Dark Knight Rises Batmarathon Part 1 – Batman 1943 Serial Review
That’s the review in short, but keep reading if you want my full thoughts.
Nowadays, film serials are less common–if they even exist at all–but back in the 30’s to 50’s, these things were shown in pieces before a major film. It can be compared to the shorts they sometimes show before Pixar movies nowadays, only they all had a continuous plot, like a television series. Some of the more famous ones were Buck Rogers, Zorro, or the Lone Ranger. That sort of stuff.
So Batman had a film serial.
Honestly, even after watching all five hours of it, I can’t really think of much to talk about. Maybe that was because I was also messaging people on Facebook and texting while it was playing in a corner of my screen, or maybe it was because this is perhaps the most generic, boring, dull Batman film I have ever seen.
It’s hard to even defend this serial’s existence. Aside from being the first Batman film, there is nothing memorable about it. The film is about Batman and Robin as they track down a criminal, save the world, whatever. Also, there police hate him and want to take him in. This is as basic of a plot as you can get, but that’d be okay if it’s done well. Which it isn’t.
The first issue is Batman himself. At the time, perhaps he was threatening. However, you can’t intimidate a modern audience while you sitting with your hands folded in a cave with rubber bats flapping around your head while the Boy Wonder runs over as if he just came out of another film set. Even then, I find it hard that anyone took this character seriously, even then. He isn’t goofy like Adam West. He reminds me more of George Clooney’s take on the character in that they both try to be suave and do the most with the script they’re given, but it’s very hard to make a character credible when he calls the commissioner on a pay phone to tell them they delivered fresh crooks.
Oh, that reminds me. The commissioner isn’t Gordon. It’s some other guy who wants to get Batman behind bars because it’s the law. Maybe. We’re clearly supposed to side with Batman, and the commissioner isn’t given a real reason to hate Batman. In the 89 film, Batman was a mystery to the police. They thought he might be a threat, or worse than the Joker. Once they realized he was a hero, they began to side with him, treating him like a hero. In Batman Begins, they attacked Batman because the police were corrupt, and Batman was opposing them. Oh, and he also ran over a bunch of their cars in a tank.
The police are a bunch of buffoons who don’t accomplish anything anyway. They barely notice that there’s a terrorist living outside their town, planning on doing evil stuff to Gotham. To be fair, early Batman comics didn’t have a lot of the major villains like the comics today do. Sure, the Joker existed, but he wasn’t Batman’s nemesis like he is today. Catwoman was around, but, again, not a major presence. Dr. Hugo Strange was perhaps Batman’s main enemy in that era, the closest to being his nemesis.
…so instead of using a good villain, they go for the racist stereotype.
Dr. Daka, the most Caucasian Asian you’ll ever meet, is a terrorist working through lesser criminals to undo American democracy, and take it into the Japanese Empire. Maybe. This is seen as evil not because he might kill millions of people or the inevitable economic chaos that’ll come about from a sudden upheaval in government. No, it’s because it’s “not American.” I like to consider myself patriotic, and I understand this serial was made in war time, but this feels almost a little juvenile in how it focuses on how evil Japan is because it’s not America. Not that we were in a war with them or anything like that. Just…oi vey.
Really, though, what it boils down to is that nothing in this film feels like it needs to be a Batman story. There is no Batmobile. The only characters who are taken from the comics are Robin and Alfred, both of whom are overly simplified to the point of absurdity. Batman is suave, but feels more like James Bond than the Dark Knight. The character’s appearance, name, and background could be changed, and no one would notice. At the same time, it isn’t offensively bad either. The racism in the film is grating, but you need to take the film in context to look over that. It’s wartime propaganda, one that doesn’t understand that the real threat of a foreign nation at war with us isn’t that they’re different, but rather that said foreign nation wants to kill us.
This is unremarkable as a film serial, but especially unremarkable as a Batman movie.