Cinema has done a fine job presenting Batman in a way that is enjoyable for all audiences. West showed us the man with morals, Keaton showed us the hero, Kilmer showed us the bizarre, Clooney showed us everyone makes mistakes, and Bale showed us The Dark Knight in a real world. With each performance, a mainstream audience got a different feel for Batman, and each (well, most, anyway) succeeded in giving the world all sides of Batman...
What happens when Batman doesn't just "not save the day," but allows for horrible things to happen? Sure, we saw Rachel Dawes blow up in The Dark Knight...but considering that was the work of The Joker, that was a fairly painless and quick death than what comic book readers have experienced. What happens when The Caped Crusader truly experiences something horrific? When his response is not to prevent, but rather to avenge? What happens when Batman breaks bad?
Audiences will get a taste of that hopefully as DC has approved its animated adaptation of The Killing Joke to have an R rating, but I believe the world needs a rated R Batman film. It's the only lingering side of Batman remaining between the pulp and the silver screen.
Those that disagree, hear me out.
Films Have Really Dehumanized Batman
There has always been a solid disconnect between the man that is Batman and the man that is Bruce Wayne. When he puts on the cowl, he changes...at least in the films. I think the show Gotham really touched on something interesting when Lucius Fox told a young Bruce Wayne his father was "a true Stoic."
Many will argue Batman himself is a Stoic, but I think it's better (and frankly more true to the character) to say he is a man who's trying to be a Stoic. Granted, his threshold is pretty high, but I think the films have not truly represented how awful an experience it can be to fight crime in Gotham. Most of this is due to the PG-13 nature of the films. Gotham's destruction by terrorism is terrible and has to be stopped, but that does nothing to rattle Batman to his core.
On the flip side, you have a comic that does both shake Batman and shows his humanity rather well. Batman: Venom by Denny O'Neil shows our hero haunted after he unsuccessfully tries to rescue a young girl from death.
Batman comes home defeated, riddled by guilt, and desperate to fix something he cannot change. He feels like the child left alone in a dark alley with dead parents again, and cannot take the sadness that he allowed another child to suffer in a way he did so long ago. Vowing to never again "not be strong enough," Batman begins injecting Venom into his body to enhance his physical strength. He soon becomes addicted and riddled with uncontrollable rage.
We all forget that Batman is kind of insane. A man bound by obsession with super powers is an anti-hero at best, and can easily walk the line to achieve his means. We see something we never see on film...Batman out of control.
Without depicting an event that is so shocking it may even cause the audience to cringe upon seeing, it's really hard to portray this side of Batman without it seeming a little over done or campy.
And it's there we reach the root of our problem with Batman's film portrayal.
Films Haven't Shown Batman's Humanity Is More Than Just Being Human
Batman isn't just weak because physically he's a human. He's also psychologically disturbed, bound by obsession, and prone (as we all are) to moments of weakness. Who can blame him? He's on a crusade he knows he is doomed to fail. Despite his most valiant of efforts and triumphs, crime will always prevail. It's enough to drive him crazy...and it does from time to time.
Have you ever considered what would happen if someone as focused and slightly crazy as Batman ever had powers? It would be madness...and it was in the popular Elseworlds tale Batman & Dracula.
Pushed to his limits taking on the darkest of knights, Bruce Wayne becomes a vampire to defeat Dracula and his minions. In doing so, Batman ends up eventually being driven by his primal instict (to stop evil at all costs) and begins killing the evil humans of Gotham. This in turn makes him a villain hunted by Alfred and the GCPD and the story comes to a great conclusion I won't spoil.
My point is, while we see Batman struggle on a physical level in each of his films, we never really get the sense that he is a tortured individual. He's our protector, he's supposed to be stronger than us. In truth, he's a man just like we are, and even he has his limits...
Which We See In The Killing Joke
Ah yes, we've come full circle. In The Killing Joke we see Batman pushed so far by the rated R antics of The Joker that he breaks. The iconic final frames see Batman start laughing maniacally and grabbing Joker. The two share a laugh and the ending is one of the most hotly debated topics in Batman lore. Did Batman break his rule of killing? Did he let Joker go? What happened?
It's a story that deserves more than an animated feature, and in truth, would be the perfect way to launch Ben Affleck's run as Batman.
We Will Never See That On Film
You can't sell that Batman to children, and that's where the money is. A pseudo psychotic man seeing some of the most gruesome crimes as told by Alan Moore, Frank Miller, etc? Ironically, we're forced to only see it in cartoon form, but we can dream that perhaps one day well see the true Dark Knight on the big screen.