Why Movie Batman Can't Stop Murdering Everybody
In the comics, one of Batman's long-time mantras is that he doesn't kill, like, ever. In his mind, it's what sets him apart from the other costumed law-breakers in Gotham City. Sure, he's breaking the law, too, by going out of his way to beat up criminals as a vigilante, but at least he's not murdering them. It clears his conscience and is the reason that the two hours of sleep that he probably gets at night are so satisfying.
In the movies, well, uh, not so much.
See, the movies have kind of built murder into the DNA of Batman storytelling, so much so that even when they try to be more comic book-friendly, Batman still can't help himself from directly killing, inadvertently killing, or allowing someone to be killed. This happens in every single modern Batman film, despite whatever speeches he may make about how totally not into murder he is.
In the 1989 Batman, the Caped Crusader blows up a warehouse full of the Joker's goons, and then drops one of them down a bell tower shaft. He then uses his grapple gun to tie a gargoyle statue to the Joker's foot, leaving the clown to hang there for what feels like forever before he falls to his death. That's a bizarre level of cruelty, as the thought process behind it is literally "Haha, I bet Jack Nicholson can't do a pull-up."
Then, in Batman Returns, Batman kills a whole gang of clowns (Tim Burton decided that there were two types of bad guys in Gotham: noir-esque gangster henchmen and clowns) through fire and explosions, and then releases a cloud of bats on the Penguin that cause him to fall. He also knocks Catwoman off a building, causing one of her deaths as well. Batman Returns tells this beautiful story about loneliness and "freaks" connecting with one another and Batman -- a lonely, haunted guy himself -- spends most of the film slaughtering everyone else on the movie poster. (As usual, "having a shit-ton of money" is the demarcating moral line between "broody yet justified outsider" and "unhinged spree killer.")
That said, I can kind of cut the Tim Burton films some slack here, as Batman never really makes himself out to be anything other than a deranged weirdo in them. And since the film changes the mythos to make it the Joker who killed Bruce Wayne's parents (therefore turning his crusade into a revenge mission), his whole shtick isn't about making Gotham a better place anyway. It's just two movies about Batman killing the people who annoy him the most.
In Batman Forever, when Robin wants revenge on Two Face for killing his acrobat family, Bruce makes a big deal about how one murder will lead to another murder and that eventually, you'll lose yourself in it. It's a speech that might as well have been written by whatever Warner Bros. executive decided to get Tim Burton as far away from the Batman franchise as possible so that their advertising partners at McDonald's wouldn't get in trouble again.
But by the end of the film, when Batman has rescued his psychologist lady friend and Robin from falling to their death, they're confronted by Two Face. And so, to throw him off while he's flipping his trademark coin, Batman tosses a bunch of coins in the air. This causes Two Face to stumble and, as with the villains in the last two films, plummet to his doom. Wait, then what was that big monologue from earlier about? Is he, like, protecting Robin from getting a taste for murder? That's noble if you don't think about it for more than two seconds. However, it's more likely that Batman is just a hypocrite and the screenwriters couldn't figure out a way to end the movie without having Two Face be a half-and-half splat at the bottom of a well.
Though this kind of escalation would logically lead to Batman & Robin ending with Batman slowly strangling Mr. Freeze to death, he remains remarkably murder-free in that movie. However, when Robin and Batgirl kick the steroid tube out of the back of Bane's skull and leave him incapacitated and squealing on the floor, Batman certainly makes no attempt to swing by and rescue him when a giant telescope falls on him. He just assumed that he'd taught them well enough that they'd check their blind spots and not kill their enemies. But he's a very "lead by example" kind of guy, and the only example he's set is to kill one of the themed villains and move on to the sequel.
Batman Begins rebooted the franchise and made an effort to respect the source material a little more. This included giving us big scenes like the one where Batman won't kill an innocent man and then ruins the League of Shadows headquarters in a "But I don't WANT to murder, adopted Dad" tantrum. But then, when trapped on a runaway subway train with Ra's Al Ghul that's destined for a fiery drop, he says "I won't kill you, but I don't have to save you," and dips out.
Umm, that's not how it works, Batman. Also, we see Rachel Dawes use the subway earlier, so what about all of the people that are potentially still trapped on the train? Did you check to make sure that everyone was off before you made your big Freshman Year Ethics Class proclamation?
Then, in The Dark Knight, Batman grimaces his way through the Joker repeatedly urging him to just live a little bit and go off some people, but he refuses. Then, he tosses the Joker off a skyscraper and catches him with his grapple gun, which is a hell of a gamble. Like, buddy, I know you're Batman and all, but that dude is a human body plummeting at human body rates. You are always the underdog in the fight against gravity. Just kinda hoping that your ninja skills will allow you to pinpoint the Joker's descending pants leg when it's a hundred feet down and still going is the biggest risk you've ever taken.
Then, after spending over two hours refusing to kill, Batman tackles Two Face off the side of a building. (More gravity too!) That's obvious murder. Afterwards, he tells Jim Gordon that he'll sacrifice his reputation and take the blame for Harvey Dent's murders, but, like, you just murdered Harvey Dent. The stuff y'all did isn't that different, at least not different enough to warrant a big emotional "You will hunt me, but I can take it" climax.
By the time The Dark Knight Rises rolls around, Batman has totally checked out of his idealistic view of crime fighting. When Catwoman shoots Bane with Batman's big motorcycle cannon and kills him suuuuper hard, she says "About the whole 'no gun's thing? I'm not sure I feel as strongly about it as you do." And Batman basically elopes with that woman. He saw Bane get his torso turned into a bread bowl soup and just shrugged and thought "Oh, well. My shift's almost over anyway."
Another reboot followed, with Zack Snyder taking the reins and turning Batman into a serial killer again, mowing down criminals and terrorists and anyone who happened to be in the way of his array of vehicle guns and fists. And those guys that he doesn't kill? He apparently brands them, so that people would see their marks in prison and kill them there. But why not just murder them himself? Batman v Superman has such a cynical view of the World's Greatest Detective that they had to make an entirely unnecessary bit of plot up just so more death could come his way.
And that's kind of a bummer, because the comic that this movie is heavily adapted from, The Dark Knight Returns, features a jaded old Batman who is still staunchly anti-murder. Hell, at one point, he breaks someone's rifle while declaring that guns are the weapons of the enemy.
Finally, we have Justice League, in which Batman doesn't murder anything ... human. The alien Parademons in that film are "repurposed genetic material from the dead and captured enemies of Apokolips," which means that they're basically intergalactic POWs. Sadly, Batman doesn't take time to recognize this before chucking grenades at them.
So why is this such a trend in Batman movies, even in the ones that are desperately trying to move away from it? I think it has a lot to do with the filmmakers either not really caring (Burton and Snyder) or being trapped by the Batman movie formula (Schumacher and Nolan).
See, for the most part, in Batman movies, the bad guys shuffle out at the end, and new villains pop up at the beginning of the next one. In the comics and cartoons, Batman sends his foes off to Arkham Asylum, where they can be unsuccessfully rehabilitated and break out later. But in a movie, those villains are probably never coming back, as letting them live would mean signing actors to new contracts and paying them more money and not getting the action figure toy sales you want since you'd be reusing characters and not stocking the shelves with new bros. So you kill 'em off.
It's easier to explain that way. Batman's drive to not kill is the one thing that movie studios can't seem to work with. Mainly because, c'mon, Batman. YOU pay Jack Nicholson's salary if you want him to stay around so badly.
Daniel Dockery is a writer for Cracked. Follow him on Twitter, a place where he's probably talking about how good Batman Returns is right now.