As I write this Matt Reeve’s The Batman is currently the number one film in the country…in the world actually, and as you’re reading it the film will likely have lit up the streaming charts after its premiere on HBOMax. And while I’d love to sit here and discuss how it’s both a masterpiece and a bit of a travesty, there’s only one thing I’m going to say about it here:
Since Ryan passed away in September of 2020 there have been a great many things in pop culture that I’ve found myself wishing he’d got to see. I’m always sad and upset that I’ve been robbed of either his joy of them or the ridiculous discussions I’d have gotten to be a part of because of them (Looking at you Morbius). But The Batman… The Batman is the first pop-culture entry I’m legitimately ANGRY he didn’t live long enough to witness. Because he would have loved every damned minute of it.
Through all of our waxing and waning interests in various comic book properties, the only one we both always shared a genuine love and passion for is Batman. From the rabid consumption of the reruns of the Adam West/Burt Ward camp-fest, fueled on by my father and grandmother, through the Superfriends cartoon, his team-ups with Scooby-Doo, into the Keaton flicks, and most especially Batman: The Animated Series, even if the adaptations were duds (Hello Batman & Robin, Batwoman, Gotham and Birds of Prey), we were going to be there to see it through.
To this day the greatest gift I think I’ve ever gotten was a full-sized laminated poster of the Batman: TAS profile promo. The one where he’s holding his cape up and you can just see the eyes and ears of the cowl. Ryan bought it for me after I’d moved away some years ago for a job and was so happy and proud to give it to me when it arrived. It was accompanied by a Batwing paperweight from the Burton films and a Bat-symbol-shaped record of the Batman: TAS theme by Danny Elfman. That was a spectacularly good Christmas.
When I’d make the three-hour trip back home to visit after I moved there were many car rides that were nothing more than the two of us lamenting what Gotham and Batwoman could be, if only they weren’t so ridiculously over the top. And while I still wish we’d gotten better Bat-TV to discuss those last few years, I’m beyond grateful that we got something at all, because the memories of those conversations are now priceless.
Batman and his world, in whatever form we could find it in, was always something we were both intrinsically drawn toward. I’m not sure why either. Though, we obviously aren’t alone in that regard. People have been fascinated by that world since the very first comics hit the stands, and began trying to adapt it to other mediums shortly thereafter. Maybe the better question is, why wouldn’t we be interested in Batman? We’re living, breathing people, so of course, we’re interested! And, when Batman Begins finally flew into theatres in June of 2005 we were there to see it. Together, of course.
When I got in my car and pulled away from my screening of The Batman all I could think about was that night. We were so excited, which was never really unusual for a comic book film, but this was different. We’d both fallen in love with Nolan’s Memento, and since his announcement of taking over this franchise we’d been on edge to see what that might look like. Like every other actor cast before and since, Christian Bale had his share of detractors when he’d been announced as Bats, but Ryan and I had seen him in Kurt Wimmer’s gem of a film Equilibrium just a few years before and were all in on the choice. I’ve spoken before about my brother’s love of Gary Oldman, which I share as well (Oldman is the only thing about Begins that still truly shines)…and like everyone with eyeballs, we thought Liam Neeson was just the best. There wasn’t a single thing we were hesitant about going in, especially since we might truly be getting the Dark Knight Detective for once.
My dad was always a sucker for a good mystery, something he inherited from his mother (if such things can be biologically passed down), the woman we affectionately referred to as Nanny until the day she passed away. She watched every whodunit show and movie she could get her eyes on, subjecting anyone spending time with her to their charms. As a result, my dad became pretty adept at solving them. For those shows, it was usually as easy as “the guest star did it,” but for the films, it was often tougher. Sometimes he’d take wild guesses that paid off, and sometimes he’d just know because, well, he grew up watching them, he’d seen the type of story a hundred times. Either way, it was a game of “beat him to the punch” anytime we watched something with him.
I tell you that to tell you this…
As we sat there watching Batman Begins build to its climax, I was pretty wrapped up in how everything was unfolding and the use of Scarecrow as the big bad in a movie with this kind of ambition was something so new and fun for me. Then we get to the party at Wayne Manor; Bale’s being delightfully droll as Bruce, meeting his guests, and someone says he must meet Ra’s al Ghul. You know, the guy they killed off in act one.
Before I could even say a word Ryan leans over and says “I bet it’s Liam Neeson,” and at first he was wrong, but then, BAM! Double fake-out, and so it is Neeson.
I was so mad.
Looking back, sure, I should have seen that coming. It’s all there, and really, Henri Ducard was such an odd choice to bring out of the comics onto the screen in such a big way. I should have known, but I was enjoying the adventure, not seeing the mystery. I’d like to think Ryan was too, but knowing him he had that thought long before he said it, and as soon as he realized the character of Ra’s wasn’t dead he had to take his guess. He couldn’t give the three seconds of build-up and pay off Nolan was setting up, he had to solve the mystery.
It’s a story that would become legend for me. Told and re-told so many times, either to make him feel just the slightest bit guilty or maybe just to rag on how even while watching a movie he had to be a jerk and not let me enjoy the twist (even if it’s super obvious in hindsight). But it was all in fun. It’s maybe my favorite movie-going memory with my brother, and I know that ultimately the reason he did it can be summed up in a quote from a franchise we mutually loved Star Wars. As Beru tells Owen about Luke, “There’s too much of his father in him.”
A lot of this column has been me trying to glean something from either discovering or revisiting the films in my brother’s collection. Thinking about our trip to see Batman Begins, and even rewatching it in the days following my viewing of The Batman, I didn’t feel like there was a lesson to take from it, just the reminder of a really great memory and the regret of the ones I’ll never get to have.
I guess, in a weird sort of way, that’s what the character of Batman is all about, taking the tragedies of our life, the memories we hold dear, and the regrets of a lost future and using them to propel us into making the world a better place.