Over at Moviebob's blog (which you should really read, even though I don't always agree with him) there was a discussion about the new Batman films and someone brought up the topic of realism, which made me want to go into more detail on the subject. My thesis is, essentially, that Batman FILMS get progressively worse the less realistic they are. I'm talking film only for now, Animated Series' and comics don't matter in this discussion. Let's go down the list shall we? (All of these are, of course, subjective opinions and contain spoilers)
Realism: Not very. Joker and his shit tend to strain believeabilty, Batman has a car that turns into a plane, which is then shot down by what amounts to a giant pistol. Also, the Joker poison subplot makes no fucking sense.
Quality: Not very good. Not very bad, but not exceptionally good. 7/10
Realism: Fairly realistic, playing like a realistic-reimagining of most of the characters. Deformities play a huge part, as does psychology and the VERY realistic aspect of the greedy to the point of violence CEO. Even the suicide penguins are based on the very real practice of stitching or strapping mines to bats or birds and flying them towards the enemy.
Quality: In my estimation. Pretty damn good. Not great, but better than any of the others until Begins hit. 8/10
Realism: Pushing back in unbelievability. Some people hinted at deleted subplots, which don't matter to the finished subject. Acid turns people's skin pink, no one reacts with any real psychology and the Riddler's tech makes no damned sense.
Quality: Not good at all. Plot is a mess, villains have no menace, Batman is hopelessly miscast, no one has any chemistry and it all looks garish. 4/10
Batman and Robin
Realism: Completely gone. Training takes 20 seconds, Mr. Freeze's and Bane's tech is from another world, Ivy has what amounts to super-powers and again, no one acts like a real human being.
Quality: COMPLETELY worthless. 0/10
Realism: Pretty realistic. There's some semi-mystical shit going on around the edges of the ninjas and Scarecrows gas is very soft science, but everyone acts believable, most of the villains are connected to the mob and Batman is fighting like he'd need to (IE, less Bruce Lee and more Alien).
Quality: Excellent. Easily the best Batman film so far and usurping the title of best comic book film from X2 (things like Sin City and 300 don't count)...until 2008. 9/10
The Dark Knight
Realism: Shockingly realistic. All the villains are connected to the mob, acid actually burns, moral grey areas appear and no mystical or gimmick stuff shows up at all.
Quality: Fucking fantastic. 10/10
See a pattern? The ultimate point is that Batman in film gets better the more realistic he is. NO, I am not calling for all superhero films to be realistic, Superman, X-Men etc. all work betted unrealistic, for the reason I'm about to explain. Batman is a normal human.
It works for people with super powers, in film because our disbelief is already suspended. It also works in comics because we will buy just about anything in comics. Don't believe me? As far as I can tell (and it's hard to tell, because it's terribly written) Batman dies in Final Crisis when he shoots Darkseid in the head with a bullet that goes backwards in time (chased by The Flash) which hits Orion and STARTS Final Crisis because it has a virus which then goes back forward in time to hit Batman in the back of the head too. YEAH.
But in movies, we stop being able to buy everything because he's a flesh and blood person on screen. This is why, in all the worthwhile movies, he's wearing bulky armor, because we KNOW he needs to wear armor or he's gonna die horribly, and we KNOW that's what armor looks like. This is why super powers or mystical stuff are poison to Batman in film, because he doesn't have them, but he needs to beat them.
In the surreality of comics, this can work, even if it grates sometimes. But in a live action production, especially a movie, it starts to get stupid, even irritating. This is why the infamous Anti-Shark Spray is as well known as it is, because it's an example of what's wrong with Batman in a live action medium. We know that he, as a flesh and blood person, cannot take on a shark, so they pull some bullshit about him having prepared with anti-shark spray and believeability snaps and it becomes stupid.
This isn't to say that realism is responsible for the quality level of each of the respective Batman films (the Nolan ones are good because of good direction, writing and acting, Batman was bad because of bad writing and acting, the Schumacher ones were bad because of terrible application of personal style and vision, etc.) but it's an argument for one of the reasons they were bad or good, and it's an argument for why the third one (currently entitled The Dark Knight Rises, for all you who didn't know) should stay realistic.
Incidentally, this is also why Robin doesn't work, at least in live-action. The jist of Robin is you're taking an undertrained, brightly colored, unarmored minor into combat situations on stealth missions. And we're supposed to believe that not only is this not shockingly immoral, but also not deeply impractical. Yeah.
Agree, disagree, want me to shut up? Comment.