Dear Batman Fanboys: You Don’t Know What Real Love Is
On Monday a shockwave rippled through the delicate ecosystem that is the internet, the place where fans, critics, commenters, bloggers, and lurkers live and breathe (and mouth-breathe), over the first reviews of The Dark Knight Rises. The Bat- and Christopher Nolan-faithful rose in arms against the first critics who dared break the news that the comic book movie threequel was maybe not the best movie of all time. Threats were made. Nasty comments were flung. Entire websites were overrun and taken out in retribution. So I ask you, Bat-fans: What Would Batman Do?
The fanboy (for lack of a better word) frenzy felt more akin to Bane’s terrorist assault on Gotham City in TDKR than any heroic pursuit of justice Batman himself would exact. Either due to blind faith (like that of Bane’s fanatical, extremist followers), or the outrage of the disadvantaged 99% (i.e. fans who have to wait until Thursday night at midnight to see TDKR for themselves), the worst of the irate fandom lashed out, ill-informed and vicious, at the mere suggestion that what they love wasn’t good.
But, wait. Most TDKR fans haven’t even seen TDKR yet! How do they know the movie even deserves their love, or the self-debasement of their own humanity that comes with issuing hateful vitriol at strangers? Realistically, I’m guessing it will fall into the mid-70s-to-low-80s on Rotten Tomatoes – and yes, I’ve actually seen the film. And when fans finally see it for themselves, let’s be real, they’re not all going to be thrilled.
That’s not to say I don’t sympathize with the downer that is hearing that the thing you’ve been looking forward to since The Dark Knight in 2008 isn’t as great as it looks (and those snippets and glimpses of TDKR we’ve seen pre-release were pretty fantastic). I get it. I’ve been a Christian Bale fan for longer than most Batman followers knew who he was. Unless you’ve accepted Newsies into your life, Bat-fans, you don’t know what real love is. Sometimes real love, real fandom, is embracing a thing that you connect to in spite of its flaws. If you still love it warts and all, then doesn’t that mean all the more?
But let’s look at why so many folks embraced the Nolan Batman series, whether or not they’d self-identify as Batman fanboys (or Nolanazis, if you will), or are plain old laypersons who just enjoy the hell out of the movies: Because Nolan & Co. translated these comic book superhero tales into compelling storytelling for grown-ups. Batman Begins and The Dark Knight already well legitimized comic book stories in the film art world and, certainly, the marketplace; we now get nothing but superheroes every summer blockbuster season. At this point, validity as a film genre has already been established, albeit with mixed results (though that’s more the fault of studio filmmaking than the source material). So why wouldn’t fans demand better films be made from the properties they love?
Perhaps after Friday, fans will turn to the messages in TDKR to guide them. In the wake of the first wave of negative reviews and mixed-positive reactions, the Bat-faithful looked a lot like the 99% in TDKR – and in TDKR, said 99% is not exactly celebrated as a righteous movement of disenfranchised people, but that’s a conversation for another day. In the film, the villainous Bane preys on the hopes and feelings of injustice among Gotham’s underprivileged class, rousing them into misguided unrest and mindless mob violence. Amidst the chaos, Batman espouses a message of individual heroism, quietly leading by example while minimizing the carnage. He insists that anyone can become Batman, anyone can become a hero. So use your words, Bat-fans – but make sure you’re using the right ones, and for the right reasons.