1. i hated the dark knight. there were parts of that movie that i couldn’t even figure out what the hell was going on. the first on was good though. it’s all about the bat on LSD.

  2. 2 Chris M

    You’re a moron, adam strange.


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